Panzer Dragoon Orta
The pairing of Sega's old skool arcade goodness with the graphical prowess of Xbox is a match made in heaven. Meet their prodigal offspring: The inimitable Panzer Dragoon Orta.
By Tony Scinta
Spend enough time with fans of Panzer Dragoon and you'll start to think the game's creators turn water into wine on their days off. These guys still talk about the classic Sega Saturn shooter the way my buddy Tom talks about the time he saw a girl's bikini fall off at Six Flags ("It was so awesome!").
No one should take the word of rabid, near-hysterical fans, but even normal humans salivate at the prospect of a new installment in the Panzer Dragoon series.
After several years in hibernation, that installment has arrived in the form of Panzer Dragoon Orta for Xbox. Is it a worthy addition to the series (see Godfather Part 2) or an utter disgrace to the game's lineage (Rocky 9: The Fight for Bladder Control)?
I hate to ruin the suspense, but Panzer Dragoon Orta is an exceptional game. It looks like Famke Janssen, plays like a vintage Gibson guitar, and costs significantly less than both.
Nonetheless, PDO should come with a warning tag. The game is arguably the best rail shooter ever conceived, but it's still a rail shooter. Those who avoid rail shooters like Trekkies avoid women might want to pass on this one (read on for more).
For the uninitiated, a rail shooter involves flying around and blowing away hordes of bad guys. This is the "shooter" aspect. The "rail" aspect refers to how your vehicle - or whoop-ass dragon, in this case - is only afforded limited movement in 3D space, as if tethered by an invisible anchor.
This may seem a bit archaic compared to the freedom normally associated with modern 3D environments, but players actually have a good deal of control over their mounts. The dragon always moves forward, but players can slow it down, speed it up (complete with a devastating battering ram effect), and look in four different directions to obliterate oncoming foes.
Moreover, the dragon can unleash 3 different kinds of attack (rapid fire, lock on missiles, and berserk) and morph into three different forms, each with distinct power and maneuverability advantages.
The "base wing" is your standard dragon with average firepower and maneuverability, and a dazzling berserk attack that pounds onscreen enemies with a hail of psychedelic fire.
The "heavy wing" moves and fires more slowly than its counterparts, but its lock on missiles and berserk cannon rip through foes with unparalleled force. The "glide wing" is the most nimble and elusive of the bunch, but it lacks missiles and its berserk attack is a mixed bag - weak power offset by the ability to recoup your health.
With its frenetic pacing, white-knuckle challenge and immense boss battles, PDO is a throwback to arcade games of yore, but it delivers more depth than you might imagine. Each ability at your disposal is perfectly integrated into the gameplay. Expert players will know precisely when to accelerate, brake, change modes of fire, switch dragons, and bring the noise with a berserk attack. If done properly, PDO is an intense mix of blasting, dodging, and strategic morphing that provides an adrenaline rush rarely matched in any game.
Though PDO is a short game - the main quest involves only 10 missions - it brims with unlockable content. By either playing well (Panzer vets) or playing poorly for a long time (me), gamers can unlock a host of extra missions, mounts, artwork, and even the original version of Panzer Dragoon. It's basically a straight port, but complain and Panzer Dragoon groupies will come to your house and beat you senseless with their Saturn controllers.
Of course, even if there were no unlockables, a lot of people would still play PDO until their eyes bled from malnutrition.
For starters, the game is absolutely gorgeous. It's easily one of the most impressive visual experiences ever, both artistically and technically. Gaping canyons, snow-dusted plains, and flying warships are all brought to life in magnificent detail and an awe-inspiring sense of scope. To ice the cake, the framerate never stutters and the draw distance stretches for miles with no pop-up.
That being said, the visuals are not the main allure. Lush graphics will get most gamers to take the bait, but the gameplay will reel them in.
The first time through, you might play to see the story. We're not talking Oscar material here, but when the real-time cutscenes look this fabulous, I'd watch the story of "Who left their dirty socks on the kitchen counter" with a slack jaw and rapt attention.
But after that first run to the finish line, most players will go back for two reasons: 1) to get better and 2) to have fun. It only took me about 2 1/2 hours to blast through the game on my first try, but after a week I had racked up over 15 hours of gameplay. Sure, most of the main missions feature one or more branching paths that lead to distinctly different terrain and enemy encounters, but the main appeal of PDO is not the amount of terrain to explore, but how much fun you'll have exploring it.
The sound and music are good, but unspectacular. The instrumental score fits lock and key with this type of game, but it's not something people would listen to while lounging around the house (not if they're cool, anyway). The sound effects are appropriate, but they seem to lack the bombast needed to rattle teeth and pop eardrums.
None of this detracts from the game, but it doesn't add anything, either. Fortunately, when a game is a towering behemoth of impeccable gameplay and graphics, it hardly needs a boost from the sound department.
Truth be told, Panzer Dragoon Orta hardly needs anything at all. The gameplay hasn't evolved much since the Saturn days, but it's still just about the most fun you can have by yourself with your clothes on. Do us all a favor and buy this game so Sega will bring us the only thing greater than Panzer Dragoon Orta - the sequel.
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|PLEASE DO NOT DIRECT LINK TO ANY MEDIA FILE ON KIKIZO|
|Some of Orta's cinematic moments with a certain theme song that fans of the series might remember.||1.36min||12.8MB||MPG|
|Loads of stunning in-game action with a couple of cut scenes.||1.01min||8.21MB||MPG|
|Locely cut scene, before fading into more in-game.||1.11min||9.60MB||MPG|
|A couple of final scenes, title screen, fade out.||0.35min||4.75MB||MPG|