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volume 1, issue 10

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Off the Shelf:
The Top Shelf






By Jason "loonyboi" Bergman

Title: Shogo: Mobile Armor Division
Publisher: Monolith
Developer: Monolith
Average Price: $40


he term "little guy" isn't one you hear thrown around very often when talking about a gaming company, much less a distributor. These days, when a Top Shelf title is released, it's usually associated with GT Interactive, Activision, or Electronic Arts...rarely (if ever) does a decent game come out that these boys don't have their big hands (and pockets) in.

Which is why Shogo: Mobile Armor Division is such a breath of fresh air. Looking at Shogo, after having been hopelessly addicted for quite some time now, and after having a number of heated deathmatch sessions at the office, I find myself wanting to stand up and cheer for Monolith. Not only is Shogo a better game than the most recent first person shooters (FPS) from the Big Three, but it's also cheaper, and unlike Unreal, Quake 2, and other titles, it didn't feel at all to me like it was rushed.

I first heard about Shogo, back when Monolith had a smokin' deal with Microsoft, and it was known by the more marketable (well...perhaps to Microsoft) name of Riot. The game looked decent from the screenshots, and if nothing else, it looked like a nice change from the boring locales of Quake. That it definitely is...and it's due to a fundamental design decision on the part of Monolith.

For those who don't know anything about the game, Shogo: Mobile Armor Division essentially puts you in the middle of an anime film. If you've ever seen Macross, you understand the deal here. The guns are big, the mechs (er...mechas...mech is a trademark apparently) are decent sized (the forthcoming Slave Zero from Accolade promises even bigger robots...if you've got a size complex you may want to wait...these 'bots are only thirty feet tall) and the blood...oy with the blood! This game delivers blood by the bucketful (just like any decent anime film should do). In Quake when you shoot someone you'll see some blood fly to be sure...but in Shogo, big giant globs of blood spurt out all over the place. It's a blast to say the least.

Shogo succeeds extremely well in several areas...it's action packed, the weapons are killer, and the overall feel of the game is superb. Being an anime style game offers a number of benefits...for one, senseless violence isn't just expected, it's required. When you run into a room filled with identical enemies in Quake, you tend to laugh because of how preposterous it all seems. In Shogo, this isn't so much an issue, because that's what you expect from an anime film, and it only makes sense that this be present in Shogo.

Where Shogo fails to reach its potential, is in the area that most games do...in its storytelling. The story is admirably complex, with interesting characters, but they simply aren't developed. Like any anime plot, there are lots of different people about, and all the names are fairly difficult to keep track of. Fortunately, since the game is so action packed, I actually found myself not really caring very much anyway. But, I was hoping for more from Shogo.

To Shogo's credit, it does maintain its consistency. My biggest complaint with Unreal, was that while it started off with some nice storytelling, it fell apart after the first third of the game or so, and reverted to the normal Quake level style of gameplay...find the key/button, open the door repeat as necessary. Essentially Unreal is a game which forgets its story after the first few hours. While Shogo doesn't do this, it simply doesn't tell its story very well. While there are in-engine cutscenes, and they are reasonably well done (the voice acting is actually quite good) much of the storytelling is accomplished (particularly the backstory) by static text that is read while levels are loading. While I am of course, a big advocate of literacy, it didn't seem to fit well with the rest of the game...especially such a visually splendid one like Shogo. Of course, I also had to get over my disappointment at the lack of original cell-style animation...I was really hoping for some, and I think its absence hurts the game. I would have been happy with at least some in-engine cutscenes that emulated the over-the-top style of anime...but alas, the cutscenes are pretty much just circling cameras and talking heads.

If it's starting to sound like I disliked Shogo, don't worry...I didn't. In fact, I loved it. Shogo is far from a perfect game...but it is something that many games are not: it's fun. Very fun, in fact. This is due to a number of reasons, but I think if I had to pinpoint a single factor, it would have to be the simplicity of the game.

While you do have mission-based levels, they don't require you to ponder very much over anything...it's pretty much just "find room x" or "kill badguy". The levels are short and sweet, and you'll find yourself always making progress, which definitely cuts back on the frustration factor that plagues many games (Rainbow Six was sent to the back of the pile for this one).

The levels are divided up so that approximately half the game is spent inside the robot. The levels in which you are in the Mecha typically put you inside a city (or giant factory) and those on foot require more precise hunting. While the much-lauded LithTech engine is capable of rendering all manner of great environments, I found the immersion level at a minimum in some of the Mecha levels. The textures were right for a giant city, and the design seemed pretty good, but I had a tough time believing that I was stomping around a real city. The sense of size wasn't conveyed especially well. Perhaps it's due to the lack of any actual population....the streets in these levels are pretty much empty (except for the hostile people on foot who can get quite nasty). I suppose what I needed was more action...more innocent people fleeing from this giant robot that's trashing their homes.

As a nice contrast, the levels on foot are nothing short of spectacular. Here the level designers really showed what they were capable of, creating seemingly real environments, that were bustling with people (try bumping into some innocent guys...it's a hoot). I found myself wishing that the game focused more on these levels, and less on the whole giant robot thing.

Deathmatch is an area where Shogo really shows its stuff...at first I was much more into the levels on foot, but after playing a bit in the 'bots, I found them to be just as much fun. The weapon balance is admirable...as I play pretty much only one-on-one deathmatch, this is of particular importance to me. There is a BFG-esque weapon in the robot levels, but don't let it deter you...the other weapons are extremely powerful once you get to use them (and of course, that weapon isn't on every level). Indeed, after a few sessions of Shogo deathmatch, I think I might finally have found the true successor to Quake I. Klingon Honor Guard is definitely a fun 'match, but Shogo blows it away for me in one-on-one (although a six person Bat'leth fight is still killer).

All in all, I'd suggest that anyone who's seriously into FPS games check out Shogo. It's got all the makings of a kickass game, and while it's not perfect, it's certainly well done, and it's cheaper than the other new releases (i've heard reports of it selling for $30 making it almost eligible for The Bargain Bin!). Besides...how often does a game this good in this genre come out from an independent publisher?


- Jason "loonyboi" Bergman is the editor-in-chief here at loonygames. He likes beer.



Credits: Bargain Bin logo illustrated and is © 1998 Dan Zalkus. Geek Toys is © 1998 Jason Bergman. All other content is © 1998 loonyboi productions. Unauthorized reproduction is a majorly hostile gesture.