Fans of the Robotech universe have waited a long time for a proper revival. They’ve seen Star Wars pump out brand new prequels and Americans accept anime like never before, yet nobody seems interested in revisiting the characters of Robotech. Nobody but Vicious Cycle, that is. Here’s a company on a mission, a mission to reintroduce an entirely new generation to the world of Robotech. But if Invasion is the best they can do, the fans may just have to wait a little longer. Robotech: Invasion
is Vicious Cycle’s second stab at the Robotech license. Their first attempt, Battlecry, featured cel-shaded graphics and a nice mix of planet combat and space shooting. Ultimately it wasn’t a very good game, but did manage to look like the series it was based on which was enough for some fans with low expectations. Invasion, on the other hand, looks nothing like the series and has more to do with you firmly planted on Earth than anything else. It too is a bad game, but for entirely different reasons.
You play Locke, an REF soldier suffering from a bad case of amnesia. Together with his new teammates, Locke is trying to take out the various hives scattered around the Invid-infested Earth. But it’s never that simple, and you’re team will get split up, turned around, and put into all kinds of precarious situations. To make matters worse, Locke is starting to experience weird flashbacks that involve him hearing voices and having blurred vision. These flashbacks are more annoying than anything, but do hint at something much more sinister just around the corner.
Players can only hold two weapons at once, one of which must be the gallant weapon. This gun starts as a simple variation of your basic pistol, but as you progress through the game it will be upgraded until it becomes an extremely powerful sniper rifle. As you kill the attacking Invid creatures they will leave protoculture packs, which basically refills your ammo. Since there are always enemies to kill you should never find yourself in a situation where you run out of ammo, which makes your back-up weapon all that more useless.
The weapons themselves are effective, but pretty standard FPS fare. You get a rocket launcher, shotgun, grenades and a number of other weapons that get the job done, but aren’t very cool. None of the weapons, not even the gallant, are able to recreate the level of excitement and urgency you get from watching the anime.
There are only a half dozen or so types of enemies to contend with in the entire game, each offering their own challenge and weak spot. This can be good if you’re not interested in learning about a lot of different creatures, but on the other hand, you’re going to get awfully tired of killing the same foes over and over. Not even the largest Invid Commander looks menacing, and once you’ve figured out the weak spot, most enemies you can take down in just one or two direct hits.
Beyond weapons, Locke will be able to switch to a number of different modes to aid him on his quest. The night vision comes in especially handy when navigating the cave regions of the game, the thermal-vision helps you locate enemies and the land mines they left for you, and the cloak makes you invisible to everybody around you. Like the weapons, these modes aren’t especially exciting, and tend to be more frustrating than helpful.
But all these minor complaints pale in comparison to the frustrating that is dealing with your Cyclone in motorcycle form. Here you switch from a smooth playing first person shooter to one of the worst handling driving experiences you’ll ever endure in an action game. Trying to dodge enemy fire on your bike is next to impossible thanks to the over steering and lousy weapons, and to make matters worse, if you hit something, even the smallest bump, you’ll turn back into your robot form which makes absolutely no sense to me.
Another thing that makes no sense to me is why you can’t drive your motorcycle in caves and other “interior” locations. Early on your teammate explains that there’s no need to drive in caves … but I found more than a few locations where this ability would have come in really handy. Is it something that has to do with the show? Or did they just not figure people would want to race through the long, boring corridors?
While your fire power improves over the course of the game, you shouldn’t expect the same thing from your bike. You will acquire the ability to do a quick power boost, but don’t expect improved handling or super moves; your Cyclone is a fairly bare bones vehicle. It’s also an extremely slow one. Sure it’s faster than simply walking around, but it feels more like a bicycle than a motorcycle if you ask me.
Mid way through the game switches gears and let’s you take control of another young REF fighter name Tasha. This parallel story fills in some of the questions brought up in Locke’s adventure, while giving you a whole new host of characters to get used to. You’ll feel right at home the moment you realize she plays exactly the same as Locke, and ends up performing the same sort of humdrum tasks you were dealing with in the first half of the game. This parallel story-line does end up resolving itself in an interesting way, but misses an opportunity to give this game some much-needed diversity.
As easy as it is to complain about a game only giving us a half dozen enemies to contend with, Robotech: Invasion’s main fault lies in its boring missions. Although it looks like you have a lot to do early on, most of the tasks involve you simply locating the rest of the team, fighting Invid, and then moving on to the next destination. But don’t worry about getting lost, because there’s a helpful green arrow always pointing you in the right direction.
The graphics are a major shift from Battlecry, Robotech’s first outing. In that game you witnessed a bright, colorful cel-shaded world that looked a lot like the show it was based on. Unfortunately Robotech: Invasion has scrapped the cel-shaded look for a more “realistic” polygonal appearance. Although some gamers unfamiliar with the series might take to the new more traditional look, I think it takes away a lot of the series unique charm. Simply put, Invasion looks like a dozen other games on the Xbox, many of which are superior products.
Of course, it wouldn’t be an anime license without some excruciating voice acting. Most of the supporting cast sounds like they are purposely trying to muster up their most annoying voice for the cut scenes, and nothing they have to say is witty or even remotely interesting. It won’t take long before you realize that you can ignore almost all of the dialogue and still understand what to do and what is going on.
Robotech: Invasion also comes with several interesting multiplayer modes you can take online with the help of the Xbox Live. These modes including your standard online fare, such as Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch, and Capture the Flag. These modes aren’t much of a reason to buy the game, since you can find them in just about any first person shooter. The final multiplayer mode involves you taking control and defending the various protoculture generators found on the maps, but while this is a fairly original feature, it’s dogged by the fact that it’s hard to find enough people to play it with online. In my time with the game I was unable to have much of an experience with the online modes, since there just weren’t other people playing it.
Robotech: Invasion is a messy experience that just isn’t any fun. The graphics look fine and the control is generally pretty good, but you’ve been here before with far better games. It’s not that I want Vicious Cycle to leave the franchise altogether, but maybe, just maybe somebody can give them a refresher course on what made the anime so cool in the first place.
Who knew protecting Earth would be so dull? Robotech: Invasion will fail to impress even die hard fans of the anime thanks to its lame story, tired graphics, and paper-thin characters.