Review: Robotech: Invasion (XB)

Robotech: Invasion
Genre: Action (Shooter)
Platform: Xbox [PS2]
Publisher: Global Star Games
Developer: Vicious Cycle
Release Date: 10/05/04

During my pre-junior high school days I discovered the animated series Robotech. During junior high school I read every single novelization based on the cartoon I could find. In those times in the middle to late 80s it was very difficult to find information on the true nature of the series (being that it was really a mish-mash formed from three separate series: Macross, Southern Cross, and Mospeada). When that information was discovered later, thanks to some information from the old Robotech fanzine Protoculture Addicts, I still found that I enjoyed the whole Robotech storyline that Harmony Gold cobbled together and eagerly awaited games based on the changed series.

An N64 Robotech game was scrapped but eventually two other games would be released. Both of these games were based on the first, and most widely known, part of the Robotech Saga: Macross. Oddly enough after the release of two Macross Saga (Super Dimensional Fortress Macross) based Robotech games (Battlecry and The Macross Saga) the next new Robotech game is based on the New Generation story (which is really just a modified version of the Genesis Climber Mospeada series). Why they skipped the Southern Cross story (modified Super Dimensional Cavalry Southern Cross series) will probably baffle me for a few hours but I have always had more of a fondness for the Southern Cross story arc than the New Generation.

Vicious Cycle, the developer of Battlecry, have once again stepped up to the plate with a Robotech game. While Battlecry was not a great game it was fun for a short while and brought back some very good feelings of nostalgia for Robotech. The question is whether or not Vicious Cycle can create a Robotech game that can stand alone as a decent game separate from the memories the game invokes.



STORY:
While not entirely needed to play Invasion, a knowledge of the Robotech New Generation storyline is quite helpful. Here is the backdrop to the game in a nutshell.

In the year 2031, after the war between the Army of the Southern Cross and Robotech Masters has ended the Invid arrive on earth and decimate the depleted and war weary Southern Cross. The Invid have found that Earth is now seeded with the Invid Flower of Life, the prime source of the energy known as Protoculture and what can sustain the Invid so they are destined to invade Earth to take this resource. A few human ships manage to escape a now occupied Earth and rendezvous with the Robotech Expeditionary Force ship in deep space with intentions to liberate earth. 7 Years after the Invid’s initial invasion the REF sends its first troops to attack the Invid’s main Earth hive: Reflex Point. The assault is a failure and the 10th Mars Division is decimated. Remnants of this first invasion create a small resistance that is hunted down by the Invid.

4 Years later the REF’s 21st Mars Division arrives in Earth space as part of what the REF dubs the second Earth Reclamation Force. This invasion is also a failure as the REF’s troops are intercepted in transit in Earth’s atmosphere, ending up practically destroyed. Survivors from this failed invasion join the already created resistance and groups of resistance fighters begin to make their way to the main hive at Reflex Point.

The final battle of Reflex point takes place during the summer of 2044, a full 13 years after the initial Invid invasion (where the name of the game comes from). The game initially starts its story during the first REF reclamation effort through a flashback and then fast forwards to its main story line set in a time period from November of 2042 up to July of 2044 during the arrival of the third REF fleet and final battle of Reflex Point.

The main character in the story is a member of the Robotech Expeditionary Force that does not speak. After an initial flashback scene where the player gets the idea of how badly the first battle of Reflex Point went for the REF we are zoomed 6 years into the future where the player sees the soldiers have turned into resistance fighters, suffering losses and not only fighting the Invid but humans out to take what they can while under the yoke of the Invid. Your main character is found almost dead and is told to take the armor of a downed soldier named Locke. Since the main character has no name they just take to calling him Locke. For some reason all the soldiers implicitly trust Locke (completely deviating from one of the undercurrents of the New Generation storyline, that being suspicion) and he occasionally has audio flashbacks that hammer home that a plot twist anyone familiar with the New Generation story will guess after the first few minutes of the game. Unlike Macross in New Generation most of the soldiers are equipped with Cyclone battle armor and small arms. The Cyclone can change into a motorcycle or be used as armor when fighting Invid.

