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Reviews: Gundam Unicorn (7/10)

Posted on : 18-03-2012 | By : | In : Reviews

Hardware:

17

There are a few times when developers take on projects to test out ideas and build their technology resources. Sandlot made a little tie-in game for a live action mecha show that allowed them to later build the very wonderful Gigantic Drive. Likewise, it seems From Software took on Gundam Unicorn to improve their prior beleaguered attempt at a then new Another Century’s Episode game. Subsequently, Gundam Unicorn is in places a bit of a testbed as well as proof that the older Another Century’s Episode games still have a lot to offer in terms of gaming functionality.

Gundam Unicorn also affords a new kind of DLC setup for this kind of game and one that isn’t wholly irritating either. As such we’re relieved to play something that turned out to be pretty compelling and suitably polished.

The game is split into two distinct modes; Unicorn Mode and Custom Cast. The former tracks the narrative of the first three episodes from the anime via the vantage point of several characters. The latter is a more free form mission mode where you can build up your own mini-fleet and do a variety of missions. Whilst the main nascent emphasis of the game is on Unicorn Mode, the most fun we’ve had is definitely in the Custom Cast setup, though more of why later.

Functionally the game plays very much like a weightier version of the last two Another Century’s Episode games on the PS2. Even down to the shift command setup for the weapons, this genuinely feels like some of the old team have come back to re-address the balance that Banpresto, and especially Terada, did so much to undermine. The old ballistic boosting approach is thoroughly back but with more of a penalty now if you overshoot and fly by your target. Even the close combat is far more manageable, though they’ve still retained a partial cinematic approach which can play havoc with the camera at times.

What’s interesting about the handling though is that despite the inferred weight of the mobile suits none of this has been done through a false-Newtonian sense of inertia. Instead, the weight comes from an animation delay between inputs. Admittedly Havok middleware is being used in this game but it seems to be more with the animation than an actual physics system for the handling. That aside, this setup means you still retain your positional precision but also a sense that these huge mecha can’t instantly respond to your inputs. Whilst this isn’t like the classic and almost tiwtchy Another Century’s Episode games, this change makes Gundam Unicorn a tacitly tactical game.

This approach is very deliberate though and is to do with doing justice to the host work. For instance instead of having a magical boost bar that refills, all mobile suits have a finite amount of fuel. Admittedly it won’t run out very quickly but, like your similarly limited ammunition, you have to resupply in the field as well as make every shot count. The supplying element is also handled quite nicely too, by having small drops dotted around a level which you simply fly up to. Some enemies will also afford a re-supply option prior to their death animation, if you’re quick enough to pick them up that is.

What’s slightly at odds with this now is that enemies still require a significant amount of hammering before they die. Normally this wouldn’t stand out but considering the deference to the host work in other areas of the game, the fact you have to repeatedly slash away at an enemy with your beam sabre is a tad jarring. As you’d expect you can also tune your mecha and pilots to be more resilient and potent, but this is something that degenerates into pretty heavy grind fest to amass a significant level of funds.

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This brings us back to the two modes again. Unicorn Mode is very much linked to the events in the anime, so after you’ve watched some rather lacklustre and static “movies” you get to play a mission. The restrictions on what can and can’t happen in the missions on account of the host narrative makes the missions somewhat awkward in places. This is especially noticeable when you have lengthy in-game cutscenes and no real visual charactersation present. There are a few genuine moments of brilliance though, but these are linked to the missions with the Nahel Argama present. Making the battle feel more fluid and exciting.

Subsequently the Custom Cast mode pretty much affords this sense of a fluid battle in every mission, as you can bring your own warship along for the ride. In addition, the removal of a top down narrative makes the missions more engaging and varied, as you’re not tied into doing things a certain way. Whilst you do have fleet battles, you still remain the kickass superstar that can do it all on his own but the addition of allied units means you can complete the base objective quicker and unlock the harder elements of each mission. This then ties into the more difficult mission paths that are then unlocked as you progress.

