What’s old is new again — Hands-on with Zone of the Enders: The 2nd Runner M∀RS at E3

It’s been fifteen years since Zone of the Enders: The 2nd Runner made its debut on the PlayStation 2, so I was a little surprised to see it listed on my E3 docket. I was even more surprised to learn that it has been remastered for the PSVR, donning the new title of Zone of the Enders: The 2nd Runner M∀RS. This third person shooter with hack-em-up elements told a solid little cell-shaded story about men and women who pilot giant robots, known as Orbital Frames, inside a war-torn galaxy. Readers may or may not know about my love of giant robot games, so I was more than a little excited to step into Dingo’s shoes and try my had at piloting an Orbital Frame.

The demo got right to the point, dropping me into the pilot’s seat as swarms of Mosquitoes, small, unmanned attack ships, quickly approached. The controls were not initially that intuitive; I was told to press a button and target multiple enemies with my lasers, but when I did just as they instructed, I only managed to fire one dinky rocket, taking out a single ship. With a little bit of instruction, I learned that the trick was to hold down the button, sweep my hand across the screen, then release. Boom. Dozens of lasers deployed, dozens of Mosquitoes destroyed. Good times were had by all. Except for the Mosquitoes.

I was also able to vanquish the annoying, tiny ships by using my sword, though this wasn’t terribly satisfying at first. Oddly, I felt like I distinctly remembered it being far cooler in the original game. I followed the commands, getting close to a ship and pressing a button to swing my sword. Ching. Dead. Ok, that was cool, I guess? It wasn’t until I really got aggressive, and actually dove into the middle of the swarm, that I discovered the fun.

In true anime style, my Orbital Frame leapt from swordstroke to swordstroke automatically, allowing me to chain dozens of swings together without having to pause to target or reposition my mecha. So long as there was another ship within striking range, I could keep right on swinging. Even more satisfying, my mecha’s cockpit came equipped with a mini model of my Orbital Frame just to the right of my vision, and it changed its position and stance in time with the mecha itself. This gave me a front row seat to a very flashy display of swordsmanship, and all I had to do was sit back and keep on pressing the square button.

You’re not fully reliant on the built in weapons of the Orbital Frame; you’re also able to grab some objects and use them to attack or defend. If you defend yourself while holding an object you can deflect almost all incoming damage, making it a really good idea to pause long enough to pick up that broken support beam. You can also use these items in place of a sword, swinging them by using the PSVR Motion Controls, and you can throw them by taking aim with the Motion Controls, and pressing and releasing a button at just the right time. It’s all quite natural and intuitive, and one well-aimed throw brought a boss battle to a very sudden, and satisfying, hault.

Zone of the Enders: The 2nd Runner M∀RS looks great in PSVR; the cell shaded Orbital Frames stand out nicely, but not starkly, against the natural background, falling snow, and steel walls of the huge spaceships I navigated through. The gameplay is quick, flashy, and quite satisfying. There’s not much free roaming; it’s not quite on rails, but you’re still pretty restricted as far as where you can go. You’re instructed to move towards a spot, instantly enter a new area for combat, immediately jump to an animated cutscene, then find yourself back on the map. It sounds jarring, and I was worried that all of these swift changes would result in a bout of motion sickness, which I’m prone to in VR, but fortunately, my concerns were unfounded. The pacing actually fit in nicely with the Anime theme, and the cockpit of the Orbital Frame helped me feel grounded and prevented nausea.

The remastered version of Zone of the Enders: The 2nd Runner feels right at home in VR, it looks great, and, once you figure out the controls, is very fun to play. I’m looking forward to logging countless more hours in the pilot’s seat of my own Orbital Frame when Zone of the Enders: The 2nd Runner M∀RS lands on PlayStation4, PSVR, Steam, and Steam VR on September 4th, 2018.

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