Zoids Assault - Staff Review  

Short Term Assault
by Michael "Macstorm" Cunningham

Zoids Assault
Xbox 360
Less than 20 Hours
+ Simple, fast combat
+ Doesn't overwhelm with story
+ At least features quicksave
- Front Mission with 1/4 of the plot
- No animation in cutscenes
- Not enough variety for a $60 game
Click here for scoring definitions 

   Whether you are familiar with Japanese toy company Tomy's Zoids or not matters little for Atlus's latest Xbox 360 offering. The plastic models have little to do with Zoids Assault other than serving as a limited foundation for this tactical RPG. Fans of the Zoids line will have nothing here for them, as the featured Zoids are very limited. For the majority of people who know little to nothing about the models, this franchise of toys has been shaped into many different forms of Japanese pop culture. Now Atlus's third Xbox 360 title will offer fans and non-fans alike a tactical RPG containing solid gameplay, but little else.

   The backdrop of Zoids Assault is a war-torn land destroyed by a long conflict between the Guylos Empire and the Republic of Helic. During this conflict the smaller neighboring nations of Maroll and Jamil came to hostilities as well. Years after the official end of the war, Maroll and Jamil are still in the midst of a cold war until a mysterious explosion at a Maroll base sparks a new incident. Two special ops forces from Maroll are sent into Jamil to investigate: an elite commando squad known as Katana and Mace squad, a team of five Zoids. Katana is sent into the dangerous areas to discover the truth behind the event while Mace squad serves as decoy, guard, and distraction for them. All of this has the potential to be interesting except for the fact that players control the same five Zoids of Mace squad for the entire game only.

   As if it wasn't enough of a disconnect, the controllable Zoids pilots offer as much character development as a standard NPC. The main story in Zoids Assault is a direct retelling of these events, not even actual real-time action. The half of the plot is told through a series of non-narrated newspaper clippings with the other half featuring a female soldier giving a debriefing to a secret Maroll military council. During her debriefing, the audience heckles her like a drunken crowd would a bad comic, as she is Jamil-born. While not intentionally entertaining, it's difficult not to laugh at the ridiculous one-liners that are shouted. Overall, the story being told is a fairly straightforward war drama, but the fact that it is a retelling instead of a direct interaction does little to help. Also, the fact that the characters that the player is in control have no direct ties to the plot is really detached.

Chicken Dark Colored Assault

   While the story is extremely disappointing, the combat system is decent, though lacking in options. The five controllable Zoids offer a little variety, but not much. Two long-distance Zoids, two close-range combat Zoids, and one engineer (medic) Zoid are the only units the player commands throughout the entire game. These Zoids can be customized with different weapons and armor that modify their movement range, attack range, strength, and defense. There are not a ton of choices for these enhancements, but they serve their purpose in giving players some control over the strengths of their squad. Armor is one of the key factors with light armor making Zoids more vulnerable, but allowing more movement; heavy armor providing more defense, but less mobility; and medium armor offering a balance of both. On the offensive side, Zoids' support count is key when obtaining positioning during combat, assisting attack power when assaulting an enemy that can be targetted by more than one Zoid. The higher the support count, more damage is likely to be done. Gamers need to be careful though, as enemies can quickly surround them and counterattacks are also possible.

   Along with equipment options, each unique Zoid has a set of skills that grow as they gain levels. Each skill has a set skill point value and each Zoid has a maximum value that can be assigned. These abilities can be passive skills such as restoring health to adjacent units or active skills like boosting mobility for a turn. Skills can be shuffled around freely between missions, so if a certain combination doesn't seem to be working as well, players can retreat and reassign them.

   Combat in Zoids Assault is fast-paced, especially if animations are skipped. The field camera can be frustrating on some maps, but is not a constant problem. Though combat is very basic, battles will require the gamer to plan ahead and execute a solid strategy to win. Some of the earlier battles are very simple with the player's Zoids easily overwhelming the enemies, but later battles require much more care, as Mace squad will be heavily outnumbered. Even with battles increasing in difficulty as the game progresses, Zoids Assault is still quite easy and short, consisting of just a little over a dozen missions. Most gamers should be able to plow through this game in ten to fifteen hours.

Gender Equality Battle near a mountain range

   Being an Xbox 360 title, slightly higher standards for presentation are expected. Lifelike graphics and mind-blowing CGI are not requirements, but a game with cutscenes consisting of only still images with no animation is just lazy and inexcusable. The scenes in Zoids Assault are hand-drawn still images that simply shift from one to another. Considering that most of the plot is being retold in a single, nondescript room, the setting is bland and gets dull quickly. Even during the flashbacks in the combat zones, animation is nonexistent. The only place where there is any movement at all in during the actual battles, and even those are not very impressive. Player's Zoids and enemy units all appear very generic, and even with the option to paint allied Zoids, it is still difficult to tell them apart.

   The musical situation is no more impressive, as most of the soundtrack is recycled from stage to stage. The sound effects in Zoids Assault can also become annoying very quickly, so muting the TV while in combat is a viable option. A lack of subtitles during voiced scenes will have gamers reaching for the remote to turn the volume back up though, if just to hear the unintentionally laughable voice acting. The main narrator's voice actor is not bad, but most of the supporting characters just miss the mark.

   The biggest problem with Zoids Assault is that it feels like a lazy game. Despite the gameplay being fast-paced and enjoyable, the lack of options for the main party is disheartening. The player not having a direct role in the game's overall plot causes disconnection. The presentation, especially the lack of animation, does nothing to help. On top of all that, the fact that Zoids Assault is easy to complete in less than fifteen hours is just insulting. It's difficult not to feel as if this lackluster title would have been much better suited for a handheld gaming platform instead of the Xbox 360. On one of those systems, many of these problems wouldn't have seemed as glaring. As it stands, Zoids Assault had potential with its decent gameplay, but only turned out to be a fraction of what it could have been.

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