Like many giant-robot anime franchises, Gundam is a perennial wellspring of licensed video games. This long-lived and well-loved series spawned yet another line of games in 2000 called Gundam Battle Assault, the first of which was literally a traditional 2D giant-robot fighting game...and a mediocre one at that. The clumsily titled third installment, Gundam Battle Assault 3 featuring Gundam Seed, has just arrived on the PlayStation 2, and while it makes enough changes to no longer feel strictly like a fighting game, it still has a ton of problems that combine to make it a poor game.
As the name implies, this newest Battle Assault offering is based on the Gundam Seed TV series, which is available for viewing on the Cartoon Network and on a few recently released DVDs. It's fortunate the show is readily available, because you'll really need to watch it to have an idea of what's going on in the game. Almost no backstory is provided when you start out, and plot development is generally conveyed to you by static talking heads that yell back and forth to one another in poorly pronounced English dialogue. If you're not already familiar with the source material, it's hard to get a sense of why these seemingly pubescent pilots are squabbling with one another and then beating up one another's robots. For a series with such a rich story, and for a game that's supposed to capitalize on its license's strengths, Battle Assault 3 does a lackluster job in getting the average gamer up to speed.
Anyway, the real meat of the game is in its mech combat, which unfortunately isn't much more inspired than its plot. You'll start off in the single-player story mode, which sends you through a series of missions in different locations in which you'll destroy one mobile suit after another, ad nauseam, until you finally get to the end. The missions follow a branching path, sort of. You'll often be able to choose between two missions that each gives you a different mech and that each pits you against different enemies. However, you'll still continue along the same general path regardless of which mission you choose. Despite this small degree of control, the fights all look and feel basically the same, so they start to get repetitive really fast.
The battles themselves play out similarly to the contests you'd see in a traditional fighting game, but the full 3D movement and fairly large stages give them a sort of arena-melee feel that differs a little bit from what's traditionally considered a fighter. You'll play as a variety of mechs throughout the game, and each has a number of basic attacks, both melee and ranged, that you can string into basic combos. You can also employ Street Fighter-style controller motions to execute special moves that inflict considerably more damage on your enemies. Furthermore, you can even pick up and use a few objects in the arenas if you need impromptu extra weapons. You can also jump extremely high and hover for a few moments thanks to built-in thrusters. In addition to your armor and health meters, a secondary meter depletes when you use ranged attacks, hover in the air, and so forth. When this secondary meter is emptied, your mech will "overheat" for a short period, thus preventing you from using these extra abilities. You've also got the occasional ultimate ability at your disposal, though these don't add a whole lot to the overall gameplay.
Honestly, the one-on-one combat in Battle Assault 3 isn't terribly challenging, which means you can just assault your opponent with nonstop combos, most of which will inflict damage. The game really only gets hard when it throws two enemies at you at once, which happens frequently. However, this isn't the kind of difficulty that feels like you can overcome with skill. It just feels cheap when you're being double-teamed by two opponents. Additionally, the game gives you a targeting system that keeps you facing the selected enemy so you can properly direct your attacks, which should, theoretically, make it easy to manage two enemies at once. In practice, though, it's incredibly awkward to use because you can't switch between targets when you're in the middle of a move, when you're being attacked, or when you're lying on the ground. In fact, you basically can't switch between targets when you're doing anything but simply moving around. Overall, the fighting system is functional, but it's rather awkward, which really doesn't make it much fun.
The presentation in Battle Assault 3 just isn't up to snuff in this latter stage of the PlayStation 2's life. The mechs look adequate and evoke their anime counterparts fairly well, but there's nothing particularly flashy about them. Worse, the backgrounds are generally quite bland, and you'll see the same ones over and over again for long stretches at a time. At least the static character portraits in the brief prefight dramatic interludes are nicely illustrated. As mentioned, the voices these portraits spit out just aren't any good, and you don't really even get the satisfaction of enjoying them because they're bad. The in-game sound design and music aren't the slightest bit memorable, either, unfortunately.
Gundam Battle Assault 3 has a good amount of extra material in it, from a pile of other unlockable mechs that series fans should be familiar with to peripheral modes like versus, survival, and so on, but since all these extra features depend on the quality of the game's core fighting, they're really not worth much. The game isn't recommendable as a fighter, and outside of the mech designs, it doesn't do a very good job of evoking the Gundam universe either. It's safe to say that only the most diehard of Gundam fans could possibly find anything at all to like about this game.