Ready your beam sabre and pull out your mask, Battle Assault 3 featuring Gundam Seed is here.  Strange long title aside, this has to be one of the better fighting games available for the Playstation 2.  This game focuses on the latest Gundam series, which is currently airing on Cartoon Network.  I am not personally a Gundam historian, so I couldn’t say where Seed falls in the Universal Century timeline, but it touches on the war between ZAFT and the Alliance.  The game itself allows you to experience some of the major battles the series protagonist, Kira Yamato, was in during the one year war. 

The first thing that stands out to me in this game are the mecha models themselves.  As you play the game, the different mecha look like the model kits that you can assemble yourself.  Each mecha is easily identifiable and is also well detailed. They also have lots of animations and weapon parts that animate during the moves.  Someone really cared about these units looking nice, and it shows in the game’s design.

The other thing that stood out with the graphics in this game is the frame rate.  Everything looks properly textured, and really well detailed, but the framerate keeps up and doesn’t include many places for the game to slow down due to graphical processing. The only situation where I could make the game slow down was when a large building or object on the battlefield explodes (usually a generator of some sort…and always when it will hurt me).

The next time I get into a big battle in my powered suit of doom (+4), I want someone to announce in a DJ voice “Ready?  Go!”  I really found the DJ’s voice to get annoying before and after the battles after a few hundred times.  Thankfully, there is an option to turn this off, so I won’t hold this against them.  I’ll just let the words echo in my brain where they have been permanently etched.

The music for the game is high-energy and driving.  It’s not outstanding, but it is well placed and doesn’t jar you during game play.  Unfortunately, the explosions, fighting, and exclamations from the other characters flows over the music in the background to the point that you no longer hear it.  This is a shame as the music fits well with the pace of the game, and only extensive volume tweaking corrects this.

The other sounds and voices from the characters during battle have been taken from the english translation and dub of the series.  The voices are okay, but Kira gets old after a few fights.  I found an option to turn off cutscenes pretty quickly in the menu because of his inability to get a spine.  Since the game doesn’t quite cover all the story, all you get are bits and pieces through the cutscenes.

Each mecha unit has four basic buttons:  weak attack, strong attack, range attack, and jump.  You also have a defend button and ability button.  Using these buttons alongside the analog stick (or D-pad if you want) allows your giant robot to perform varying attacks and dodges.  The system works pretty well, and it is easy to pull off most maneuvers from the get-go.  I had a problem with the sidestep maneuvers using the analog stick, but I think that is more because it is not a full arcade stick.  It is simple to double tap the d-pad up or down and then go back to analog for this maneuver.

The one sour note in the controls department is the use of a switch target button for when you are fighting two opponents.  It’s a great concept and should make it easier to pick which mecha opponent you wish to attack, but you can only change targets when moving or jumping.  If you are being attacked, or attacking then the game will not let you change targets.  This makes it hard to do anything but beat on your current target until it is dead, and spoils the almost perfect controls.

It is a good thing that the controls respond well in this game, because the gameplay itself can be fast and furious at times.  The basic game mode for the game is mission mode, in which you play the part of Kira Yamato defending the Archangel from various attacks by ZAFT.  You select which mission you are going to go on to move across the map, and it tells you in advance how many mecha units you will be facing and which Gundam you will be piloting for the mission.  It also rates the mission in difficulty (Trainee, Rookie, Pilot, Veteran, etc).  As you complete the missions, you move closer to the final battle for that chapter.  With each chapter completion, you save the game and move to the next chapter.  If you fail to complete your mission, the Archangel takes damage, then you are sent back into the mission to try again.  I was a little dismayed that it didn’t ask me if I wanted to retry.  Once the Archangel takes 100% damage, you are asked if you want to continue.  You then start the area over and have to fight your way through again.

The nice thing about these missions is that they are not always one on one battles.  Most of the early battles are like this, then they introduce missions in which you have to destroy four, eight, and twelve Ginn or BuCue mecha.  These are endurance battles and you get no rest or repairs between destructions.  To add to that, you will typically face two at a time in these battle types, which means you don’t always get some breathing time to shake out your hands.  These fights can be tough, and I found them both challenging and frustrating.

A variation on the above mission type, some of the missions will be timed.  If you can defeat all of the enemies before the timer reaches a specific time (usually 1:30) then a new route will open up and you can move on to a special fight.  This is usually a sign you are going to unlock a new unit to be played.

Each chapter in mission mode has multiple routes and missions, and it will take multiple plays through that mission to find them all.  I found that this is one of the best ways to hone my skills as a Gundam pilot.  I have found that even the Strong Versus Mode AI is not terribly smart sometimes, so I’m wondering if the endurance missions was their way to make up for an AI that couldn’t quite keep up with the game.

Unlock, unlock, unlock.  With 33 units and you only having five to start with, there is a lot of reason to go back to each area in mission mode and kick some more metal mecha butt. Because of the way mission mode is laid out, it takes a little exploration and skill to get to the areas you need for unlocking these units.  Some units will be unlocked just by completing a zone, such as Athrun’s Aegis Gundam.  Others, such as Wing Zero Custom and Tallgeese take more work.  Not only do you have to beat the mecha in question, you must then complete the chapter you are in and save the game to keep the new unlocked unit. 

Add on top of that, you only can play versus and mission mode at the start, you have to complete objectives to open up several of the other gametypes on the main menu.  As of the writing of this review, I had not discovered any other gameplay modes.  Of course, it would bear mentioning that I had not finished mission mode either, but I will fight on!

Readers of this review will note that I have not touched on any of the modes that can be unlocked after you complete mission mode once.   This is because even though I’ve put about ten hours into this game, I’ve not finished mission mode.  There are tag-team, time attack, Survival,  Records and Trailer modes to unlock on the main menu.  Alas, it will be much longer before I see those.  But after all I have been through to get as far as I have in mission mode, I think the rest of the journey will be fun as well.  The game also has some nice super moves that each mecha can perform, but as they can easily be performs, I’ll let the player experience them rather than spoil their imagination.  This game mixes Gundam and fighting games in just the right amount, and I look forward to the tearing of metal limbs that will occur in my house for some time to come.