Set two years after the Saturn release Gungriffon II, Gungriffon Blaze for the PlayStation 2 returns us to the horrors of a global power struggle. Between now and the year 2020, a series of mechanized tanks will be developed and see action during a series of terrible wars, culminating in a planet-wide nuclear holocaust. When the fighting reaches critical mass once again, the Japanese faction decides enough is enough and sets out to bring about peace. As pilot of a HIGH-MACS III combat unit in the 501st Griffon squad, you are its peacekeeper.
For those of you who actually like a bit of gameplay with your plotline, you'll be happy to note Gungriffon comes well suited to the task. At its heart, Gungriffon Blaze has only six levels: training in Guam, destroying a space shuttle at Cape Canaveral, storming a base Private Ryan-style in Tibet, protecting a supply line in Greece, rescuing Ukrainian refugees, and destroying an enemy base in Egypt. When you beat a level, you obtain two sets of points - the first being your score, the second your experience. Depending on how many points you obtain, you can unlock new weapons, power-ups, alternate level scenarios, and even a new mech.
As far as playing goes, the Gungriffon Blaze experience is an enjoyable one. First, the point of view is set from within the mech - a distinctly FPS-style presentation. This makes for a more realistic feel while giving you a good look at your surroundings. Secondly, the control system, though it makes use of every single button and stick on the PS2's controller, is well suited to the game. The analog sticks control directional movement across the X- and Y-axes, as well as multidirectional FPS-style aiming. For weapons control, the right shoulder buttons toggle weapons and firing, while the left buttons allow for jumping and fine movement control. There's also a sniper mode that can be activated with the triangle button.
To successfully complete each mission, you must hunt down and destroy a set number of enemy mechs, tanks, and helicopters. In turn, they will attack with rifles, bazookas, missiles, and other assorted bad karma. For best results, spinning around behind them, jumping behind an obstacle, or outmaneuvering their shots is advised. Some enemies, such as helicopters, are better dealt with at a distance, while others, such as heavy mechs, respond better to the direct approach. Turn them into rubble, and the game may reward you with a power-up, usually in the form of a repair kit or ammunition. Sometimes, though, you'll acquire item boxes, which you can later convert into weapons and power-ups once the mission ends - successful or not. Along the way, you can also dole out quite a bit of collateral damage to any buildings, signposts, barricades, and supply vehicles you happen to run across. Most surprising of all - for a mech game - is the fact that the CPU AI is decent. Enemies will stalk you from behind and hide behind corners, while your own squadmates won't sit around and get their faces blown off 60 seconds into a battle. This makes completing missions incredibly strategic, as you'll need to improvise new ways of dealing with your enemies if you are to survive.
Oddly enough, the two areas Gungriffon Blaze doesn't outright impress in are the two you'd expect it to - graphics and sound. Visually, the game does an excellent job of throwing around large numbers of mechs and tanks, including the requisite abundance of particle and smoke effects. However, the robot and building models themselves are nondescript, full of large polygons but lacking in detail. This isn't to say the game looks dated, as the in-game visuals certainly do a nice job of merging FPS-style looks with a robot veneer, but a bit more polish would have been nice. On the upside, the US release of Gungriffon Blaze makes better use of the PS2's antialiasing features than its Japanese counterpart did. The effect is a subtle one, but a side-by-side comparison shows reduced shimmer and jaggedness in spots. Publisher Working Designs wasn't able to clean up the game's slowdown issues, though. However, considering the game's fast pace and frantic action, you'll be hard pressed to notice all but the most glaring examples.
Akin to the game's visuals, Gungriffon Blaze's sound is average. The soundtrack is upbeat and full of bass, but it's too generic and is unsupportive of any emotion or tension that might come about during one of the game's later missions. The sound effects, though serviceable, sound lifted from the previous Gungriffon games, without any increase in clarity. The out and out high point of Gungriffon Blaze's audio experience rests solely in the hands of the friendly radio banter, which for the first time in the series sounds crisp and clear. So clear, in fact, that the chiding of your squad mates just increases the urge to walk over and break something. For staunch fans of the Japanese version, you'll be happy to note that the English speech samples from the Japanese release are unchanged. Other than translating the game's menus and mission goals, Working Designs has opted let Game Arts' vision speak for itself.
Despite the aforementioned uninspired visuals and so-so sound, Gungriffon Blaze is a worthwhile game. The plot is engaging, the action is fast, and the game itself offers one of the better takes on mech piloting the genre has seen in a long time. Although most members of the mech genre incorporate a first-person view, this is the first game to do it in such a way that the control system, look, and feel of the game more closely resemble those of a PC-based deathmatch-style shooter. The result is a fun, strategic game that doesn't ram reality down your throat.