Many people will remember the original Konami outing Zone of the Enders, not so much for the game itself, but for the precious demo disc included in the package. Somewhat unfortunately (in hindsight) for ZOE, it was bundled with the Metal Gear Solid 2 demo - a move which saw it coming off looking like the poor cousin to Hideo Kojima's stealth-based masterpiece. But for those who resisted the urge to compare unfavourably and persisted with ZOE's slightly flawed charms, this remarkable anime-influenced actioner began to seem pretty good in its own right. Sure, it was criticised for being too short, and a tad repetitive, but if you looked beyond these imperfections, there was definitely a unique experience to be had. And now it seems that the developers have taken all these criticisms on board, and managed to create the game that they'd hoped for with the first title.
Lead by new director Shuyo Murata, (but still presided over by Hideo Kojima) The 2nd Runner seems to be bigger and better in just about every way. One of the original criticisms levelled at ZOE - that it suffered from a touch of style-over-substance - has been tackled in a variety of ways, the most striking of which being the sheer depth of gameplay involved. Which isn't to say that the graphics have been neglected, on the contrary, they're more stunning than ever, but we'll get to that later. The real improvements are clearly in the gameplay and this strength raises the whole mechanised space-battling shebang to impressive new levels.
Picking up the story a couple of years after the first foray, The Second Runner passes the mantle from original hero Leo to ex-military type `Dingo' (I know, I know) who slips his war-worn self into Jehuti the awesome mech for a spot of inter-galactic justice, big-giant-robot style. This time, the action is based around a battle kicking off between Mars and Earth, with some cunning double-crossing plot developments thrown in for good measure.
Controlling your mech will be a piece of cake for those familiar with the first game; the moves are exactly the same, with ascend and descend, lock-on and attack moves all present and correct. Whilst these may not have changed, Konami have gone all-out to refine and tweak the existing functions with, for example, the lock-on function now enabling you to target multiple enemies. You can take on a huge number of opponents at any one time and pull-off some awesome moves using new customisable combo attacks and specials. The main thing to get yourself in a lather about is the addition of brand-spanking sub-weapon attacks, with commands including Decoy (creates multiple illusions of Jehuty to confuse your enemy), Gauntlet (inflicts double damage), Comet (a homing plasma ray) and the Geyser command (which stuns the enemy temporarily) amongst the 14 attacks on offer. Oh, and you can pick up various props and create makeshift weaponry using the buildings and stuff littered about your surroundings. Nice.
And of course, it's all wrapped up in some of the most gorgeous, eye-strokingly beautiful graphics you're likely to come across for some time. Melding anime-style animation with ultra-detailed environments and spectacular battle sequences, The 2nd Runner really is a visual treat that's unlike anything you'll have seen before.
If you're a fan of the original ZOE, you'll no doubt be awaiting this sequel with eager anticipation, and rest assured - it contains everything that was great about the first, plus some neat new extras. If you've never played Zone of the Enders before, The 2nd Runner will undoubtedly be the game to get you hooked on huge, shiny Japanese mechs in a big, big way...
- Take on multiple mechs for the first time, in massive battles
- Utilise your environment to create makeshift weapons
- All-new list of sub-weapons, including Gauntlet, Geyser and Comet attacks