Godzilla: Save the Earth Feature Preview
We take an exclusive look at Atari's follow-up to its monstrous brawler.
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When Atari unveiled its original Pipeworks-developed brawler Godzilla: Destroy All Monsters Melee for the GameCube and Xbox, longtime fans of the enormous lizard were pleased. While far from perfect, the brawler was still arguably one of the best games to use the Godzilla license in ages. A respectable roster of monsters and large, destructible environments--coupled with a serviceable fighting system--gave the game a fair amount of appeal. Now, nearly two years after the game first hit the GameCube and nearly a year after the Xbox conversion was released, Atari is readying a sequel called Godzilla: Save the Earth for the PlayStation 2 and Xbox (sorry GameCube owners). The game boasts significant improvements over its predecessor (including online multiplayer), which caught our eyes when the game was first announced earlier this year. We recently had the opportunity to take exclusive looks at both versions of the game to see how they're shaping up as their shared release date draws near.
The first thing you'll notice about Godzilla: Save the Earth is its cohesive presentation. The menus tie in to the opening cinema, and they are set in a submarine. You'll see Godzilla's face peeking through the main window, Jurassic Park-style, as you navigate the menus.
You'll find six modes to choose from in the game: action, versus, melee, survival, challenges, and multiplayer. Action is the equivalent of the original game's adventure mode, and it sends you on a series of battles that culminate on an alien mothership. The story that ties the battles together is basic: Aliens want to conquer the earth, and giant monsters are on hand to stop them. Versus, melee, survival, and multiplayer are all variations on battles between you and human- or artificial intelligence-controlled monsters. The big hook for multiplayer is that it can be played online or via system link. Challenges represent a new addition to the game modes in this installment of the series, and they bring with them minigame-style competitions--such as basketball and bowling--that are similar in spirit to the minigames in Sony's underrated War of the Monsters. In addition to these gameplay modes, you're also going to find a store and an art gallery that both hold all the game's unlockable content.
The roster of monsters in this year's game is based, in part, on fan feedback from the first one. It's no surprise that many a request was put in after word of a sequel trickled out in hopes that some fan favorites would get squeezed into the new game. The end result is a roster of 18 monsters that covers almost every base. You'll start out with Godzilla--who appears in both his '90s and 2000 incarnations--in addition to Gigan, Megalon, Anguirius, and Rodan. As before, you'll have to unlock the rest of the roster, but the process isn't quite as tedious as it was before. The rest of the monsters include fan favorites, such as King Ghidorah, MechaGodzilla, Mothra (in caterpillar and moth forms), Jet Jaguar, and some foes from some of the more recent films.
If you played the original game, most of Godzilla: Save the Earth should be familiar, because the game's structure is pretty much the same. However, the method by which you'll unlock other monsters, new battle arenas, and artwork has changed. This time out, you'll use points you'll earn as you play to buy unlockables from a store. The coolest perk in the gallery revolves around the 13 pieces of art from the upcoming Godzilla: Final Wars movie. These art pieces offer some additional cinematic monster-throw-down action.
Look! In the Water! Godzilla!
The game's fighting system remains basically the same, but there have been a few notable tweaks to improve its handling. You'll still have to use a four-button layout that features punch, kick, and fierce attacks, as well as a block. You'll also have buttons for both your monster's beam attack and his or her grab moves. The new twist on the beam attack is that it tracks your opponent better than it did in the last game. In some levels, it's even possible to lock on to your target by clicking in on the analog stick. The tweaks have made combat a little easier, and they've improved control over your monster to some degree. While we still haven't seen the mechanics overhaul we'd like to see, the system has been improved a bit, which is good. The overall experience of fighting is a little better, and it still has its charm, especially with four players.
The graphics in the game are looking sharp on both platforms, although the Xbox obviously has the edge over the PlayStation 2. The monsters are all highly detailed and look on par with their big-screen counterparts. Animation is also on point, capturing the "warts and all" look of the gang. You won't be seeing any of the crew moving incredibly smoothly, which not only helps keep the fighting fast, but also helps sell the monsters (yes, there are moments when Mothra looks like she's being guided by a string). You'll notice improved textures and effects for the monstrous combatants, which helps the battles look suitably melodramatic. The environments retain all of the destructible elements from the previous game, but they toss in varied geography, such as slopes and hills. You'll also see plenty of signs of life to interact with as you go about your destructive business. Moving cars, aircraft, and other assorted army vehicles are on hand to react to your behavior. Interestingly, these various items can also serve as projectiles for those instances when you'd like to test the heat on your monster's fastball. In addition to the enhanced effects we mentioned, the lighting for the day and night versions of the arenas is well done and looks rich. The game's frame rate stays fairly solid right now, although there are occasional hitches that occur as you play and as things get hectic. Of the two platforms, the PlayStation 2 struggles a bit with the game, which results in the occasional frame rate hit and longer loading times. However, neither of these PS2 glitches appears to be enough of a hassle to affect gameplay much, which is obviously good news.
The audio in the game sounds as if it's headed in a very positive direction, and this is hardly surprising. In many ways, the game can do no wrong in its audio department thanks to sound samples from all the monsters, the over-the-top, dramatic tunes, and the very satisfying collection of aural tidbits that accompany all the destruction over the course of a fight. Hardcore Godzilla fans will no doubt be pleased by how many familiar little touches are being added to polish up the game. It looks as though Save the Earth is going to ape the sound and scoring of the films, which is definitely fine by us.
All told, Godzilla: Save the Earth is shaping up to be a strong sequel to the original Godzilla: Destroy All Monsters Melee. The improved roster of monsters, the refined gameplay, the online multiplayer modes, and the cool extras make for a compelling package. If you were a fan of the original game, you'll obviously want to pick this puppy up as soon as it hits the city. If you're not quite sold on it, you might still want to take a look. You may find that an online fighter starring enormous monsters will offer just the right change of pace for your active lifestyle. Godzilla: Save the Earth is currently slated to ship early next month for the PlayStation 2 and Xbox