Zone of the Enders is a mecha franchise created by Hideo Kojima that perhaps unfairly is mostly remembered for the original entry coming with a demo for Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty. The second game in the series has received a makeover after 15 years for the PC and PlayStation 4 including 4K and VR support so how does it hold up?
The Zone of the Enders games are action combat games with mecha designed by long-time Kojima collaborator Yoji Shinkawa (oddly, most of them have quite phallic designs). The series has that same smooth futuristic visual style that Metal Gear Solid 2 did making it feel familiar even though it’s a totally different thing.
You play Dingo Egret, yes, that is his name, as he gets dragged into a series of events after accidentally discovering an Orbital Frame (a fancy flying mecha) called Jehuty, that inevitably involves becoming a reluctant hero as he takes on BAHRAM, an illegitimate military organisation that want to “liberate” Mars.
Jehuty can shoot from afar but get into melee range and they’ll swing a massive blade into the target. It can also dash which changes these attacks into BURST versions, a barrage of homing lasers and a powered up slash respectively. In addition to this basic selection of attacks Jehuty can also grab objects and enemies to use as weapons as well as utilise a variety of subweapons. These subweapons range from the Geyser that stops enemies in their tracks to the Gauntlet which acts as a knockback move.
The basic flow of the game consists of getting trapped in an arena, fighting waves of enemies and then moving to the next arena. This is broken up with boss encounters and the occasional element of exploration. Cutscenes play out as in-engine sequences and with hand drawn anime segments that really help the characters but unfortunately the dialogue is atrocious, often times making very little sense from line to line. Fortunately the gist of the story is easy to follow so it doesn’t affect the game much.
Combat is fast and furious which makes the limited repertoire of moves make a lot more sense, even with the half-dozen moves you have it can get quite heated when you are surrounded by enemies. The game prioritises a lock-on style of combat which fortunately keeps it relatively straightforward with knowing where your targets are. It’s also still extremely satisfying and visually pleasing with neon lasers and particle effects covering the screen 90% of the time, there is something about the aesthetic that is somehow timeless and still looks great 15 years later.
This remaster also brings with it VR support on PC and PS4 and it’d have been easy for them to just add a limited “VR Experience” style thing but they didn’t, the whole game is playable in VR with a new UI placing you in the cockpit with new elements replacing the standard display in a sensible and fun way. The frenetic combat could very easily have turned this into a motion-sickness inducing nightmare but the games lock-on focus and smooth control make it an extremely compelling way to play the game!
Sadly cutscenes, even the in-engine ones, play out on a virtual screen when playing in VR pulling you from the experience briefly but the overall VR treatment is a great one, really giving you an impressive sense of scale. It’s far better than I was expecting it to be and one of the better times I’ve had in VR bolted on to an existing title.
Zone of the Enders The 2nd Runner: Mars is a solid remaster of a game that deserves a proper look. It’s a shame we don’t have access to the original game but this sequel is a lot of fun to play while it lasts and if you have VR access then that is a great reason to replay this overlooked mecha action title.
ZONE OF THE ENDERS THE 2nd RUNNER : M∀RS (Reviewed on Windows)
This game is great, with minimal or no negatives.
A polished, well put together remaster of a game that never really got a fair shake during its original release. If you like mecha punching each other or the idea of piloting one in VR is your thing you can do a lot worse than giving Zone of the Enders The 2nd Runner: Mars a go.