Dynasty Warriors, the latest of which we reviewed back in may, is a peculiar beast. A combination of a button-spamming action game, with overtures to a strategy metagame that it never really delivers on, it's pretty divisive in terms of public opinion.
Gundam, on the other hand, is derived from a Japanese Anime show that started way back in 1979 and catelogues the trials and tribulations of a future in which wars are fought between giants Transformers-like mechs, piloted - for the most part - by angsty teenagers.
This game, then, is pretty much what you might expect; a button-mashy action title in which you pilot giant mecha with beamswords while the occasional cutscene, complete with angsty teenagers, ties things together in a sort-of narrative.
Sounds crap, right? It's not. It's probably important at this point that I pop into first person for a moment, something I'm usually loathe to do in a review. Why? I'm a huuuuuge Gundam fan; I've been watching the various TV shows and movies now for many years. I'm telling you this because I think my enjoyment of the title, which is immense, is likely heavily influenced by this appreciation for the source material. If you're not as enamoured with giant, angsty mecha from the future, chances are high (well, pretty damn certain, actually) that you'll not find as much here to like.
The game is played out in a third-person perspective, with you controlling your mecha in a free-roaming environment. You have various attacks, which vary by the mecha you are controlling, and you can combine them to interesting effect - unlocking more combos and abilities as you go.
The gameplay, despite relying on the already-discussed button mashing for a good portion of the time, still has hidden depth. Each area you battle for is actually made up of a number of connected areas, which you must attempt to capture and hold - along with numerous NPCs or multiplayer buddies. Strategic selection of these zones makes a lot of difference, as does the path you choose to travel between. Each zone will afford you greater power, bonus gadgets, or it will disable some sort of enemy ability. Success, especially later in the game, is strongly affected by your choice of path through the level (you can, and will, retrace your steps as you need to).
Progress will unlock further missions to complete and more than 70 Mobile Suits (the franchise's name for the mecha you pilot), each of which can be upgrade in numerous ways. There's multiplayer, too, the title sporting both online and offline play. It was, however, disappointing to find that you can only play two player offline, while online modes support up to four players.
The menus are typically (for a Japanese-developed title) arcane, confusing, and frustrating until you figure out how it all fits together. The worst of it is the outlandishly intrusive / enormous in-game UI; widgets to show your health, enemy health, power, maps - there's a lot of it and each bit is huge, making the whole thing feel very crowded and claustrophobic. It's far from a disaster but it looks pretty silly on a big TV and takes a while to get used to.
Visually, the in-game presentation looks amazing, eschewing the militaristic polished metal look of the first two titles for a much more satisfying cell-shaded style that looks much more like the various cartoon series it's based on. The sound is similarly satisfying, with the high-drama clashing noises, etc, ripped straight from series canon.
Gameplay can get a little boring, especially once you get your head around the various combos and efficient ways to clear each of the maps, with little variety finding its way into the game. Even the optional side missions, of which there are many, do little to spice up the core "cruise around bashing stuff" mechanic. The drive to find and upgrade your Mobile Suits and learn the ins and outs of how each of them is best used is extremely compelling, however, and meeting characters from throughout the various disparate TV shows provides a tangible thrill for fans of the franchise.
So to recommend it, then? For fans of the series, it's a no-brainer. There's so much Gundam here I'm surprised it doesn't leave little Manga stains when you put it down. All the characters, Mobile Suits, and ludicrous dialogue is packed in so tight it should come as a boxed set, rather than just the one disk. It's also a great introduction to the Dynasty Warriors concept, as, despite the "3" on the end of the title, it's completely stand-alone and offers what is surely the most polished implementation of the formula yet seen. That formula is a bit dated, though, so like a strong cheese or bold red wine, it may well prove to be an acquired taste. Me? I love it, chances are I'll still be playing it when the next one comes out.