TGS 2005: Gundam Seed: Federation vs. ZAFT Hands-On

We fight through the crowds at the Tokyo Game Show 2005 to see what Gundam Seed: Federation vs. ZAFT is all about.

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TOKYO--The minute the doors opened on the second day (and the first day available to the public) of the Tokyo Game Show 2005, it seemed like everyone was making a beeline for one game. No, not that game, but Gundam Seed: Federation vs. ZAFT, which had lines wrapping around the Bandai booth faster than you can say the title. We got the opportunity to check it out, and we have to admit that it's shaping up to be a pretty fantastic-looking and fantastic-feeling Gundam game.

You may or may not be familiar with the formula of all games involving giant robots, or as purists would probably call them, mechs. You pick one of a number of customizable machines and the pilot to go inside it, and then proceed to romp around wide-open environments shooting and slashing at everyone you encounter. Truly, we've seen a lot of these games at TGS 2005, which seem to be the Japanese equivalent to first-person shooters in the US. Gundam Seed is about as good as it gets though, so if you're not sold on its sleek appearance and smooth handling, then giant robots are probably not for you.

The entire game is very well presented, an indication that it's nearing completion, and the many Japanese fans waiting in line at the Bandai booth should be happy to know that the game is coming out in the near future--November 17. The visuals are bright and detailed, and you'll be able to see nuances of different mechs that affect how they operate in gameplay. One not-so-subtle feature of one of the mechs we saw was a back plate covered in spikes. You can shoot these spikes like rockets at other players, something that mechs without this feature are unable to do. It seems like each mech has a distinct advantage and disadvantage as indicated by the different names on the selection screen: strike, sword strike, air strike, and launcher strike.

After making your selections and entering the level, you'll be treated to some elements of a story mode, which include a character that looks something like a general, appearing on your HUD and presumably giving you directives. When your pilot responds, he or she will do so in a Voltron-style cutaway on the bottom of the screen. The gameplay otherwise follows pretty standard mech-game formulas. The objective is to kill or be killed, and you've got to deal with a pretty wide-open area in which to navigate. Enemies will come from all directions, including above, as the mechs have the ability to boost a decent, albeit still limited, amount. This is most effective for navigating around obstacles on the terrain, although it can be a handy dodge if you don't mind being vulnerable a few seconds later as you descend back to the ground. Since you and other players will be up in the air now and again, it's important to keep a good view of the whole environment. The camera, which can be maneuvered separately, is very responsive, even to the point that sometimes it swoops a little under you if you're moving both the mech and camera in a certain way, which feels both realistic and a little bit like sea-sickness. Even though it might sound otherwise, that speaks very highly for the title.

There seem to be two kinds of terrain. The space or mech levels, are scaled to the size of the giant robots and are generally more barren, or at least sturdier. Other levels seem to be from Earth, and the mechs tower over them, stomping all over the pristine fields and happy little trees. Although the majority of the game is massively multiplayer brawler style, we got a brief glimpse of a boss fight. We had to fight against a giant floating gunship, a seemingly impossible task that took a whole lot of bobbing and weaving to complete. One of the best aspects of this game is the handling, which is completely responsive and almost flawless in every respect. However, this by no means makes it easy--quite the opposite in fact--and new players might be intimidated by how much practice Gundam games, this one in particular, require. Hopefully we'll get to work on our finesse a little bit in the near future for further impressions of Gundam Seed: Federation vs. ZAFT.

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