Impressions: Panzer Dragoon Orta
Released just last week, Panzer Dragoon Orta was widely anticipated by both fans of the previous games as well as those aching for a quality Xbox shooter, and largely it meets the expectations of both. Panzer Dragoon Orta is, really, an outstanding game with only a very few caveats to preface its recommendation. As is, thereÃ‚'s not much negative to say about it from almost any perspective, and if youÃ‚'re a fan of the classic console shooter then itÃ‚'s a must buy.The story revolves around a young girl, Orta, whoÃ‚'s lived her short, uncertain life imprisoned and seemingly forgotten. Saved from what appears to be certain death at the hands of a group of Dragonmares, she takes her place upon a dragon of her own and sets off in search of who she is, and her place in the world.
The mechanics of the game are relatively straight forward. Largely you interact with the world through a targeting reticle, and your dragonÃ‚'s flight is largely reminiscent of bygone rail shooters. While you do have some fine flight control, particularly when dodging projectiles, your course through the game is completely predetermined. ThatÃ‚'s not necessarily bad. YouÃ‚'re going to have plenty to worry about besides flying.
What on the surface appears to be a relatively mindless button mash actually belies some interesting complexities. With the implementation of three dragon forms through which you can quickly cycle, the game requires that you consider the weaknesses of the opponents you face and which form is best suited to tackle that foe. Further, you have several attack options at your disposal, from locking onto your foe with your dragonÃ‚'s lasers, to using OrtaÃ‚'s blaster to dispatch incoming fire, to any of the three power-up attacks of your dragons. Panzer Dragoon Orta will require that you think carefully about your enemies as well as your own strengths.
ItÃ‚'s going to be hard not to discuss the games visuals without hemorrhaging enthusiasm. Simply, Panzer Dragoon Orta is one of the best looking games to grace the Xbox, and developer Smilebit presents a varied palette with beautifully drawn environments, allies, and assailants. WhatÃ‚'s even more impressive is the consistency of the frame-rate as dozens of enemies and obstacles harass you. One might expect that there would be at least the occasional dip in frames, but IÃ‚'ve yet to experience or at least notice such a fault.
WhatÃ‚'s more, the pre-rendered cutscenes presented between each of PDOÃ‚'s ten missions are equally gorgeous. From start to finish, this game screams of high production values and attention to visual detail. Learning, perhaps, from certain other successful Xbox games, not once in your experience with Panzer Dragoon Orta are you likely to feel that youÃ‚'ve seen this all before.
Equally impressive, and more importantly immersive, as the stellar visuals, the quality of PDOÃ‚'s sound is first rate. Here is yet another element of the presentation that feels completely original and appropriate, the music inspiring, and the effects powerful. ThatÃ‚'s not to say youÃ‚'re necessarily going to have a PDO theme stuck in your head throughout the day, but rather that the sound presentation does precisely what itÃ‚'s supposed to do. It suspends the level of player disbelief and engages you into the action on screen.
Make no mistake about it; Panzer Dragoon Orta is a hard game, but one that rarely feels oppressively unbeatable. If youÃ‚'re frustrated playing PDO, itÃ‚'s likely because you know thereÃ‚'s an easy and logical answer to whatever obstacle youÃ‚'ve encountered, and you just havenÃ‚'t figured it out yet. The moment you realize what youÃ‚'ve been doing wrong, and a particularly nasty segment of the game becomes comparatively simplistic, is a rewarding one. Despite the certainty that youÃ‚'ll become stuck more than once throughout, thereÃ‚'s no feeling of hopelessness, and steady progress is only one good strategy away.
ThatÃ‚'s all well and good if youÃ‚'re a huge shooter fan, but that doesnÃ‚'t necessarily describe the majority of gamers. Despite its difficulty, PDO remains a game that should have wide appeal, though its subtleties and difficulty might seem at times overmuch for some. While itÃ‚'s a bit unreasonable to try and gauge the value PDO might have for someone who vastly prefers sports games, there is an element of difficulty that probably exceeds that of the casual shooter fan. This doesnÃ‚'t mean that a casual gamer is going to be unable to complete PDO, only that it might be a bit more frustrating than fun at several points. ItÃ‚'s a minor criticism though, because PDO never tries to present itself as anything but a purely visceral shooter, and on that front it succeeds wildly.
Additionally, you should be prepared to tackle each of PDOÃ‚'s missions more than once. This is not a game for someone who likes the option of saving their progress through a particularly tricky level. Throughout its missions you have two points from which you can start, either at the beginning, or if youÃ‚'ve reached the main boss for a given level, then you can restart at the initial encounter with that boss. Unfortunately, if youÃ‚'ve not much health when arriving at the boss, you may want to consider restarting from the beginning, because your health isnÃ‚'t going to magically regenerate the next time you start. In fact, maintaining your health throughout the main stage becomes pretty crucial, as the only way to regain lost health is by using the defensive power-up attack, and even that attack only regenerates health when it deals a killing blow to any given enemy. Thus, using that attack against a group of weaker enemies could save your hide later, while using it against a single boss will likely net you zero extra health.
Panzer Dragoon OrtaÃ‚'s storyline is an engaging one. It is presented as a legend told from a past tense perspective, and for the given subject matter thatÃ‚'s a solid decision. The player has the sense from the beginning that Orta is much more than a simple little girl, and is thus prepared from the first level to progress toward a grand end.
Impressively, thereÃ‚'s a wealth of additional game to unlock as you progress, including a full port of the original Panzer Dragoon, and several alternate campaigns. In fact, thereÃ‚'s probably more Ã‚"˜extraÃ‚' gameplay than there is of the primary quest, a real treat for when youÃ‚'ve finished OrtaÃ‚'s tale and hunger for more. And, for the truly hardcore, each mission is graded by the percentage of enemies you killed, how many hits you suffered, and how long you needed to bring down the boss, so you can always return to a given level to try and perfect it. The additional content and the impetus to return to levels already completed rounds out the value in an already strong game.
Panzer Dragoon Orta never tries to be more than a pure shooter, and those looking for something greater might be disappointed. It is a difficult game that could be slightly intimidating for a purely casual gamer, and some may find the limited saves and required replay of levels to be unpleasant. These are valid concerns, but fail to really hold PDO back from being a fantastic game.
Taken for what it is, Panzer Dragoon Orta is one of the strongest shooters to recently hit the Xbox, or any system. Its surface simplicity masks an outstanding level of complexity, and youÃ‚'ll actually find yourself enthusiastic at the prospect of trying a new tactic on a troublesome enemy. It has an outstanding assortment of extras. Its visuals and sound are amazing, varied, and captivating. And tying it all together is a well thought out story lending meaning and tension to the gameplay.
Panzer Dragoon may not be a system seller, and it may not even be a game for every type of gamer, but for shooter fans, itÃ‚'s practically a requirement.
Impression Score - 9/10