Zone of the Enders: The 2nd Runner M∀RS on PlayStation 4
One of Hideo Kojima’s most beloved series is back with the remaster of the second Zone of the Enders game, titled Zone of the Enders: The 2nd Runner. Originally released in 2003 for the PS2, The 2nd Runner was praised for its fast combat and improvements to the abilities the main character could use, compared to the first game. The remaster, Zone of the Enders: The 2nd Runner M∀RS modernizes this PS2 classic with 4K visuals, VR support, and updates to the sound. Saying, “Zone of the Enders is back and better than ever,” might be true, but considering this is still a PS2 game which hasn’t aged well, that isn’t saying much.
Set two years after the events of the first Zone of the Enders, the story follows protagonist Dingo Egret while he battles other mechs in attempts to save Mars. The 2nd Runner M∀RS is, like the first game, a hack and slash action game with large set pieces and moments that make it feel like a 3D fighter at times. The majority of your time will be spent traversing linear levels while whacking away at enemies, not unlike Dynasty Warriors, only with fewer bad guys. Dingo pilots a mech (or as they call it, an Orbital Frame) called Jehuty, from a third-person perspective and has a slew of different abilities and actions to perform. You can lock on to your foes and unleash a variety of powers like sword attacks, missiles, and other projectiles to cause damage. There’s also a map you can access that shows where enemies are, and it points you in the right direction. The 2nd Runner M∀RS also suffers from repetition, making it hard to get too invested in the gameplay.
Being repetitive is the least of this games worries, though, as there are a number of problems that prevented me from enjoying this as much as I’d hoped. One of my biggest issues has to do with the camera controls – most of the time I struggled to look at what I wanted to. There is the ability to move the camera in 360 degrees, but the moment an enemy is in your way, it automatically locks on, making it difficult to focus on anything else. In other words – if your destination is ahead, but an enemy is behind you, the game will prioritize the enemy, force you to turn around, and take away the feeling of control.
You can unlock from an enemy, but this must be done manually and it adds a step in the already complicated control scheme. Likewise, if you unlock from an enemy and decide you want to focus on a specific one, there isn’t a great system in place to do so. It will, again, lock on to the closest enemy and you have to cycle through them to get to the one you want to target, all while probably taking damage. An elegant targeting solution would have been nice to include.
Unfortunately, the issues don’t just end there. My biggest gripe is how much of a chore The 2nd Runner M∀RS feels to play. Half of the enemies have a shield that prevents any damage, so attacking never feels satisfying. In order to negate the shield, you must use a sub-weapon that has limited uses to finally attack normally. Even the rest of the enemies take a ton of damage to destroy, so it never felt satisfying to attack, which is the main mechanic of the game.
A common occurrence is having to fight literally dozens of enemies on screen at a time. There is a seemingly neat little lock-on system in place that allows you to target many of them at once. Weirdly, that targeting system will lock on to your comrades, as well. You read that correctly. I definitely bit back some frustration when I discovered this, especially when the mission involved protecting AI companions. It’s an outdated feature that most definitely should have been fixed for this remaster.
Visually, The 2nd Runner M∀RS doesn’t look great, with muddy textures and bland visuals. The best parts are its cutscenes and the models of the Orbital Frames. They do tend to stand out when compared to the outdated-looking environments and surroundings.
I could go on and on with the laundry list of problems this game has, like with the pacing. Konami might have been trying to include varied gameplay, which is a noble thought, but when you’re forced to complete long sections with no checkpoints, it makes it tough to want to continue. There’s even a part that forces you to do exactly as your AI partner tells you in a “Simon Says” fashion, where not listening results in death. The instructions feel imprecise, and even the slightest miscalculation could result in you having to redo the segment over again. It definitely wasn’t fun, and the subpar voice acting certainly didn’t help.
All of that being said, does Zone of the Enders: The 2nd Runner M∀RS have any merits? Surely, it can’t all be bad. Of course it does. Maybe I’m a sucker for mech games, but watching the characters duke it out with explosions and the clashing of swords going off is exciting to see.
Between each story beat is an anime cutscene that pushes the plot along. This was honestly the highlight of the game, though I found myself wishing I could watch the game instead of having to play it. The production value and quality looked pretty high-end, and it was stunning to watch. The 2nd Runner M∀RS also boasts a fantastic soundtrack that gets you in the mood to fight some mechs. With a mix of electronic and hard-rock sections, the music sets the tone and fits in an exemplary way. I only wish it had the gameplay to match.
Zone of the Enders: The 2nd Runner M∀RS is a faithful remaster of a game that time has not been kind to. It fails at modernizing it for 2018 standards, making it feel like a clunky mess to play. It pains me to say this because of how beloved the series is. Perhaps if this remaster sells well, we might see a third entry that will live up to today’s standards. If you feel nostalgic for the Zone of the Enders series or are desperate for a PS2 mech game, then maybe give this a try. Otherwise, steer far away from it.