Dragoon Orta (US Import)
(US Xbox - price £44.99 - expected UK release March 2003)
Panzer Dragoon Orta is the fourth game in the Panzer Dragoon series. The first three appeared on the SEGA Saturn. Now SEGA has produced a version for Microsoft's Xbox. PDO is set in a world weary of war, and ruled by the Empire, who control the lands and its people with an iron grip. You take the role of Orta, a mysterious girl who is befriended by a powerful flying dragon. Together, you are mankind's only hope for freedom.
PDO is an on-rails shoot-em-up, in the vein of StarFox (Lylat Wars) on the Nintendo 64. Orta, whilst riding her dragon, is constantly flying into the screen, though can move to a limited degree up, down, left and right, to avoid obstacles and enemies. The dragon can also temporarily slow down or speed up.
Orta has a handgun, which fires short bursts and her dragon can fire lasers which home in on the various foes. The dragon can also perform a more powerful Berserker attack, but takes time to recharge before using it again. Unlike StarFox, enemies can attack from any direction. You use the L and R triggers to change the camera angle in 90 degree increments, in order to engage enemies positioned behind or to the side. Thankfully, you are equipped with an effective radar, which clearly pinpoints where they are coming from.
Orta's dragon has the ability to morph at will into three different forms. Base Wing offers a good balance of attacking and manoeuvring ability and can lock on to the largest number of targets at once. Heavy Wing is the most powerful form with a strong laser attack, though it cannot lock on to as many simultaneous targets as the Base Wing form. Lastly, Glide Wing is the most agile. Although it has no laser capability, when riding it, Orta can fire multiple gunshots that home in automatically on enemies. By collecting power ups, it is also possible to improve each form's offence and defence abilities. Each form has its strengths and weaknesses, and must be used strategically to overcome the various foes.
The main game has three difficulty levels and ten stages. All the stages have alternative routes and most end with a gigantic Boss who usually adopts a number of different attack strategies and forms before finally being defeated. Dependent upon your score and time played, you can unlock a whole host of extra features. These range from a handful of extra mini-stages, to pre-production artwork, to a fully playable emulation of the PC port of the original Panzer Dragoon.
Aurally, PDO is totally deaf gamer friendly. The dialogue both in the cutscenes and in-game is fully subtitled. It is actually spoken in Japanese but written in English and is clear and easy to read. This is also the case with the numerous unlockable extra features including the emulation of the original PD. Also, there are no in-game sound effects or prompts, which would hinder a deaf gamer's ability to play or enjoyment of the game.
The graphics are arguably some of the best ever seen. The character and environmental design is very imaginative. Orta flies over some beautifully realised fantasy worlds - from lush river valleys to large factory complexes and the various enemies all have a unique appearance - from large floating battleships to other magical dragons. There is no slow down and the beauty of the game is only marred slightly by rare instances of graphical pop up.
The game play is fun and exciting and there is always a strong desire to see what the next stage holds in store. On the easiest difficulty level the main game can be completed in two to three hours, however the normal and hard settings provide a substantial challenge. Also, the unlockable extra features provide excellent replay value.
The game isn't perfect. Although you have a degree of control over the dragon, it isn't to the same extent as the Arwing fighter in StarFox. The dragon's path is narrower and more confined and it is actually impossible to bump into the ground or any walls or ceilings.
Although obviously not as pretty, StarFox's stages have better game play design. In PDO, there are actually few environmental features or hazards, which you have to avoid. Movement of the dragon is only really necessary when fighting certain enemies or during the end of level Boss encounters. As it is, the environments are relegated to little more than an attractive backdrop, when they could have been integrated more into the game play itself.
Game Rating: 7.0/10