The story progresses as you meet up with a small group of soldiers who are planning to make their way to Point L to meet up with other resistance fighters in order to prepare for another assault on Reflex Point because of the impeding arrival of the REF’s third fleet. Along the way you fight bandits, free captured soldiers, defend villagers from the Invid, all while making your way to Reflex Point. Eventually you do use another character as your main character and play through some levels as an REF scout from the 3rd reclamation fleet. This adds another perspective to the story and is refreshing because this main character can actually speak.

The main problem with the story is that to get a real feel for just how important Reflex Point is and just how demoralized the resistance is you have to have quite a bit of prior knowledge. The sparse information given by the game and documentation makes the story difficult to access as it leaves so much left unsaid. This is a major detriment to the story and atmosphere to those players unfamiliar with the situation the game places the character in from the start. Another problem is that the plot twist that Vicious Cycle utilizes is so transparent to those fans of the Robotech Saga with even the slightest bit of memory. Although having characters from the New Generation present in game (a great moment is when Lieutenant Commander Scott Bernard gives you orders) keeps the game within the storyâ┚¬â”žÂ¢s timeframe, it does not help the major flaw in the whole story: too much information is needed to enjoy the story and the story is not that great to begin with and to those who say shooting games do not need to have strong storylines I will say this: if you are making a game from something with a large back story that may not be readily known by some you had better try to make it accessible to those who may pick up your game to give it a try.

Story: 4/10

GRAPHICS:
The visuals of Robotech: Invasion can be summarized as nice. While not visually stunning or, at some points, good, they get the job done. The human character models in the game seem to be an after thought and the color brown pervades most of the game. This lack of variety can be attributed to the fact that in the original Robotech storyline (Macross) Earth is basically wiped clean of most life by the Zentradi and made a wasteland. Most of the time you do not notice the lack of color because of how dark the game tends to be. Many missions take place at night or in a cave that requires the use of the Cycloneâ┚¬â”žÂ¢s night vision attachment or the thermal heat vision attatchment.


Instead of seeing the purple walls of an Invid cave you must keep everything green so you can see where you are going. This does not exactly lend itself making things pretty but it makes sense in terms of ambience.

The Invid are exactly like they looked like in the cartoons and book covers. Seeing the hot flash of an annihilation disk fired from a deep red crablike Invid does a great job of bringing you into the game world just like the grit and used look of the Cyclones of most of the resistance fighters. The Invid caves and hives look sufficiently alien to make a player think that the Invid do come from someplace else.

The graphics do their job but like an offensive lineman in football they will not get a great deal of praise.

Graphics: 5/10

SOUND:
A common theme for Robotech: Invasion seems to be â┚¬Å”thatâ┚¬â”žÂ¢ll doâ┚¬Â. Most of the ambient sounds, from the gunfire and Cyclone engine to the Invid weapons, just seem flat. When you shoot off the arm of an Invid heavy hitter youâ┚¬â”žÂ¢d expect some sort of sound to emit but it all you can hear is the fire from your gun.

The music in Invasion is unremarkable except for the opening Harmony Gold logo which uses the very familiar Robotech opening credits theme song, a fact that will delight Robotech fans.

A plus in the sound column is the voice acting. Many of the original Robotech voice actors are present in Invasion and the small role Tara Strong (one of the most prolific female voice actors presently in the business) is another plus. Having those voice actors seems wasted with the sparse amount of dialogue in the game. What dialogue there is somewhat falls flat. All told the sound for Invasion is low end utilitarian with a few nudges and winks thrown to fanatics to keep make them go wow.

Sound: 4/10

CONTROLS:
At its heart Robotech: Invasion is a shooter. The player can dictate whether or not to use a first person perspective while shooting but the soul of the game remains the same. The problem is that the levels seem to be made for more of a third person experience. When playing the game in the first person perspective the levels and fast moving Invid quickly become a pain. Because many of the Invid are in the air trying to track down their movements while working the thumbstick can be a pain.

In Cyclone mode the controls are just able to get you from point a to point b. You can drive around and eventually get a speed upgrade but the control over the motorcycle is not very smooth and can end up as a crash test for the operator.

The use of the Xboxâ┚¬â”žÂ¢s button layout is good, with the trigger button firing, the d pad being used to change views or Cyclone armor vision modes, and the right thumb stick being used (by pressing down) as a way to enter sniper mode.

