Review by brafique

Reviewed: 08/14/02 | Updated: 08/14/02

Enter Gunvalykrie - tough as nails, but potentially as addicting as games come.

Enter Smilebit’s second title for the Xbox. What’s the premise of this one? Gunvalkyrie has you exterminating giant space-bugs to get to the bottom of a mystery surrounding a genius scientist’s disappearance. The story takes place in a revisionist-history alternate universe. A scientist by the name of Dr. Hebble devised a way to harness the power of Halley’s Comet. When it shoots by, its energy allows the dramatic advancement of science and technology by humankind, ultimately leading to colonization of other planets. Unfortunately, something goes awry and Dr. Hebble mysteriously disappears. You begin the game as a member of GUNVALKYRIE, a human team that has the ability to harness the energy of the comet. You’re sent to the planet Tir na Nog in order to investigate this and other strange disappearances.

You play as one of two characters – the weaker but agile Kelly, or the stronger (aka more deadly) but slower Saburouta. The gameplay basically involves you entering an area infested with large bugs, and then you proceed to commit some hardcore insecticide both on the ground and in the air using some pretty unique controls: The left analog stick controls your movement while the right stick controls your upper torso. The left trigger shoots while the right jumps and you can perform airborne jetpack boosts, hovers and 180’s using the left thumbstick. That’s about it, the rest of the buttons on the controller are only used sparingly for weapon-switching and such. There is no strafing in the game, which is a blow against the land based combat in the game, There were many instances during land battle where it would have helped me tremendously to simply been able to strafe. There is a move that is somewhat similar to strafing (left thumbstick in + left/right), but in my experience it was quite difficult to pull off correctly, and I never really used it during my time with the game.

Smilebit may have omitted strafing to force players to do most of their fighting from the air, and I must commend them on the airborne system. Although my movements were clunky at first, once you master your jetpack you can pull off some kickass moves, and obliterate enemies from above with style and relative ease. Very, very cool. The controls are really the deciding factor in the game – if you can master them, you’ll probably stick with the game. If not, they will turn you off the game completely.

As is Smilebit tradition the game does not skimp on uniqueness. The story grows to be very riveting – I won’t spoil it for you but you certainly won’t be skipping through the journal updates that reveal the storyline. I would have liked if the gameplay and story were more integrated by way of FMV’s, but the story manages to keep you interested in progressing further in the game.

This game definitely isn’t easy. There will be points you’ll feel compelled to throw your controller at the TV, the TV at the Xbox, and maybe the Xbox out the window. Yes, this game will frustrate you because it requires you to really go at it with every skill you’ve learnt. The difficulty is reminiscent the old-school games of yore that featured insane challenging gameplay and huge bosses. The levels in this game all come down to basic bug-blasting, but some are more challenging then others in that they have a time limit or require precision platform-jumping. Platform jumping is unnecessarily hampered by the lack of a shadow to guide you WHILE you’re trying to navigate your landing. After you land you’ll be able to spot your shadow. It’s not a big problem, just a niggling little detail that could have been implemented to create a better overall product.

At the end of each mission you’re judged on a variety of categories including the number of enemies you downed, clear time and boost technique. The ratings range from ‘Superior’ (S) to Needs Improvement (D). If you do well you’ll get a number of GUNVALKYRIE points that can be used to upgrade you’re weapons and shields.

The graphics of this game are certainly not mind-blowing, but they get the job done very well. There are some nice blur and heat effects when you boost around, and textures are nicely detailed, although the game does tend to recycle level themes. Along with that, there are some framerate inconsistencies when a large numbers of bugs crowd the screen. Thankfully, the framerate drops are not very frequent at all so it's nothing more then a minor annoyance.

I must mention one very, very outlandish level in GUNVALKYRIE that I encountered during my time with the game. Called ‘Naflgars Pit 1’, it has you in this surreal underworld-like environment with strange white…..forces circling the level while you make you’re way up platform steps to the top of the level all the while hearing near-undecipherable mutterings in Dr. Hebble’s voice with the backdrop of haunting and thinly-veiled ominous music. Needless to say, I was very impressed by this level, and it really is a testament to Smilebit’s reputation for innovation and uniqueness. Needless to say, that level is one of my favorites in the game.

This game isn't oozing with replay value, but there is more then enough replay value for you to play through the game at least once more in order to fully enjoy it, just to improve your rankings, playing with the other character, or simply improve your bug blasting skills. The challenging gameplay makes sure you won't be blasting through the game anytime soon either, so overall you'll be enjoying this game for a respectable amount of time.

All in all Gunvalkyrie is a very odd game. The insanely challenging gameplay coupled with the ‘unique’ controls make for a game you’ll either be completely turned off by or addicted to. If you stick with it, the involving story will draw you into the game even more. If it weren’t for slight framerate problems and repeated level themes, you would have even more reason to stick with the game, but as it stands Gunvalkyrie is a game you’ll either love or hate once you give it enough time to formulate a full opinion. This is definitely a game you should rent before buying: personally, I liked the game, but you’re mileage may vary – thus is the nature of this beast. Kudos for Smilebit for making yet another innovative and unique game – they seem to know their games won’t appeal to everyone, and I commend them for not letting that dictate their games.

Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

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