Naturally, you can’t just start up with a huge fleet from the off either. Instead you need to build up your allied credits through playing the easier mission branches. So as each element of your fleet builds up you do end up appreciating their presence more.

The last element of the game that works a lot better than we expected was the DLC infrastructure. Whilst there is a large store presence on the main menu, the DLC elements are also shown (once available) in Unicorn Mode as well. So you can see the missions your missing. Considering that there is a lot of free DLC too and that the pricing of the paid DLC is reasonable means that it doesn’t feel like an afterthought. Not to mention that the prequel narrative that’s available is actually some of the most compelling part of Unicorn Mode. What’s more interesting though is that in theory, the latter part of the anime’s narrative could also be released as DLC rather than another game. Whether this happens though remains to be seen obviously.

Overall then, Gundam Unicorn is a solid and compelling game that is faithful to the host work but ultimately is more fun when you branch off from it. Visually it’s decent too, though some environmental elements look a bit dated but in general it’s pretty good and the shadowing is fantastic. The lack of multiplayer isn’t an issue from our point of view either, though your mileage will vary on that. What this game does do though is renew our hope in not only From Software but also that the next Another Century’s Episode game will hopefully have built upon this very sturdy foundation.

Tamashii: 7/10

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  • Reid

    Thanks for doing this review. This, along with Gundam Xtreme Versus and Gundam Senki 0081, is one of the games I resolved to myself that I WOULD get and not let it pass me by. My only reservations are: 1) The missions should be easy enough to understand without knowing Japanese but as to the customization/tuning of MS and “Custom Cast” mode, is it hard to figure out what the heck is going on? and 2) do I have to jump through any special hoops in order to gain access to the downloadable content?

    Also, how difficult is it to make a Japanese PSN account?

    Thanks so much for all the hard work you put into making this website one of the best out there, especially in the realm of mecha gaming, an area that sadly gets next to no coverage.

    • HeatPhoenix

      I can answer on the latter, it’s not very hard to make a Japanese PSN. The forms are mostly the same as in English. It’s mostly Hiragana and Katakana too and there’s also a myriad of guides to be found online.

      • ypocaramel

        Hong Kong PSN also has Gundam Unicorn DLC as well and the interface is in English (the game/dlc are still in Japanese); I don’t know if the game is the same version, I assume it is but check just in case.

    • Cacophanus

      There are plenty of guides to setting up a Japanese PSN account online:

      http://youtu.be/d_Kfm0gCTX0

      As for DLC, the free stuff is fine but the paid content will require either a Japanese credit card or a pre-paid PSN store card (the latter is a lot easier to use I find).

      The missions are all pretty easy to understand though, even more so if you’ve seen the anime.

      Glad you like the site though. It’s precisely because mecha game coverage is so crap everywhere that I set this site up in the first place.

  • HeatPhoenix

    As good as the custom cast sounds (getting my own fleet? In space? Hell yeah.) I still feel that when a game has multiplayer it extends my mileage by a ton.

    Especially when it is a game that would lend itself very well to online multiplayer (custom cast with friends).

    Sounds like a pretty decent game though. Maybe I’ll pick it up when it runs a bit cheaper.

    • Cacophanus

      Dunno if multiplayer would make this better though as you still can have duff matches online, with idiots messing around. Having it all scripted is more consistent sometimes. Plus, it’s not as though the AI does the same stuff each time.

      Custom Cast is really what makes the game for me though. Having another game like this set in UC with just these open ended fleet battles would be bloody amazing I think.

      • http://dtvhell.wordpress.com Laurarola

        The disparity between Custom Cast mode reminds me significantly of Journey to Jaburo and Lost War Chronicles. Of course, having the ACE 3.5 control system in this game, I can’t complain about Unicorn Mode in the way I could with JTJ’s mediocre story mode, but I still see a bit of a similarity.

