shogoThis is Monolith’s innovative but obscure mecha-themed first person shooter from 1998. It’s full of cool stuff, but it isn’t a classic. This is the type of game that comes out, impresses some people, and then just goes away.

I’ve never seen a game so eager to impress. It cavorts like a puppy. It has a strong and stylish anime theme, an complex and detailed story (by the standards of the day, anyway), lots of features, and an early test drive of the flashy Lithtech engine. Shogo does look the part. But soon you realise that the game’s content is not able to match its presentation.

Everything seems…rushed. Unready. Unfinished. There’s definitely a meal here, but it bleeds and squeals when I cut it. The game is a two-part experience. There’s on-foot FPS missions, and mecha missions – which are the same but from the perspective of 50 meters in the air, with you shouldering past buildings like Godzilla, and people running around your feet like little ants. Both parts of the game feel half-completed, as if the designers were trying to do too much and then eventually gave up.

Pour water into any part of the game and it leaks.

Weapons? The game basically gives you the entire arsenal from the start of the game. Unsatisfying. Where’s the thrill of progressing through the game and finding more and more powerful weapons? Imagine Doom if it gave you the plasma gun on the second level and the BFG 9000 on the third.

AI? Hopeless. In mecha mode your robot enemies get stuck going around corners, kill themselves with explosive weapons, etc. On the ground, you progress through hallways, fighting static groups of enemies that stand still even while you blast their friends from just around the corner. There are friendly soldiers that help you from time to time. You can kill them without consequence.

Level design? Not interesting, there’s a level ripped off from Quake where you ride around on wind turbines etc but otherwise it’s your usual series of techbases and “gritty” urban locales where you must flip switches and find keys. I think there was one level where you have to interrupt your quest to save the world to rescue a lady’s pet cat.

Giant robots? Here’s where the game really keels over and fucks itself. This game never makes it feel like you’re riding a hundred ton battle mecha. You can stop on a dime, make huge, floaty jumps, execute impossible mid-air pirouettes – the physics are all wrong, and it destroys the immersion and atmosphere of the game.

Story? Fairly expansive and detailed for an FPS, but it lacks colour and human interest. Shogo’s story feels like Metal Gear Solid’s story retold by an autist or a sociopath. Characters and their motivations are described in plain, anodyne terms (such and such is the brother of so and so, who is the girlfriend of who and who). The anime theme seemed cool in 1998 but these days you’d be better off playing anything from the later Touhou games to Viewtiful Joe. In general, the largeness and outlandishness of anime is missing. Monolith has copied the words but they don’t seem to hear the music.

It didn’t help that Shogo was released at just the wrong time. Half Life caused better games than Shogo to be forgotten.

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