Review: Zone of the Enders: The 2nd Runner – M∀RS [PC]

Space! Action! Story!

So if you know me at all on this site, this review is going to be a bit different from usual. I admit I went into this one mostly blind – Zone of the Enders: The 2nd Runner – M∀RS (PC version played for this review, also on PS4) is a port of a remaster of a PS2 game from 15 years ago (which I admittedly had never heard of). It is not my usual genre with its sci-fi, anime-ish style – I’m more of a fantasy type of guy – so for the sake of fairness, I’ll be focusing on the quality aspects of this title, and how well the remastering and port has treated it.

ZOE2: M∀RS is a story-driven third-person action game. You are Dingo Egret, and your adventures lead you to piloting a mech-type vehicle known as Orbital Frame Jehuty. Being the story-heavy game that it is, I won’t spoil the details here, but suffice it to say in simple terms that you’re on a revenge mission, hacking and slashing and shooting your way through space, across the surface of Mars, and through a giant spaceship, amongst many locales. It is a very fast-paced brand of action, a little bit like a Warriors game but in a sci-fi world and without the massive hordes of enemies (most of the time). You have a wide range of attacks and abilities, and you gain more as you go.

The Good Stuff

Even though this isn’t quite my type of game, I enjoyed it more than I expected I would. The combat is very satisfying, and while it is very fast. it’s not too hard to keep track of things. The audio and the visuals enhance this. For a game originally made 15 years ago, it looks great on modern PCs, even including 4K support (but sadly, I don’t have a 4K monitor). The textures and art are crisp, and while the models are not super high-poly they still manage to look very good. The sound is great; the sounds of the lasers and melee attacks and everything else are on point and the English voice acting is surprisingly good. Hardcore fans will be disappointed that you must live in Japan to get the Japanese version with the Japanese voiceovers, though this isn’t important for me, so I’ll let it pass. The music, while somewhat generic, is still high quality and fits the experience perfectly.

I found this game to be very difficult, but it could just be the controls (more on that later). The good news is the game offers several difficulty settings and doesn’t appear to shame you for picking an easier difficulty, which is really good. I’m okay with unlocking extras by beating games on the hardest setting, but it’s never a good thing to actively make the player feel bad for lowering the difficulty. On any setting, however, the game can be a little inconsistent. You might smash through most of a level like a walk in the park and then a boss comes and tears you apart. For the most part it’s fine, but I came across that situation a few times.

As a side note, it’s worth mentioning for fans of VR that this game does support virtual reality, both PSVR on PS4 and Vive/Oculus on Steam. Due to various aspects of my vision I am unable to truly experience VR, sadly. From what I understand, in VR mode you get a cockpit view from Jehuty, so you get a VR-appropriate perspective. However, it’s a shame that this can only be done in VR mode, apparently.

The Bad Stuff

Before I get into the real issues, the one part of the audiovisual experience I have to ding the dev team for is the quality of the non-engine cinematics, which are far below the rest of the game. It seems like the original animations must not have been recorded in a very high resolution, because they used a really awful blur effect to smooth out the thick lines for high res displays and it looks pretty bad. The in-engine cutscenes during the gameplay are flawless, it’s just the animated cutscenes and communication scenes that suffer this problem. Mind you, this is at 1080p, so I imagine it looks worse in 4K, but the vast majority of cutscenes are in-engine, so it’s not a huge setback.

Unfortunately, the PC port has some flaws that were rather fatal for me. Even if a game is designed to be controller friendly (which this game obviously is since it’s a remaster of a PS2 game), it should be possible to use the keyboard and/or mouse to play any game on PC, since everyone has a mouse and keyboard but not everyone has or uses a controller on PC. The game does offer keyboard/mouse controls. However, on top of being convoluted and confusing at first, there is no documentation for it anywhere. Button glyphs and ADA’s voice (Jehuty’s computer voice) all reference the controller only. Tutorials only reference the controller and make no reference to the keyboard/mouse controls, and to top it all off, they can’t be configured.

To Konami’s credit, however, I’ve heard on the Steam forums that there may be improvements in the works. If the keyboard control issues are addressed, I will update this review accordingly, as this was very nearly a deal-breaker for me. A number of other issues, particularly audio system related bugs, have been raised by a number of Steam users as well. While I didn’t experience such problems, it is fair to note that Konami has commented on those issues on the Steam forums and is working to address them, which is good to hear. Hopefully these flaws will be ironed over and I can give what otherwise feels like a quality game a score more worthy of that quality.

~ Final Score: 6/10 ~

Review copy provided by Konami for PC. Screenshots both taken by reviewer and sourced from game’s official Steam page.