The release of Robotech: Battlecry for the PlayStation 2 and Xbox last month should have marked a momentous occasion for fans of the popular 1980s animated series of the same name. Not only was this 3D shooter the first licensed Robotech game (notwithstanding numerous Japanese games based on Macross, the source material for Robotech), but it seemed that developer Vicious Cycle was doing everything possible to ensure that Battlecry was as authentic a re-creation of the classic sci-fi cartoon as possible. This included the use of colorful cel-shaded graphics, the use of many of the same voice actors from the animated show, and the inclusion of nearly all of the memorable mech designs from the Robotech canon. However, the game suffered from a number of problems that even the most ardent fans of the series would have had a hard time overlooking, not the least of which are repetitive missions, sluggish controls, and empty levels. It would have been nice if the developer had taken a few extra weeks to clean up these loose ends for the GameCube version of Battlecry, which released significantly later than its PS2 and Xbox cousins. Unfortunately, Robotech: Battlecry is virtually the exact same game on all three platforms, and as a fan of the animated series, you'll have to take the good with the bad.
The Robotech cartoons were actually three completely unrelated Japanese animated miniseries that were brought over to the US by Harmony Gold and slapped together to form one long-running show. Battlecry concerns itself exclusively with the first and most famous of these three miniseries, The Macross Saga. You play the role of Jack Archer, an original character who is a pilot for a global military organization called the Robotech Defense Federation (UN Spacy in the show), which was founded to defend an abandoned spaceship that crash-landed on Earth 10 years prior. Christened the SDF-1, this ship once belonged to an alien race of giants known as the Zentraedi, and now they've finally managed to track down their lost craft to Earth. Battlecry starts with the Zentraedi attack on the planet, and as Archer, you're tasked with repelling this initial assault using your powerful transformable Veritech fighter. As anyone who's watched the show knows, Veritechs are essentially three machines in one: a jet (fighter), a nimble robot (battloid), and a birdlike hybrid of both (guardian). Transforming between these three iterations of the Veritech is a snap in Battlecry, requiring little more than a flick of your controller's D-pad.
As in the show, each Veritech mode has unique handling characteristics that lend themselves to different combat situations. In the reaches of space and in the open sky, for example, the fighter mode's speed makes it the most suitable, whereas close-quarters combat calls for the agility of the guardian or battloid. Unfortunately, while you have the ability to switch between any of these three modes at any time during the game, the levels in Battlecry are designed in such a way as to punish you for playing as any Veritech mode other than the "right" one. The missions in the game are primarily split between wide-open aerial combat and low-flying environments. The relatively slow-moving guardian and battloid become easy targets in the former, while you'll find that the fighter jet is utterly useless in the cramped quarters of the city levels. In fact, every time you run into a solid object as a fighter, you'll automatically be transformed into a battloid. What's more, an invisible bubble prevents you from gaining enough altitude to fly over buildings and canyon walls in those types of levels, nor can you fly down to sea level in the aerial missions.
What aggravates this frustrating situation is a complete lack of a sense of speed in the aerial missions. The background environments, sparsely populated with detail as they already are, barely move at all. In fact, the only indication you'll get that your Veritech is actually moving is the relative locations of the enemies all around you, and even those are often just small specks on the screen. Conversely, levels that take place within the confines of a city require you to switch to either battloid or guardian mode, both of which are sluggish in their lateral movements. Neither has any sort of quick turn maneuver; side-to-side strafing for both is painfully slow; and instead of being assigned to separate analog sticks, the aiming and movement controls are handled strictly by the left analog stick. This is also true of the fighter mode, which effectively removes the Veritech's ability to roll over along its Y-axis or perform a loop along its Z-axis. This handicap in mobility across all three modes hardly represents the incredible agility of the Veritech as portrayed in the show.
Thankfully, the control problem of Battlecry's Veritechs is somewhat offset by its combat, which, for the most part, does a good job of mirroring the show's frenetic pace. In the game, all three Veritech modes have one primary weapon and one secondary weapon. In the fighter mode, your Veritech's primary attack is a machine gun that has a limited ability to track enemies, and the secondary weapon is the signature "drunken missile" salvo, where a bunch of missiles lock on and wildly streak toward their targets. The guardian mode shares these exact weapons, though its machine gun can track enemies in a wider arc, and its missiles are more agile, albeit somewhat weaker. The battloid mode lacks any kind of missile weapon, though its primary and secondary machine gun attacks can track practically any enemy onscreen.
