Let me be the first to say it, I have had little to no contact with the Panzer Dragoon series up to this point. I never owned a Sega Saturn where the other 3 titles came out on, but I did play Panzer Dragoon Zwei and Panzer Dragoon Saga minimally in college. Let me say one thing, Panzer Dragoon Orta (PDO) might be the best shooter I have ever played.

PDO is the story of a girl named Orta. She has been imprisoned by the Empire since she was a child. At the beginning of the game some Empire dragons are on their way to get rid of her (at least that is how I take it) when another dragon comes and saves her. She and the dragon form a bond throughout the game. I am not one to give out spoilers in reviews, but the dragon is tied to the dragons in the rest of the series. As you go through the game you learn more and more about the dragon and Orta’s past and why she was imprisoned. For a shooter, this game has a pretty darn good storyline.

The story is told through 10 episodes. This is a rail shooter in the mold of the StarFox games from Nintendo. You are on a set path, but you do have limited movement on that path. In addition, this game has a lot of different ways you can take through the episodes. It all depends on which side you are flying when the branch comes up (you have no indication of where they are). All the routes merge back into the main thread again at some point. Between the episodes there is a narrator giving us an overview and some very good CGI with the characters as well. All the voices are in an amalgamation of different languages (which I found out just now) and the game is subtitled. I find it funny that when the narrator speaks it seems he has less to say than what the words say on the screen.

The graphics are absolutely beautiful. There is no slowdown in this game at all and there are usually a ton of enemies on the screen at once. Smilebit has made a beautiful game in Panzer Dragoon Orta. I am still trying to decide if the graphics in this game are better than in Splinter Cell. They are two totally different games from a graphics perspective (SC=dependance on lighting, PDO=dependance on beauty), so it is a tough one to call. I would dare say this is the most beautiful shooter ever madeā€¦bravo Smilebit!

The controls are easy to understand, but take a while to master. It is recommended that you go through the tutorial to understand everything. This is not a “turn your brain off” shooter, there is some strategy involved. The most important (and exciting) addition to this game is the ability to change the dragon into 3 forms: Base Wing, Heavy Wing and Glide Wing. Each one has special properties and it is important to figure out if a different Wing would be more advantageous in a situation than another. To change forms you simply hit the Y button. To fire you hit the A button. When in Base or Heavy Wing you can hold down the A button and lock on targets to fire missiles. In Glide Wing you have nonstop gun shooting, which is handy against missiles fired by the enemy for example. The X button will glide you forward (Base and Glide Wing only) and the B button will make you brake (also Base and Glide Wing only). When gliding forward you can defeat enemies in front of you. The R and L triggers swirl the camera around you so you can fire upon enemies behind and on the sides of you. The camera is pretty good, it only gets weird when an enemy (usually a boss) does a diagonal move to a higher or lower level to move into a new position. You can get a good taste of vertigo in these spots. The black button is used for your special attack. Each Wing has a different special attack and the diagonal vial on the left side of your popup is the key to the special attack. When it is filled you can unleash one. You also have limited flying ability to go up, down, left and right. When going left and right your camera may change as well, making you not have to hit the L or R trigger.

The main game has 3 difficulty levels: Easy, Normal and Hard. Easy is difficult in itself, normal and hard make it that much tougher. After each level you are graded on how you did. A-D and S are the grades. S is the highest grade you can receive and is key to opening up some of the bigger extras in the game. This game has a huge amount of replay in it. Even though the game itself may take you 6 hours (more or less) to beat, you will probably want to go back and beat the other difficulty levels and/or open up more things in the Pandora’s Box.

Yes, Pandora’s Box makes a reappearance in this game. Depending upon many variables, you unlock things in the Box as you go through the game. You can unlock such things as the original Panzer Dragoon game to play, a whole sub-game with a little boy going into the Empire life and other episodes with other characters and animals. You can also go back and replay any episode with different riders/modes of transportation if you unlock things. This game has a lot of replay value in it. I know I will be playing it for a long time.

This is the most beautiful X-Box game yet. It may not have the lighting abilities of Splinter Cell, but then again it does not have the occasional slowdown SC has either. This game is very fast with lots of enemies around. I saw absolutely no slowdown at all. That is a testament to its greatness. The CGI cutscenes are pretty as well.

Great music in the game and the voices are great for the most part. When the soldiers get loud on their voiceovers (episode 8 for instance) it starts to get slightly annoying. The Dolby Digital 5.1 sound is put to good use with directionality working quite well. You will know if an enemy is behind you when you hear him coming from the left or right surround speaker. The music was just nice and orchestral. It seemed like it just simmered in the background most of the time, but then again I did not have much time to think about the music as I was destroying enemies.

Learn the controls. That is the best advice I can give you. You must be aware of what Wing you are in so you know how many Y button hits you are away from the Wing you want to be. This game moves fast and you can be caught unaware quite easily. Master the controls and the Normal and Hard modes will not seem so hard. There are a lot of controls in this game and you have to use each and every one of them. The deduction from the score is that it will take time to get everything worked out. The later episodes are very difficult with multiple Wing changes, so be ready.

This is a shooter, but it also has some strategy mixed in. This game is simply fun to play. I did not care if I died or not, I was just having fun with the game trying to figure out which Wing would serve me better in a specific situation. This game is easy to pick up, but difficult to master unless you give it some time. If you play through this game only once you are not getting all this game has to offer. If you play through it once it will take 6 hours (give or take), but there is a plethora of things to unlock by playing through again by getting better grades or going to a higher difficulty. The Pandora’s Box has additional missions with different characters along with the ability to play the original Panzer Dragoon game. You can also unlock other mounts and characters to bring into the Episodes in the main game. This game has tons of gameplay to be had if you give it a chance. Smilebit certainly went the extra mile with the extras in this game.