It has been fifteen years since Zone of the Enders: The 2nd Runner launched for Playstation 2. Initially directed by Hideo Kojima, the game quickly gained cult status. Now, fifteen years later, Konami has decided to re-release this action mech classic one more time (it was previously redone for Xbox 360 and PS3), and add a few extra bells and whistles.
It’s hard not to judge this version with nostalgia goggles. Zone of the Enders: The 2nd Runner is one of my favorite games of all time, and Zone of the Enders: The 2nd Runner Mars doesn’t negate that. This is a very well-done remaster that unfortunately is starting to show its age. It’s been a handful of years since I had played the remaster for Playstation 3, but even still I had forgotten how dull some segments of 2nd Runner really are. I think it’s because of how fluid, fast, and fun the combat sections are, but man are there some lulls in gameplay.
Since the Zone of the Enders is fifteen years old, I’m not going to go into story breakdowns as part of this review. Especially for those who haven’t played it or the first game in the series. As far as remastering goes, cutscenes have gotten a lot of love for the 4K upscaling here. Sleek designs on the mechs look as good as ever, but I don’t think the audio has gotten the same kind of attention. The audio feels spot on in the hand drawn animated portions of the game, because they also haven’t been redrawn or remastered for this release. I’m of the opinion that this isn’t a big deal though, because most of the hand drawn animation is in the way of cockpit views of our main characters.
I brought up lulls in gameplay before, but I think most of it had to do with mission design at the time. With newer hardware it’s expected to have these large, constant-action set pieces that just weren’t possible at the time. So when a section that has me listening to the on-board AI tell me where to go in various directions for twenty or so minutes, it’s hard not to get frustrated.
The camera work is the other thing that really shows its age. Battles can be so chaotic that more often than not the camera ends up facing the opposite direction, losing track of enemies. Besides that, the camera isn’t even easy to control. A large battle late in the game has players scrambling over a huge battlefield trying to fight enemies and heal allies. Even navigating the camera around to look for allies in need feels like driving a sail boat in the middle of a hurricane.
I took the nostalgia goggles off for the first part of this review, but it’s time to put them back on for the remainder. Zone of the Enders: The 2nd Runner is at its best during the mech battle segments. Don’t get me wrong, there is definitely something to be desired in the enemy variations, but the combat is so crisp and clean in 4K that I don’t even care. Combat moves incredibly fluidly, running at 4K 60fps, and even the cell shaded graphical effects in the explosions look beautiful.
Boss battles are still intense and varied, requiring players to use a handful of the sub-weapons at their disposal. The scale of these fights put the rest of the battles to shame, which is more notable later in the game. Character and enemy models look great upscaled, but a lot of the environments have muddied textures. Luckily, the environments have never been super detailed, which helps bring it into 4K from the PS2 era.
The biggest addition to Zone of the Enders: The 2nd Runner Mars is the inclusion of a VR mode for owners of a Playstation VR headset. The entirety of 2nd Runner can be played in VR mode, and is the main reason to pick this release up if you weren’t a previous fan of these games. When playing in VR, players take control from the cockpit. It’s pretty amazing how immersive this mode really is. Even looking around from the inside of the mech, players can see Jehuty’s arms floating around them, or during slash attacks, the sword swings in front.
I was honestly expected to get motion sickness playing this in VR mode because of how fast paced it is, but I think that might have ended up working in its favor. Because of how fast it is, it never had time to let the motion sickness set in. It’s a good thing too, because it almost feels like this is the way 2nd Runner was meant to be played. The camera controls pretty well, it’s easier to control Jehuty vertically up and down, and an easier mode was added for those who are having trouble getting a grip around using VR in-game.
It’s hard for me not to recommend Zone of the Enders: The 2nd Runner Mars to everyone because of how important this game is to me. The mech action is second to none, the crisp visuals breathe new life into it, and the VR mode is begging to be played by fans of the series or anyone with a PSVR headset. However, it is starting to show its age with missions design and camera work. Fans of mech titles should check this out, or fans of the franchise should definitely pick this up for another outing on Mars.
Zone of the Enders: The 2nd Runner Mars is available now for Playstation 4 and PC. This review is based on a PS4 copy of the game provided by the publisher. Purchases are available here.