        I have to say that the resupply element gives a much better feel of gravity to combat with ranged weaponry, particularly with the ability to turn enemies into smaller resupply points with a few specific melee tricks. In a way, the repeated smashing of enemies with the beam saber may have been done to facilitate the tactical value of ranged combat. At least, it might with the more effective ranged weapons like the Beam Magnum or the Kshatriya’s various beam guns. For most weapons, smacking things with the saber is still (sadly) faster. That is, if you can actually catch people with melee attacks…

        I certainly hope for either a sequel to this game in either a proper Custom Cast focused outing (like Lost War Chronicles), or in the form of a new ACE 2 and 3 based mass crossover endeavor.

  • http://phobotech.newgrounds.com Phobotech

    It speaks volumes of the production value in the source material when it looks and sounds WAY BETTER than any PS3 game could hope to emulate.

    …Still, is it weird for them to come out with a game based on a mere…what, 3, 4 episodes? Based on a novel that, when translated to animation, is 3/4ths talking heads?

    I’m looking forward to seeing Mobile Suit Gundam Unicorn progress, but it’s difficult to get hyped over the game for me, for some reason.

    …Possibly because my mind is a flood with Armored Core V…

    • Distantmantra

      The original Mobile Suit Gundam was split into two PS2 games: Journey to Jaburo and Encounters in Space. It’s nothing new, and this is Bandai Namco we’re talking about. Gotta make their money somehow.

      • Tollmaster

        Encounters in Space played very differently from Journey to Jaburo however, and EiS was also filled to the absolute brim with extra content. I’m fairly sensitive to arbitrary decisions on the part of companies to ensure planned obsolescence, but I feel like EiS was more than enough its own beast to justify the splitting of the Gundam saga.

        I don’t know if we’ll see the same thing happen here with Gundam Unicorn, but the Custom Cast mode tells us that From Software at least acknowledged the fact that the first half or so of Gundam Unicorn did not an entire game make.

        So, at least in this instance, I don’t want to blame Bandai Namco. There’s enough effort to justify a purchase here, and they were smart enough to let From Software do their own thing once again.

        • Distantmantra

          I agree there is plenty of game here to justify a purchase, just saying that this isn’t the first time a Gundam storyline has been split into two separate games.

  • Mecha Lupin

    I got the game today . I was impressed with the “feel” of the game right off the bat , I have only tried the training mission so far , and it’s still too early to say much, but I can already determine that it’s a improvement over ACE R , which was my first import game on PS3 (and still cool) , I appreciate your reviews Cacophanous it was while researching ACE R that i found your site last year.

  • Mecha Lupin

    People have been under the misconception that Gundam UC only has content revolving chapters 1-3 of OVAs , this is partially true , besides casting mode , there is also missions which are prologues to episode 1 , Banagher learning to fly Unicorn as a child, DLC of Full Frontal stealing the Sinanju .You would be selling the game and your potential fun , short , by thinking that all you do is relive a few battles from 1-3 . The game also uses the HAVOK engine famous from Star Wars Force Unleashed games , and slicing enemy mechs open halfway never gets old.

    • Cacophanus

      The Havok engine isn’t being used for physics, but for animation. Plus, the content of the game out of the box is only the first 3 episodes from the anime.

  • OmegaShinkai

    As much as I wanted to enjoy this game, the mission design is pathetic, along with the AI. It seems the computer prefers flying in circles at top speed while occasionally taking shots, and half of the enemies seem immune to knockback from weapons, but the second one uses the exact same weapon on you, you’re stuck for around five seconds.

    The “don’t let enemies cross this line” missions are pretty bad too, I’ve watched enemies spawn about ten seconds away from the line and then the game has the nerve to tell me I failed the mission.

    • Mecha Lupin

      That is a tough mission , but what you said is probably due to missing the fact that 2 enemy squads
      spawn out, one goes for the top route and the other heads below . the trick is to watch for red blips and intercept them with a volley of missiles . As for weapons if the game had easy to kill enemies it would
      be less chalenging, or no?

      • OmegaShinkai

        Honestly, I give up, and I’m going to sell the game. Some of the objectives are absurd, and the game is such a grind fest that it’s not even fun. I’ve only had the game for a week, but honestly it was not worth the price for the pathetic amount of content and repetition.