Mech games are now firmly entrenched in the console gaming world, and while most of the recent entries in the genre have taken a fairly conventional approach to presentation and control, some developers are starting to take a little creative license when creating their mech titles. Enix's upcoming Robot Alchemic Drive offers a unique twist on the tried-and-true gameplay mechanics of this genre by putting you outside of an enormous mech that you control using a remote. We recently received a preview build of the game, and we've been pretty pleased with what we've seen so far. RAD's unique control scheme, slightly loopy atmosphere, and detailed graphics are coming together quite nicely.
Robot Alchemic Drive's story keeps it grounded in the melodrama that is prominently featured in the mech genre. Humanity has apparently been trapped on Earth due to the hazardous effects of a type of radiation found in space called nectar radiance. While the radiation kills humans faster than you can say, "No space travel for you," the deadly energy is thankfully kept at bay by Earth's atmosphere. As a result, life on Earth lacks the special zing that space exploration always brings. Fortunately for gamers, the boredom of life on Earth changes rather dramatically when the planet gets a surprise guest at the start of RAD's story. The appearance of a massive alien robot that is hell-bent on destroying anything and everything in its path signals the end of our lazy, Earth-bound existence. Due to the fact that the alien visitor is less "E.T." and more "terminator," a secret government organization rolls out some mechs, called meganites, that it happened to have lying around. You'll assume the role of one of three controllers and direct a unique robot to beat the smack out of the enemy.
You'll find four modes to choose from in RAD: tutorial, story, challenge, and versus. Tutorial offers you two instructional battles that familiarize you with the basics of controlling your meganite. Story mode will take you through a series of scenarios tied together by cutscenes and still images with narration. Each scenario usually involves saving the city from being flattened by a massive robot. Challenge will let you play any scenario you've cleared again. Versus is a two-player mode that will allow you to take on a friend in a split-screen battle.
Playing RAD is a unique experience thanks to the game's interesting premise. Rather than controlling and viewing the action from the inside of the meganite, you'll be maneuvering your human character through the city streets, positioning him or her close to the battle area, and then controlling your mech remotely. Proximity to the battle is essential, as you'll have to be able to "see" what your meganite is doing. The game's camera is basically a representation of what your controller sees, so you'll have to make sure he or she has a view of the action. The catch is, if you're too close, it's very possible to be crushed to death by debris or a flying mech.
Controlling your meganite is a cool experience that will take some work to master. You'll be given control of every aspect of the robot thanks to a control setup that uses the entire Dual Shock 2 controller. The shoulder buttons will control the robot's legs--R1 and L1 will control forward motion, while L2 and R2 will handle backing up. Alternating between left and right will move the meganite's legs and move you around. Pushing both right or both left shoulder buttons will turn the meganite in the appropriate direction, which is essential to lining yourself up in a fight. The analog sticks will control the right and left arms, and clicking them in will trigger whatever special weapons you have them available. The D pad will control your meganite's torso, and you'll perform swings and other attacks with the arms using the analog sticks. The face buttons on the PS2 pad will fire each meganite's available beam and missile weapons and transform it into a secondary form if it has one. It all takes a bit of getting used to, but, once you are accustomed to the setup, it works pretty well. However, if this all sounds too complicated, the game offers an easy mode that greatly simplifies the setup.
Graphically, our preview build of RAD offered a slightly uneven but ultimately satisfying visual experience. The cities you'll tromp through, while slightly boxy, deform nicely and offer a host of little touches such as particle effects to simulate fire and crowds of people running in terror. The scale of the cites, especially when you're running around on foot as the controller, is well done and definitely nails the ambience you'd expect from a game like this. The various meganites and enemy robots are made up of simple and clean models that, while not terribly detailed, look good. The designs call to mind the sleek look of the Shogun Warriors, who didn't need a ton of detail to look mean and impressive. The animation for all the robots is solid and captures the weight and feel of a massive robot stalking through a city very well. (Well, at least how we'd imagine it would feel.) The only rough spots were some unsightly low-res textures and some slowdown that cropped up during instances of mass destruction.
The audio in RAD adds a great deal to the game's atmosphere, which is equal parts melodrama and the patented Japanese craziness we've all come to know and love. The voice work in the game is about as eccentric as it gets, with oddly inflected speech and bizarre word choices from everyone. In addition to your controller, you'll hear speech from TV anchors who'll update you on the action and members of the agency who created the meganites.
Judging from what we've played so far, RAD is shaping up to offer a solid change of pace from traditional mech games. The unique control setup, solid graphics, and overall premise hold a great deal of promise. Robot Alchemic Drive ships this November for the PlayStation 2.