Remember Kileak: The DNA Imperative? One of the first games available for the Playstation when the machine launched in late 1995, Kileak was a rather unimpressive conversion of a Japanese first-person shooter (complete with a storyline that made about as much sense as the Mission: Impossible movie). But it must have sold pretty well - either that or someone at Sony has a soft spot for imported cheese - because US gamers have now been graced with Epidemic, the unofficial sequel to Kileak.
As with its prequel, Epidemic is a first-person shooter that buckles players inside a giant robot and forces them to wander through miles of generic underground corridors, shooting enemy mechanoids, picking up items, and solving mini-puzzles of the "find an object here and use it there" variety. There are a lot of these so-called puzzles - more than in any other first-person shooter, as far as I can tell - and solving them usually requires exploring every inch of every level to find the needed clues or items. (Fortunately, the player's 'bot is equipped with a well-executed automapping system to keep track of its travels.)
However, Epidemic does significantly improve upon Kileak in the audiovisual categories: The graphics are fine, and some of the music tracks even have a toe-tappin' groove to them. But the graphics still rank far below the splendor of Alien Trilogy, Disruptor, or even Final Doom (which is a port of a three-year-old computer game, for cryin' out loud). The end result: a game whose "new and improved" look is only average.
Gameplay is tragically flawed, as you can only save after completing a level. With levels that can take upwards of an hour to complete, Epidemic turns into tedium and torture if the end-of-level boss repeatedly waxes you - yes, you have to do it all over again. Granted this makes the game harder to complete, but after a few frustrating hours of near victories, it's doubtful that you'll care care enough to finish the game.
Epidemic's real hook is that its lengthy story runs throughout the game; you're always stumbling into new plot developments or full motion video clips as you play through each level. Perhaps this feature will provide some gamers with incentive enough to keep playing an otherwise dull game. But even to those players it will be clear that the Sony team forgot to make the story as interesting as the game is long.Maybe a brilliant tale was lost in the translation from Japanese to English. Maybe the story was weak to begin with. Maybe the often over-the-top voice acting ruined it for me. Whatever the reason, I never found myself caring about the game's characters, which snuffed some of the replay value.
I've always given Sony two snaps up for importing their Japanese Playstation titles (particularly games like Aquanaut's Holiday and Jumping Flash!), but Epidemic needs a more engrossing storyline to make up for the painfully average gameplay. And because the story is so thin, the game ranks near the bottom of the crowded first-person shooter genre.