Zone of the Enders: HD Collection (PS3)

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The Zone of the Enders franchise has been dormant for around ten years but remains relevant seeing as though Konami is currently developing the third entry in the series. The Zone of the Enders HD Collection is thus the perfect entry point for gamers who never got to play the first two ZOE titles on PlayStation 2, and certainly lives up to its tagline of ‘High Speed Robot Action.’

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As far as HD remasters go, the ZOE HD Collection is competent but not as good as it could have been. The original Zone of the Enders and Zone of the Enders: The 2nd Runner’s visuals are presented in a widescreen ratio at a resolution of 720p. Many fans were hoping that the games would run at a consistent 60 frames per second (fps) but unfortunately this is not the case. The frame rate dips to around the 30 fps mark during heated battles and certain cut-scenes, and this has a negative impact on the fluidity of combat.

The original PS2 versions also suffered from frame rate slowdown but it’s disappointing that this wasn’t remedied in the ZOE HD Collection. On the plus side, both games’ graphics look nice and sharp apart from the original ZOE’s somewhat blurry CG cut-scenes. The ZOE HD Collection also includes two pieces of awesome bonus content – a demo for Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance and a breathtaking, all-new opening cut-scene that features highlights from both ZOE titles rendered in high quality anime.

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The Zone of the Enders franchise was conceived by Metal Gear creator Hideo Kojima and features mechanical suit (mech) designs by Yoji Shinkawa whose work also permeates the entire Metal Gear Solid series. This sci-fi action series takes place in the late 22nd century in an age when space colonisation is in its prime and the discovery of a high-energy ore, called Metatron, has led to the creation of highly destructive mechs, known as Orbital Frames, that are used to bolster the space colonies’ military might.

The original ZOE’s storyline is fairly thin on the ground and only picks up towards the end when the young protagonist Leo Stenbuck’s history and relationships are more thoroughly explored. It’s a pity that the lengthy cut-scenes towards the end of the game couldn’t have been more evenly spread across the campaign, which is largely devoid of plot developments during the four hours or so of gameplay that follow ZOE’s opening cinematic.

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ZOE: The 2nd Runner is a lot more plot-driven than its predecessor, with anime cut-scenes or conversations between characters liberally sprinkled throughout the campaign. While the story can become convoluted at times, the game’s epic boss battles are more enjoyable because of all the character exposition that takes place before and after these showdowns. ZOE: The 2nd Runner has a new protagonist called Dingo Egret, although Leo from the first game also makes an appearance during the course of your adventure.

In many ways the plot and gameplay of the original ZOE merely serve as an appetiser for the way that these elements are handled in the sequel. ZOE takes place in just a few locales (many of which resemble each other) and the enemies you fight against lack variety. While you can discover a handful of new sub-weapons during the game, battles soon start to feel repetitive and underwhelming since you’re constantly fighting the same small groups of enemies.

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On the other hand, ZOE: The 2nd Runner has a lot more variety in terms of battle arenas and enemy types, and you’ll often face swarms of enemies that require you to mix up your tactics and equip certain sub-weapons. You can also use parts of your environment to aid you in battle, such as a beam that you can swing like a sword or a side-panel that you can hold up like a shield. The sequel also feels more fast-paced than its predecessor, and being able to freely move around in 3D space while dodging enemies’ projectiles and bursting towards them is a unique experience that gets the adrenaline pumping (particularly during boss battles).

A great feature of both games is the Versus Mode where you can select from a variety of Orbital Frames and arenas featured in each title and then take on a friend or an AI opponent in a fight to the death. This competitive mode highlights the incredible potential that an online multiplayer mode in the next Zone of the Enders game would possess, and I’m sure it’s an area that Konami will pay close attention to during ZOE3’s development.

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The Zone of the Enders HD Collection serves as a great testament to the unique quality of this sci-fi action series, with both games featuring wonderfully realised futuristic landscapes and utterly memorable music that transports you to another dimension – let alone another century. It’s just a pity that the ZOE: HD Collection is dragged down somewhat by the lacklustre first entry in the series and a disappointing frame rate that one would expect to have been elevated to 60 fps for this re-release.

If you haven’t already played the greatly entertaining Zone of the Enders: The 2nd Runner, however, then it’s well worth picking up the ZOE: HD Collection to experience this gem in its optimal form.