The game's combat mechanic is reminiscent of Panzer Dragoon's in that you can lock onto a single enemy onscreen with your primary weapon, but your secondary missile attack can lock onto numerous targets at once, so long as you keep the attack button depressed. Once you let go, you'll launch separate but simultaneous attacks on all the enemies you had targeted. The number of targets you can lock onto at once depends on the number of missile salvos you have left. Robotech: Battlecry gives you an infinite supply of ammo, but this ammo takes a while to regenerate: about three seconds for every missile salvo. You can hold off on firing your secondary weapons in order to recharge your ammunition in order to attack numerous enemies at once, or you can keep using your missiles to attack a single target at a time.
Fans of the series will undoubtedly enjoy shooting down handfuls of Zentraedi battle pods, fighter pods, and power-armor-clad warriors at a time. You'll also run into the occasional boss in the form of a powerful female warrior much like Robotech's Miriya, as well as an officer battle pod much like Khyron's, and several of the show's memorable characters like Rick Hunter, Lisa Hayes, Roy Fokker, and Lynn Minmei make cameo appearances throughout the game as well. Likewise, the game does a great job of mimicking the look and feel of the series, thanks to the use of cel-shaded graphics. All of the mechs in Battlecry--be it the Veritechs that you and your squadron pilot, the ground-based destroids, or the varied Zentraedi mechs--are drawn using the same color scheme as their TV counterparts, and their in-game animations are particularly impressive. This is especially true of your Veritech, which can be seen transforming between its three modes with precision and without any skipping. Effects like explosions, smoke, and your gun's muzzle flash are drawn in a stylized fashion, and they fit Battlecry's overall cel-shaded theme nicely.
The game certainly isn't lacking in the number of missions available, either. Battlecry has five chapters, and each contains between half a dozen and a dozen individual missions. However, nearly all of the game's missions involve either all-out dogfights with Zentraedi pods or ground-based missions that involve some sort of hostage rescue or convoy escort. Likewise, many of the environments look alike--the game's generic city levels are completely cookie-cutter and are constructed using the same multicolored buildings throughout. As you progress through the game, you'll often wonder if you're replaying some of the same missions over again. Other missions are just as barren. One such mission pits you against an entire Zentraedi armada, though you'll soon realize that this powerful collection of warships is nothing more than a pair of 3D models and a flat background bitmap of all the rest. What's more, the game's plot unfolds through a mix of static images and in-game cutscenes, and both are poorly done. The artwork of the former is downright horrible, as it not only looks rushed, but is drawn in a style completely different from the soft, cel-shaded look of Battlecry. The in-engine cutscenes have stiff animations and awkward camera angles, though at least they never last more than a few seconds.
The soundtrack, too, leaves something to be desired. Whereas the music that plays during the game's menu is sampled from the series' actual score, the in-game music has been recomposed for whatever reason, and the resulting tracks are largely unrecognizable. In fact, some of Battlecry's collection of blaring trumpets and horns sounds like a high-school band during practice. Furthermore, despite the fact that the voice of Jack Archer is provided by Cam Clarke (who voiced Max Sterling in the actual show), Archer speaks in a complete monotone, and his constant cockpit chatter will get instantly repetitive. Some sound effects seem to be missing altogether, like the sound when your battloid lands on solid ground or the sound of your fighter's engines, and other effects, like your machine guns and missile salvos, sound nothing like they do on the show.
It's really a shame that some poorly executed elements keep this game from living up to its potential. The truth is that while Battlecry does a commendable job of capturing the visual style of Robotech, its somewhat sluggish controls, repetitive missions, and the near total absence of a sense of speed keep the game from mimicking the show's exciting combat sequences. If you're a Robotech fan, the bottom line is you'll rarely feel like you're actually piloting a nimble Veritech, no matter how hard you try. And while you might be initially enthralled by the notion of reliving one of the greatest animated series of all time in video game form, the novelty will wear thin after a while. There's some replay value in the form of unlockable multiplayer maps and different paint schemes for your Veritech, but ultimately, Robotech: Battlecry is a mediocre shooter that's notable only on the strength of its license.