Review by GMitchell
"Lacking in polish, but packing excitement"
Infogames' mech-based shooter for the Dreamcast provides a bittersweet taste. In some areas meticulous and clearly the product of true inspiration, in other areas rushed or downright unfinished, Slave Zero has a dual nature that may be difficult to appreciate for some.
The concept is an excellent one - mission-based third-person warfare requiring the player to pilot a 60-foot mech through a futuristic city taking on similarly-sized enemies, complete with down-scaled pedestrians and motorized traffic that you may crush underfoot at will. Cutscenes (thankfully done with the in-game engine) detail a plotline that pits you against large numbers of enemies (surprise!) in your quest to let freedom reign in an oppressed and gloomy society.
Bringing this vision to life are some excellent graphics; huge buildings, cityscapes, sewers, tunnels, roads and intersections all look terrific. Billboards, posters and electric signs are clearly readable and generally very Orwellian in nature. The visual environment that you stalk through in your machine of destruction is immensely impressive on every level, and provides a wonderful backdrop for watching a downed enemy mech explode into shrapnel. Light-sourcing during explosions is often breathtaking in scale, with all buildings in sight changing hue briefly upon impact. Unfortunately, there is a quite distressing amount of slowdown during action-heavy scenes that will have any framerate pundit scoffing in disgust. In addition, during these scenes enemies, missiles and explosions can become a quite garish pixelly mess that seems totally out of place in a game that looked so terrific just moments before. Clearly, the Dreamcast is capable of much better.
Sound effects include a fairly decent stomping sound for your behemoth, standard-fare machine gun fire and blasting sounds, and excellent voice-overs from characters in the game. An especially delicious and creepy touch is the inclusion of what is apparently a telepathic voice, which echoes in to give you advice mid-mission. This almost immediately makes you feel like an integral part of the game, something that a lot of developers could learn a lesson from. On the negative side, in what could either be an error of omission or a strange decision, there is no background music in Dreamcast Slave Zero at all. In addition to this strangeness, sound effects are prone to disappearing completely for short time periods of heavy action - leaving the game in absolute silence. Volume during cutscenes is weak enough to have you doubling the output level of your sound system, only to be blasted out of the room upon the game's return. It's the type of problem that would have a PC owner wondering if her/his sound drivers were properly configured, but has the console crowd thinking that some parts of this product simply weren't finished. As is, it appears that there were some stones left unturned by the Dreamcast port team at Infogames.
Gameplay, I'm happy to report, is excellent. Control is incredibly intuitive and tight, level design is both crafty and adventurous, and enemy AI is quite wicked without being cheap. Careful and judicious use of health and weapon powerups is as integral to the game as ducking behind buildings and learning to properly strafe enemies with fancy maneuvers. Boss characters are well designed, and require quite a bit of extra attention to take care of, unless you enjoy snacking on missiles and seeing the ''Continue?'' screen a lot.
On a similar note, replay value is pretty decent. With 15 levels to make your way through, it won't be incredibly early that you ''beat'' the game. Though the initial shock of the telepathic voice wears thin pretty quickly, the total ambiance of the game remains constant through multiple plays and keeps the experience a fairly addictive one. And once you have completed all 15 levels and/or exhausted your enjoyment in single-player mode, there's an excellent multiplayer mode that allows for up to 4 players to tango.
In all, Slave Zero is a pretty good romp that just needs a few loose ends tied up to receive an unabashed thumbs up from me. It appears that Infogames chose to focus on the multiplayer mode for the DC version rather than attend to the framerate or sound issues, which sadly color the entire product and make it seem hustled out the door. If you're a shooter fan who doesn't really care about that kind of thing, I'm betting that Slave Zero will have you grinning like a madman (or madwoman) in no time.
Reviewer's Rating: 3.0 - Fair
Originally Posted: 05/29/01, Updated 05/29/01
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