Again there is nothing great in Invasion but what they do gets the job done.

Controls: 4.5/10

BALANCE:
Part of the way Invasion is balanced is through being able to start from the checkpoint you reach in progressing through the game and having unlimited continues. The other half of the balance comes from the fact that it is best to run from almost every single encounter if you do not have to escort someone.

There is very little incentive, apart from ammunition and the fuel source called Protoculture, to fighting. Just as in the New Generation animated series the best thing to do is to run from your enemies. This is made a bit more difficult thanks to the use of the safety mechanism of the Cyclone mecha preventing you from transforming into a bike in certain environments, meaning you are stuck as a slower moving foot soldier that must fight because outrunning an enemy is almost impossible.


The difficulty level gradually increases as different Invid start to appear. Since you are used to fighting the Invid at this point Invid with more life points and stronger weapons are only a tad more challenging. Added to this is that the enemies always swarm, which makes sense considering the Invid are a hive based group. The numbers can overwhelm if you make a few bad decisions but a few deaths can do wonders for the learning curve.

A breath of fresh air is that most of the characters you play babysitter to in escort missions can, get this, actually defend themselves. While not the greatest warriors in the universe having escortees that can at least hold off a few of the swarming enemies means that those tired missions are less of a pain in the ass and more mild of an annoyance. Also it should be noted that Vicious Cycle has given the game a save at any time feature that will default to the last checkpoint you have reached instead of the exact point where you saved. The saves defaulting to the last checkpoint is annoying but not entirely unforgivable. Vicious Cycle has at least made the game playable by even the most lackluster shooter fan.

Balance: 6/10

REPLAY ABILITY:
Invasionâ┚¬â”žÂ¢s replay ability is inherently low in its single player mode. While boasting three separate endings all three can be easily accessed by saving at the crucial checkpoint and then loading that save and selecting the choices the player initially did not take.

The Xbox Live support does add some multiplayer fun and can give this game a bit longer shelf life but be warned that the game is probably not going to spark a great deal of interest and players may be few and far between.

After you have beaten the single player game and have had a few death matches with friends either on or offline Invasion will either just be relegated to the collection shelf or go back to your local retailer.

Replay Ability: 3/10

APPEAL:
If I have not hammered home the point that this game is really meant for Robotech fans only then let me reiterate: those not versed in the Robotech saga should definitely steer clear of this game, or at least rent it. While those new to Robotech can play this game and may even have a bit of fun there is too much left unsaid to be kind to those unfamiliar with Robotech that prevents the uninitiated from enjoying the game as a whole.

Appeal: 2/10

ORIGINALITY:
Using the New Generation/Mospeada setting is a very nice change of pace from Macross Saga Robotech and the use of transformable cycle mecha is not exactly ordinary. Aside from that the game is your standard shooter using the Robotech license. Nothing else really stands out about Invasion and just as with other categories Invasion has a flash of originality but only the briefest of flashes.

Originality: 4/10

ADDICTIVENESS:
Robotech fans will play through this game because they want to see how the story intersects with the New Generation storyline. The little â┚¬Å”in the knowâ┚¬Â touches help to keep those versed in Robotech lore interested in the game. Those who do not know about why the Invid have invaded Earth, have no clue why the name Scott Bernard is important, or keep wonder why Reflex Point is that big of a deal will find a little better than average game that may hold their attention for an hour or so before boredom sets in.

Addictiveness: 3/10

MISCELLANEOUS:
Vicious Cycle made this game with an extremely small budget and a very small crew. That this game was completed and brought to market is an achievement. While not the greatest game Vicious Cycle has made a game that will appeal to the audience it wanted: the Robotech fan base.


Again, the game is only of note because of the time period it is set in during the Robotech saga, but there are times when you can see a better game struggling to break out.

Miscellaneous: 5.5/10

RATINGS:

Story: 4/10
Graphics: 5/10
Sound: 4/10
Controls: 4.5/10
Balance: 6/10
Replay Ability: 3/10
Appeal: 2/10
Originality: 4/10
Addictiveness: 3/10
Miscellaneous: 5.5/10