Thud. Bang. Crash. Flump. These are the words (well, "flump" isn't a word, but it still expresses my thoughts pretty well) that pitch through my head as I struggle my way through the shockingly, disturbingly depressing Mobile Suit Gundam: Crossfire. Launching at the time of Sony's PlayStation 3, the only explanation for its lack of, well, virtually anything redeeming is that it had to have been rushed to production well before it was ready. Considering the Gundam fan base is not nearly as feverish in the United States as it is in Japan, it's amazing that it was released on these shores instead of going through some Motorstorm-style tweaks – or, as it were, a complete de- then re-construction.
I've seen the show and played some of the other games in the franchise, and frankly this one hurts. It's painful for several reasons – firstly, the rabid fans of the popular cartoon series are desperately craving a passable game based on the license. Those are, of course, rare, but this may actually be the worst of all of them. Secondly, imagine being someone who either waited on line for days or overspent on eBay for the newest PlayStation, only to drop this into his or her new console – that's got to be a terribly lousy feeling. Thirdly, it barely makes use of the superpowerful hardware under the hood. Mobile Suit Gundam: Crossfire is slow, choppy, and at times unplayable, even though Sony's machine packs more of a punch than the best PC you can buy today. Other than a few moments, it's a disappointment on every level; there's no other way around that.
Perhaps the most distressing aspect of the game is that it could have been – should have been – a hell of a lot of fun. All the pieces are in place - super-giant robots with all sorts of nifty weapons, highly upgradeable attributes, and a storyline that allows a non-linear path to be taken. Sadly, the execution of these ideas falls flat on its collective face, due mainly to a framerate that chugs almost all the time. Unless there's almost nothing on-screen, the action is desperately slow and poorly animated. You don't even need to be battling enemies for this sluggishness to rear its ugly head – even the simple act of walking around looks miserably bad. God help you when battles are going on. It's just impossible to get into everything happening when the screen has the feel of an old-time block animation film. More than once, I thought the game would actually freeze up on me (and more than once I kind of wished it would).
Let's assume for a moment, then, that we're looking at screen shots. In this situation, it's a case of haves and have-nots. The mobile suits – of which there are a couple of dozen or so – look pretty damned good (especially when viewed in high definition). The weapons, though? Yikes. Guns are neutered and swords are flaccid. The battlefield explosions are less than inspired, too, as no matter what mission you're on, your job is going to be to destroy any and all enemies you encounter. Speaking of the battlefield, it's layered in dense fog that gives very little long-view perspective. There were plenty of times my mech would be walking along only to be suddenly and immediately encountered by another one, bent on turning my pilot's suit into a pile of scrap metal.
In-close combat, while unsatisfying, will give brief moments of delight if you're skilled and lucky enough to lop off a combatant's limb. It's kind of like the old Monty Python skit – although not nearly as entertaining. Sadly, this melee-style affair smash-em-up combat happens rarely, since more often than not you'll be using your longer range weapons to take down foes.
All of these events take place in a barely-there storyline, ostensibly placing you on one of either side of the Earth Federation or Principality of Zion. Unless you're a well-versed fan of the franchise, you'll have no real sense of just why these two forces are bent on destroying one another; I suppose you'll just have to assume they don't like each other one bit. The single-player mode it pretty rough, but the ultimate insult is that there's no multiplayer to speak of. Sure, there's a barely-tolerable split-screen game that you and a friend could play on a single PS3 (assuming you'd really like to keep that person as a buddy). However, there is zero online gameplay at all, which, considering the hardware and hype, is virtually inexcusable.
When all is said and done, you'll have to trust me and not – I repeat, NOT – purchase Mobile Suit Gundam: Crossfire no matter how badly you're looking for a game on your newest console investment. Even as a rental, it's an iffy proposition. The simple fact is that it was sent to market months before it was ready, and any redeeming features that it may have are buried in a sea of disappointment. Gundam loyalists will have to wait for awhile to play a next-generation release worthy of the franchise; Crossfirejust doesn't cut it.