Voice Module








In Memory
Sean Pettibone





Segaís Gunvalkyrie is a highly-polished title that showcases the power of the Xbox. This isnít a Halo clone because its the innovative jump-boost controls give it a unique feel. GVís level designs are a little bit difficult and the control system isnít perfect but players with persistence who are up to the challenge will find some challenging and undeniably large level designs. Itís too bad that the controls are hindered because GVís unique jet-pack gameplay mechanism doesnít work perfectly and seriously hurt the play. The Laser examines Gunvalkyrie and discovers if its flawed execution is enough to ruin the game.

Set in an alternate past, Sega & developer Smilebit's Gunvalkyrie allows the player to use one of two GV special agents who are searching for a famous scientist whoís disappeared mysteriously. These agents are Kelly and Saburouta. Kelley is faster but has less power, while Saburouta is more powerful but moves slower. Kelley also has a much larger number of weapons and can be upgraded more dramatically than her fellow agent. Most players should stick with Kelley for the duration of the game, using Saburouta only when brute force is needed. However, each GV has their own special abilities which come from the supernatural Halley Core force, taken from the remains of Halleyís comet and are known as Halleyís Chosen because of these special powers. For these missions, each player is equipped with a mechanical bodysuit called the Gearskin which allows them to use weapons, boost jump and take advantage of this mysterious force to create a boost explosion that knocks out all the enemies. Both of these GV agents are dispatched to a strange alien world in hoped of locating the scientist but there is a plot twist since the scientist may have gone mad or turned evil because itís feared that heís the one behind the alien insects invading Earth.

GVís level designs are aesthetically impressive and feature large multi-tiered areas that are beautifully designed and also extremely tricky to navigate. There are indoor areas and massive outdoor alien worlds to explore. And youíll do a lot of this because each map is huge and massive taking plenty of time to complete each of Gunvalkyrieís massive levels. The maps themselves are challenging and require plenty of skill to defeat. There is a lot of difficult platform jumping so be warned that a quick trigger finger wonít be enough to get you through the game. Most missions are fairly straightforward and mostly involve killing all the enemies on that level or finding a certain object. Mission goals need to be understood beforehand or youíll spend a lot of time wandering around pointlessly. Making things interesting is the appearance of the enemies which are mostly insects, with many different types. The main thing you need to worry about when you are in the levels is to get the insect spawns because if you donít the numbers of enemies will continue to cluster around you.

Aside from this, itís a pretty straightforward blaster. Thereís not much to do but point and shoot at the enemies, and figure out which type of weapons will be most effective. Which weapons you get depends on the character you pick, with Kelly offering more variety to her arsenal. While the auto-targeting missiles are easier to use they arenít as powerful. However, you can move and shoot at the same time while using these, which isnít the case with the other type. These have devastatingly powerful range, but the drawback is you need to target the enemies and canít move while firing. You can earn upgrades to both the Gearskin and your elemental weapons after each mission and itís critical that you take advantage of this because the game gets progressively more difficult. The good news is that you can collect health and Core Energy upgrades throughout the levels, and by defeating enemies. This helps make the gameplay a tad easier. You also have an unlimited number of lives and can play the same levels again if you fail to complete the objectives. Players can also read terrain and objective reports at the start of each level before you begin, which gives you the edge.

At first glance, you might think that GV is yet another corridor shooter but its unique jetpack system is a unique element of the game that sets it apart. While the customized control system takes a while to get used to, controlling the character gets easier with time though it can still be a pain, especially the jump boost, which remains a tricky maneuver throughout. Players have an indicator telling them how much energy they have and need to measure this precisely in order to successfully land in certain areas, this can be aggravating because when you fall, it can be a huge mistake. These setbacks make for some extremely frustrating levels, and the only thing that helps is practice. Since you canít strafe, thereís a great deal of difficulty in beating large groups of enemies. GV frequently leaves you vulnerable to attack. When faced with a large gap between platforms, players can enable the Boost Dash which can be enabled in tandem with a standard boost in order to jump farther. The Boost Dash helps get you out of dicey situations, but is an extremely difficult maneuver to pull off successfully and is more trouble than its worth. During some missions, Halley Cores are scattered around the level which the player can be pushed into when they lock onto them. Finally, you can unleash Napalm which clears the board of enemies but can only be used if collect enough power-ups during the levels. During each mission, you can look and turn and once you become accustomed to the vagaries, youíll find that the game takes good advantage of the Xbox controller.

While the third-person approach allows you to see much of the action, itís not perfect. True this makes jumping easier to implement and assigning the camera controls to the right analog stick allows you to change viewpoints without much effort, but it would have been a bit cooler had the game implemented a first-person perspective. GVís well-designed in-game interface allows the player to see all the stats at a glance, and the onscreen caution indicator tells you when trouble lurks. You can also call up a map at any time during the mission, which helps if you get lost in the huge levels. GVís evocative alien landscapes showcase the power of the console, while the retro-futuristic design of the enclosed areas is also impressive. The overall design of GV is unique and cool, with some really interesting enemies to battle. The game runs at a smooth frame rate and is quite smooth looking throughout with no jaggies to be seen. While the insect enemies get a bit repetitive after awhile, thereís something really cool about seeing them come down the sides of mountains and walls at you with terrifying ease. In fact, the entire vibe of the game is rather creepy and unsettling with lots of dripping oils, and living fauna making for a unique atmosphere. The production values are excellent overall with a cool soundtrack only adding to the tension and excitement, making the experience one that is quite unique, though not up to the technical standards set by other Xbox games, especially Halo which is a much smoother looking and playing title. Still, this isnít a bad looking game and the solid interface, while taking some time to get used to is decent though nothing out of the expected.

Despite the high production polish, this title isnít without problems. While the large environments are technically impressive, there arenít any save points during each level. They are quite long in themselves and one small error can lead you to having to play the entire level all over again. To say that this gets frustrating after awhile is an understatement. Another problematic area are the controls, which are fine but imperfect. There are many points where jumping is extremely difficult and using the Jump Dash is extremely difficult, making it impossible to rely on it without having extremely good skills. Some of the level designs are too ornate for their own good, and traversing some of the more difficult areas is next to impossible. The biggest problem with GV lies however in its enemies. Its extremely frustrating because theyíre cool opponents but the designers have put too many of them on each level, which makes battling through them more a chore than a blast. Since you canít strafe sideways you find yourself quickly surrounded by enemies which no way to defend yourself expect to boost and hope you donít land in another infested area. Another big problem comes in their design. Taken individually theyíre not bad, but as a whole, there isnít enough variety to the insect battalions to keep you interested for the duration of the game. This is a serious problem, as monotony comes quickly after the first few levels. This really hurts GVís long-term appeal and actually makes your motivation to continue playing dwindle as you progress.

So, while itís a decent game with some really cool ideas and the innovative boost-jump play mechanism the end result doesnít come together cohesively. The game loses itís early momentum because all the levels and monsters blend together after awhile. The controls are decent considering the innovative nature of the jump pack system but arenít nearly as intuitive as those in other shooter titles. In the end, while there are a lot of cool ideas in the game, Gunvalkyrie falls short in its execution making it a disappointment. Despite the promise of the early levels, once youíve played them, youíve played the whole game and there isnít much beyond shooting and gaining minor upgrades. While there are some cool points to the title, most players will be better off renting it then returning it a few days later once the gimmick wears out its welcome.

> Related Reviews:

Halo (Xbox)
Max Payne (Xbox)
Jet Set Radio Future (Xbox)

> What do you think? Post your thoughts on this review in the Laser forum