Posted by Ryan Steddy
After a Computerized Armament Management System (C.A.M.S) malfunctions on a planet and all of the defence robots start to destroy and attack the colony, what is the contingency plan? To send you of course!
You control the character of Vanessa Z. Schneider, a strong sassy sarcastic female mercenary who kicks arse. Girl Power! Well, she is not really a feminist’s icon as Capcom have made Vanessa a stunner with a gorgeous figure and body hugging suit to show off her assets (nothing on Lara though). She has been sent (on her own) by a mysterious “client” to sort out the mess by shutting down the system and destroying any defective defence mechanisms on the way. She has been provided with a powerful Aegis suit which she uses to fire at her enemies with ‘palm shot’ an unlimited energy ball which will be your main weapon, and a special ‘Energy Drive’ which is more powerful and will attack multiple enemies but is limited. This drive contains different attacks that you learn through the game and activate by entering certain button combos which each have different advantages.
In the original pre-release material it showed the game to be a 3D shoot-em-up incorporating guns with numerous evasive moves alongside a frantic sound track. The music in the game was hyped, as it was commented that the jumping and dodging moves were inspired from dance moves. This vision however never fully made it in to game, and suffers for it.
The “dance” and music aspect are to some extent present. The game begins with a CGI movie of our Vanessa listening to her iPod filled with drum n’ bass-esque tunes nodding her head in rhythm whilst dodging laser beams using a back flip. It does not show you the moves from the trailer, for the simple reason that they have not been included in the final game. It seems Vanessa teased us in the trailer and doesn’t think us worthy of her assets. Lazy development is apparent throughout the game and the movement system shows this. The back flip is only accompanied by two others moves, and saying that is stretching it. One is sidestep; the other is crouch; which does not make it different from any other 3D character game.
With the lack of ways to avoid an attack it can not be said that it is huge factor of the game, on the contrary to what we have been told. The projectile dodging is not a fluid process; Vanessa is no Neo. The shoulder buttons activate the spin to the left or right to move out of the way, and if pressed a second time directly after a sideways cartwheel is performed. The cartwheel is useful to jump over laser fire but the problem is it is not instant as you have to spin to the same direction first. Additionally there is a slight delay between the two making it even slower. You can not even circumvent this by using the jump button to flip to the left or right as it is only for front and back flips. The whole movement system is clunky. This combined with your Aegis (meaning ‘protection)’ suit offering minimal armour make it a frustrating game.
The camera for the most part works but in certain areas it can make evading hits difficult or even impossible. The third person perspective follows Vanessa around by using the analogue. While running or when behind cover the C stick can be pushed in the four basic directions to displace the view in that direction, the view will only move once in the desired direction and not all the way around which would had given greater control. This can be used to peek around corners and also to give Vanessa a better angle to shoot, without exposing her body too much. The latter though is not of much use as getting in to the position of only just poking out is hard because there are no allowances for small movements, such as the ability to sidestep. It is also hard getting to where you want to be to attack and getting out of places where do not want to be. The camera is not very good when in open battle as it is not quick enough to rotate 360 degrees to detect incoming attacks. The only real way to do this is to jump around blindly until you can target the enemy. The government or programmers who made the Aegis suit could have built an incoming attack in to the suit. This all becomes very restrictive as you can not jump quickly and precisely which is something vital in this game. Vanessa can also perform a pirouette but this proves mostly useless as it is very rare that it will evade an attack. If she was more adept at ballet and could actually move slightly while doing it, the spin would become invaluable.
While jumping around you can admire the scenery, or the lack of it. The artists must have had only a silver pen when concepting the “contemporary” visual style as almost all of the game is in the one colour; from the suit Vanessa proudly shows off on the cover, to the rooms surrounding her are all various shades of chrome. Progressing through the 20 or so rooms in each mission combined with all of the rooms in the training levels becomes a stale affair as there is nothing new to interest or to even distinguish between them. It would not be so mundane if the different rooms were not identical. A room shape will be repeated again and again in a single mission, with the same rooms to be repeated again in the next missions. Crossroads are common in all missions so you will have to backtrack to the same places again. I may have repeated the word ‘again’ a lot in the previous paragraph but this is essence of P.N. 03.
After playing through three missions and fifteen training levels I was ready to call it quits as I assumed the rest would be the same. In spite of this I soldiered on and to my surprise it changed, albeit only slightly. The change is that on the fourth mission (out of eleven) you start outside, instead of the silver complex. To go along with the new setting are new enemies as well. Hurrah! It seems as though someone played through the first three missions and noticed the repetition. Someone who wasn't very imaginative though as not too much has changed. It follows the same formula again; each sector or “room” is the same but in a different setting.
It feels like you are battling your way through all of the rooms just to get to the missions' end guardian where you will encounter some variety and a hint of a story. The final battles are similar to that in the Metroid series where you have to find the enemy’s weak spot and shoot it repeatedly while dodging multiple attacks, only simpler. Every once in a while though it will just be a bigger room with more enemies, where all your previous fighting just seems in vain.
After completing a mission and earning money you can upgrade your Aegis Suit, or choose to buy a new suit with different attributes including rapid fire, armour and strength. You can choose which best suits your style of play. I recommend getting the one with the toughest armour as you will get shot, a lot. This reward does offer some hope to gamers who wish to collect and complete games fully. There are also hidden suits if you complete the game with a high rank of every mission giving it more replay value. After one run you may not want to do this however.
P.N 03 could have been a good game if it offered more variety in the graphics, sound, game play, and every other aspect. A better control scheme with more, and fluid moves would have made this game enjoyable if not just a little repetitive. Why Capcom didn’t continue development for a little longer and release their vision we will probably never know.