A few years ago, Namco released Time Crisis, an innovative lightgun game that provided you with a pistol and a foot pedal that allowed you to dodge bullets and reload at the same time. There was no reloading and being vulnerable at the same time in Time Crisis, no sirree. Later on Namco released its sequel in Time Crisis II. Namco's newest gun game, Crisis Zone, may not be that much different from House of the Dead or Gunblade, but it has so much gameplay that it knocks the socks off any other shooting game in the arcades right now, including Silent Scope. Crisis Zone is without a doubt the best shooting game available today, and I'll tell you why.
The objective behind Crisis Zone is to liberate Garland Square, an area just outside of London. Terrorists are occupying the area, and it's up to you with your riot squad to infiltrate the area and take it over. There are four stages to the game, three are available upon starting a new game, and the final fourth stage is available after you have beaten the first three. You are able to choose which area you want to take out first, but believe me, all of them are
equally difficult when you first start off in the game.
The most noticable thing that you'll find in Crisis Zone is that instead of the standard pistol that you got in Time Crisis I/II, you are now equipped with a machine gun. The machine gun allows you to spray 30 bullets at a time on the screen before you have to reload. Two neat features on this particular gun is that is has a laser sight for more accurate shots as well as a nice force feedback function so you'll feel your carnage as well as seeing it on the screen. You're probably thinking at the point 'damn, Crisis Zone must be pretty simple if you got a machine gun like that!' ... but man, could you have been any more wrong.
The enemies in the game have varied life bars, so that it takes more than a few rounds to kill each enemy. This forces you to distribute your gunfire evenly, unless you're facing one of the bosses. What makes CZ even better is that unlike it's ancestors (and most light gun games for that matter), you're almost always constantly moving from one area to the next. As a member of a special tasks force, you are equipped with a riot shield to protect you from gunfire. To block gunfire with your shield, all you need to do is step off the pedal. Once you think it's safe to start shooting again, press the pedal to put the shield away. Like it predecssores, this also reloads your gun for more carnage. The main reason why I like this shield business is because
it allows the game to keep you moving towards the boss without any unnecessary stops at certain points in the area. Sure, there are times when there's a transition between scenes, but they are few of them in each stage, so you can't blame any cutscene for losing time.
A great feature of CZ is its 'interaction system' (my personal term for Namco's system for CZ), where every object in the game is shootable and destructable. What this entails is massive confusion when shooting onscreen, because there's so much objects flying around it's hard to keep your concentration at times. For an example, look no further than the first
portion of the Building stage. When the stage starts off, you're in a small ventilation shaft, waiting to pounce on the enemy. When you do, and you start shooting, all sorts of crap flies up into the air. Shoot at a desk, and the papers on that desk will fly around (not to mention the desk itself). An enemy appears in one of the hallways... as you pump him full of lead, your bullets and his bullets shatter the glass between you, as well as another desk that you
use for cover.
This interactive environment sets up what I believe is the greatest moment in any light gun game: 'the Matrix scene'. You'll see this portion in the real-time intro of the game, but it also occurs within the game; You're running down the hallway into a lobby, full of black marble pillars. Then the announcer yells "ACTION!" and you go forth, putting the fear of God into your enemies with your machine gun, shooting anything in your path, including the
pillars. The pillars explode from your gunfire, crumbling into pieces before your victims, as you swiftly take out every S.O.B with a gun. If they had only put a small little cutscene of your character looking back at the lobby after he was finished with his massacre, it would have definitely been something straight out of The Matrix. =)
As for the quality of the music and sound effects in Crisis Zone, I dare not comment since the arcade that I frequent is pretty noisy, and I don't want to misrate the game sound-wise.
Are there any gripes in this game? A few. The main problem I have is with the choice of boards that Namco used in this game. It used a Super System 23 board, which is essentially a PlayStation-based board. Why they didn't go for something of higher quality, such as a Naomi board is beyond me, but it could've been more of a cost factor than anything else. The other problem I have with Crisis Zone is the lack of a 2 player co-operative mode. Time Crisis II was amazing because of this mode, and for them to release it without one is almost sinful. I doubt anyone would have minded a 2 or 3 month delay in order to see a co-operative mode.
Aside from these minor hiccups, Namco's Crisis Zone is definitely something I can only hope will come to a system such as the Dreamcast or the Playstation 2, but somehow with all the controversy regarding light gun games running around, I doubt it. So do yourself a favor, find an arcade with this game... plop down some quarters to start it up, and find out for yourself why I think Crisis Zone is the best shooting game ever created.