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Mobile Suit Gundam: Pilots' Locus

by Ed Shih - June 1, 2004, 9:42 pm PDT

7

For gamers that dream of Mobile Suits, importing Mobile Suit Gundam: Pilots' Locus is a no-brainer. For everyone else, the decision lies with how much you like difficult games and manual camera work.

Licenced games often get a lot flak as more often than not they are mediocre efforts that depend on the intellectual property to which they are attached to drive sales. Mobile Suit Gundam: Pilots' Locus comes close to falling into this category but thanks to some solid gameplay mechanics and plenty of play value, the game avoids falling into the pit of the damned.

As one might expect from a game based on an anime series featuring giant robots (a.k.a. Mobile Suits), Mobile Suit Gundam: Pilots' Locus lets you take control of various Mobile Suits and fight through the events of the the One Year War from the original Mobile Suit Gundam series. The third-person mission-based mech action takes place on the ground and in space. Each environment offers a distinctive gameplay experience, as fighting in space allows for quicker movement in an open 3-dimensional battlefield while ground combat is a bit more methodical due to slower movement and battlefields that aren't as wide open. Individual missions allow players to relive battles from the series and as such don't deviate much from the formulas of attack/search-and-destroy or defend/escort. This shouldn't be a problem for fans of the series, but those who can't put the missions in their proper context (i.e. don't know Gundam history or Japanese) may lose interest quickly.

To spice up the mech-combat formula, Moblie Suit Gundam: Pilots' Locus allows you to access a map of the battlefield and direct any allies that may be fighting with you. With AI companions that can actually do their jobs and defeat enemies, this tactical control can help you quickly get through a mission and improve your mission ranking, which in turn, can unlock one of many bonuses. In addition to commanding allies, pilots have special skills and abilities that can be unlocked and used in combat to turn the tides of battle. Skills can help improve your movement, firepower, attack, and defense abilites while abilities give you temporary powers such as stealth, invulnerability, and increased accuracy. Early missions don't require much use of these skills and abilities, but later missions almost require their usage.

The game employs an experience point system where your pilot gains experience for defeating enemies and completing missions. As your experience increases, the types of skills and abilities which you have access to increases. Fortunately, you don't have to complete a mission to gain experience, so if you destroy a few enemies but are killed before completing a mission you can still get something for your efforts. So if you keep playing missions, you'll slowly level up your pilot and possibly gain access to an important skill or ability that can help you get past a particularly tough mission.

This design decision makes the game's difficulty more bearable as many of the missions will not be completed on your first, second, or possibly tenth attempt. Mobile Suit Gundam is not an easy game. This is often by design, but the game's camera will sometimes make fighting more frustrating than it should be. The game employs a “dumb” camera that doesn't try to keep the view in front of you (i.e behind your Mobile Suit). This puts camera control squarely in the hands of the player. Novice gamers will likely have a hard time until they learn to move the camera to keep the action on screen and even seasoned gamers can sometimes have trouble keeping targets on screen, especially in the open 3d environments of space. A lock-on mechanism occassionally reduces the camera work. Unfortunately, the lock-on isn't always solid which leads to having to manually adjust the camera in the heat of battle. At its best, the lock-on system is barely adequate, and at its worst, it'll make you wish you had your own Mobile Suit so you could properly vent your frustration.

Unlike the lock-on mechanic, the game's audio and visual presentation is fairly solid. While the barren wastelands and open space environments in which combat occurs do not look great, the Mobile Suits and vehicles within them are well modelled and animate fairly smoothly. Weapon effects and explosions look alright but won't blow many people away. Characters speak from time to time during battles and are presented using 2-D animation like that of the anime series. This contrasts a bit with the otherwise realistic art style, but works well enough as this animated form is how the characters have always been presented. Although the contrast in art styles doesn't really detract from the game, it might have been nice to see consistency throughout the game's art direction and make the environments and Mobile Suits cel-shaded. The fact that the game uses music and Japanese voices from the original show emphasizes the missed opportunity to have fully recreated the classic anime series in video-game form.

On its gameplay alone, Mobile Suit Gundam: Pilots' Locus is a decent mech-combat game with some depth that carries the burden of a camera system that can be extremely trying. Factor in the appeal of the original Mobile Suit Gundam series and you have a game that'll likely please fans of the show. Fans of the genre who are fluent in Japanese (deeper gameplay elements like skills/abilities are not in English) may also find Mobile Suit Gundam: Pilots' Locus worth a look as there's plenty of gameplay to be had with the numerous missions, pilots, and Mobile Suits. And for the majority of readers with little to no background in Gundam and no Japanese knowledge? You probably want to pass as you'll be missing out on the game's best features; the skill/ability system and the experience of personally fighting through the One Year War.

Score

Graphics Sound Control Gameplay Lastability Final
6.5 7 4 8 8 7
Graphics
6.5

Solid but unspectacular. The plain environments are balanced out by nice looking models, effects, and animation.

Sound
7

While there's nothing too special here, the music and sound effects are quite appropriate for the game given the licence. The music is straight from the show and hearing the characters speak in Japanese will warm the heart of any anime fan.

Control
4

Moving a Mobile Suit can be a bit tricky at first, but the in-game tutorials ease a player into the cockpit. Too bad they can't do anything about an iffy lock-on mechanism and a camera that needs constant babysitting.

Gameplay
8

Mission variety isn't wonderful but it is restricted to the material on which the game is based. Fortunately, the tactical elements along with the skills/abilities allow for many approaches to any given mission. The experience point system is also well designed so that you can still slowly advance your pilot even if you're stuck on a mission.

Lastability
8

Despite having only one gameplay mode, Mobile Suit Gundam: Pilots' Locus should keep you busy for a while as it features missions from both sides of the Federation/Zion conflict, especially if you try for good mission rankings. Add in a plethora of skills/abilities, pilots, Mobile Suits, and extra missions to unlock, and the play value of the game becomes quite high.

Final
7

More than any game in recent memory, I have a love/hate relationship with Mobile Suit Gundam: Pilots' Locus. The battles can be intense, and the depth of gameplay make for a fun experience. This makes frequent camera adjustments in the heat of battle that much more annoying. Factor in the difficulty level (not always a bad thing) and loading times when constantly replaying a level, and there were times when I just wanted to give up on the game. With a some work on the camera and lock-on system and a little extra flair to the visuals, the game could have been a great game on its own instead of just being a good experience for Mobile Suit Gundam fans.

Summary

Pros
  • Gaining experience even in failed missions softens the blow of losing.
  • Plenty of unlockables and plenty of missions will keep you busy for a while.
  • Skill/ability system and tactical deployment add nice depth to gameplay.
Cons
  • Long level loading times are especially noticable when having to replay levels multiple times.
  • Lots of camera work needed to keep track of action in a firefight.
  • Mission variety is somewhat lacking.
Review Page 2: Conclusion

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Genre Action
Developer Bandai
Players1

Worldwide Releases

na: Mobile Suit Gundam: Pilots' Locus
Release TBA
PublisherBandai
jpn: Kidou Senshi Gundam: Senshitachi no Kiseki
Release Mar 18, 2004
PublisherBandai
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