It's a huge game that will easily consume a good deal of your time, and fortunately, its systems remain fresh throughout.
The sheer draw of the giant-robot genre--whether it takes the form of a cartoon, comic book, or video game--is not to be underestimated. Konami's latest strategy game, Ring of Red, is just the latest manifestation of our world's obsession with giant andromorphic machines. Thankfully, it's also a well designed and fully realized addition to the console strategy genre.
Ring of Red is set in an alternate-history 1960s Japan--a Japan that never surrendered to the Allied forces at the end of WWII. The country was partitioned as a result, with the southern half of the island being nurtured by US and NATO interests, and the northern enjoying the guidance of the Soviet Union. Both "countries" existed alongside each other in a kind of uneasy truce, knowing that conflict was never more than a bump and jerk away. In order to manage the unforgiving Japanese terrain, Armored Fighting Walkers (AFWs), were used in all matters military. These giant robots--essentially pieces of heavy artillery on legs--became the backbone of every Japanese military outfit. Unlike the lithe, sleek mechs that we've come to associate with the genre, Ring of Red's cumbersome, gas-powered mechs aren't graceful in the least. They're heavy machinery, first and foremost, no more deft than a six-ton crane or a Ferris wheel.
The game kicks off when an experimental AFW is stolen from its Southern Japanese test squad by communist Northern infiltrators. You assume the role of Masami Von Weizegger, a half-German, half-Japanese test pilot enlisted by the Southern military to take back the stolen walker. The story takes its share of turns, and Weizegger finds himself in the company of an unlikely squad of soldiers, leading a bloody campaign to all corners of the divided country.
Ring of Red brings with it a unique blend of tactical turn-based movement and stirring semi-real-time combat. The missions take place on large grid-based maps, through which you move your squad, engage enemies, and occupy settlements, all in a turn-based fashion. Once you enter into combat, the game shifts into a real-time 3D view of the battlefields, with both your own and your enemy's units facing each other. As each battle only lasts for a few minutes (the premise being that the walkers overheat after prolonged use), you're intensely motivated to do as much damage as tactically possible within the narrow time frame. After the resolution of each skirmish, both sides' losses are tallied, and the unit on queue takes its turn. The game's missions can be extremely long; a typical mission is made up of anywhere between 10-30 skirmishes, each of which lasts roughly four minutes. Add to this the time spent in tactical pondering, and you have an experience that will have strategy-game veterans hunkering down for extended periods of time. This presents a small problem, however: You can't save your game mid-mission. Meaning that once a mission is started, you're in it till the end. Considering that some of the missions can be several hours long, this can prove to be quite arduous. While a quick-save feature is present to store your mid-mission progress, the save is are deleted from the system after the unit is shut off, making useful only for restoring games after failing a mission.
The long hours you'll spend will be well worth it, though, as the game's combat mechanics are rather well conceived. On the overhead map, you have a host of considerations to take into account before combat even begins--distance of engagement, terrain type, and enemy unit makeup being only a few. Each type of walker excels in certain areas--four-legged walkers are good at long-range combat, for example, while Weizegger's mid-sized walker does best at medium ranges. Thus, winning battles is as much about initial positioning as it is about the pilot's level and the strength of his machine. When you're ready to fire your weapons, the game switches to a first-person view of your targeting reticle. The longer you aim, the more accurate your shot will be. This is represented visually by the sight actually fixing more steadily on the target the longer you maintain aim. Dally too long, though, and you'll be blasted by enemy fire. The trick to Ring of Red is learning exactly how long is too long.