Where were you 15 years ago? If you were old enough to buy an M-rated game (or could get your hands on them anyway), then you may have been busy playing Zone of the Enders: The 2nd Runner on the PlayStation 2. Directed by Hideo Kojima while he was likely busy working on Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater, The 2nd Runner has maintained a cult classic status. Now that we’re in 2018, Konami has seen fit to release Zone of the Enders: The 2nd Runner M∀RS on the PlayStation 4 and Windows platforms. Featuring up to 4K resolution and even PSVR support, does this remaster bring back the high-speed mech slashing action fans remember? Or has too much time passed, rendering the 2003 release a relic of the past? Read our review to learn the answers to these questions.
Amazing for Its Time…
It’s amusing to look back at a game that released in 2003 and consider that those graphics were considered state-of-the-art then. The 2nd Runner is showing its age, that much is obvious. Small levels and short battle sequences ensure that loading times are short, at least. The art style of high fantasy sci-fi, with its straight lines and large but mostly empty space stations lends itself well to upscaling, though some textures on environmental objects are a bit blurry. Generally speaking, though, The 2nd Runner scales up well to 4K resolution.
Sure, upscaling to 4K is nice, but the more intriguing upgrade to The 2nd Runner is the inclusion of a VR mode. Often, an older game’s VR mode is an aside, something to take a look at a few times and then quickly forget or not bother with. Fortunately, this isn’t the case with The 2nd Runner. The entire campaign can be played in VR, with a brand-new first-person cockpit view available to boot. While the traditional third-person view can still be used in VR, it doesn’t feel as immersive and may cause more people to feel nauseated after lengthy play sessions. Besides which, a miniature version of the mech suit is shown in the cockpit, and it displays what actions the player is performing, as well as incoming danger, if any.
A Cool Split
If playing in the cockpit view, the video output to the television remains the traditional third-person view for others to watch. This is convenient, and likely a result of the game being a remaster, and thus not much of a drain on the PS4’s resources. Some cutscenes have been tweaked to be rendered in-engine, as opposed to pre-rendered, and can be viewed in VR via the gallery. This is a neat way to watch cutscenes, as now the player can dictate what they wish to focus on while things unfold. Not all cutscenes support this, and it isn’t obvious which scenes do, but VR cutscenes are a pleasant surprise. Most “flat” cutscenes also include 3D effects, such as snow kicked up during a storm which appears to be in front of the cutscene itself, which is an entertaining effect.
One last VR-centric feature to mention is the audio design. While audio quality remains the same, and no lines have been redone or anything drastic like that, the soundstage has been enhanced with surround sound for this release. This can help in pinpointing where enemies are in relation to the player, but is especially pronounced in cutscenes, as mechs fly from one side of the screen to the other, towards and away from the camera, with accompanying sound effects.
Speaking of audio, the voiceover work doesn’t appear to have changed. That means that the same hilariously poor translation of the original remains intact. For most people, this won’t be much of a problem and may serve as nostalgia for the odd phrasing choices used at certain parts of the story. A classic example is in protagonist Dingo’s recounting of a horrible incident during his time in the BAHRAM forces. In the middle of an emotionally heavy tale, Dingo refers to his fallen comrades as his “pals,” which is such a casual word that it sounds woefully out of place. Overall, this remains a sort of charming quirk that the original release had, and indeed this wouldn’t feel like The 2nd Runner if the translations had been improved for the remaster.
If there’s one thing that hasn’t aged particularly well in The 2nd Runner, it’s the control scheme. The Jehuty (the name of the mech warrior Dingo pilots throughout the adventure) acquires sub-weapons as the story progresses, which in the classic control scheme had to be switched out via the pause menu. A new “Pro” control scheme switches things up by allowing in-game changing of sub-weapons by using the directional pad. This is a huge help, and ensures that the action isn’t ever interrupted by such a trivial task as switching weapons. Most levels consist of linear paths, and there is usually a checkpoint or enemy for the Jehuty to automatically lock on to. Switching targets is performed by flicking the right stick left or right, while up and down isn’t mapped to anything (triangle and cross are mapped to flying up and down, respectively). Melee combat has a heavy focus in The 2nd Runner, and the action performed by pressing the square button depends upon a number of variables, such as distance to a target, whether or not the boost button is being held down, and available energy.
Zone of the Enders: The 2nd Runner M∀RS is a solid remaster that fans of the original shouldn’t hesitate to pick up. Having said that, the game hasn’t aged all that well. Combat can quickly get repetitive, and new abilities are hardly used before another new one comes along. Top it all off with a campaign that only takes 6-10 hours to complete, new players may wonder what all the fuss was about when the original released (especially with the script’s hilariously bad translation). Still, this release is the most complete version of Zone of the Enders: The 2nd Runner to date.
Zone of the Enders: The 2nd Runner M∀RS review code provided by publisher. Version 1.01 reviewed on a PS4 Pro. For more information on scoring please see our Review Policy here.