A much-needed update

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By Anthony L. Cuaycong

CONSIDERING that Metal Max Xeno is just the second in the series to be released in the West after Metal Saga on the PlayStation 2, it’s hard to believe that 27 years have passed since the original Metal Max made its way to the Nintendo Family Computer. And how the title evolved from concept to fruition is a story in and of itself. Following the dismal sales of Metal Max 4: Gekko No Diva (3DS, 2013) and of the mixed reception to Metal Max: Fireworks (smartphone, 2015), publisher Kadokawa Games saw fit to swing the pendulum back to consoles and green-lit the latest iteration for the PS4.

Understandably, Metal Max Xeno represents a departure in its treatment of franchise tropes. Even as it acknowledged its roots in tackling familiar themes, the manner in which it does so distinguishes it from its older siblings. In this regard, Kadokawa Games’ intent is evident; it aims to breathe new life in a title that seemed to have reached a plateau. It’s still a turn-based role-playing game focused on vehicle combat in a post-apocalyptic milieu, but its story makes sure to highlight its open-world setting.

Metal Max Xeno begins with mankind at “True Century’s End,” on the brink of extinction and under threat from Sons of NOA, monsters created by the otherwise-defeated supercomputer NOA intent on completing its goal to eradicate any and all vestiges of humanity. After surviving a large-scale attack, a small band of holdouts in the Iron Base, the last remaining settlement in Dystokio, aim to fight back. At the forefront of the rebellion is Talis, a young wanderer with an artificial left arm bent on seeking revenge for the death of his mother, adopted father, and friends.




In Metal Max Xeno, players take control of Talis and do battle against the SoNs through the use of eminently customizable tanks. There’s a learning curve to mastering the combat mechanics, which involve the development of character skills and remodeling of equipment en route to triumph. As with other titles in the series, movement is turn-based, with the open-world map offering opportunities for buffs and levelups. Dungeons abound, and while entry is not required, the degree to which grinding helps in defeating bosses makes their exploration integral to progress.

Parenthetically, tanks can be enhanced through the acquisition of weapons found in areas of the map and the proper assembly at the Iron Base of parts of defeated enemies. Meanwhile, encounters on foot can result in the discovery of useful items and information providing technological upgrades to the Iron Base and, by extension, raising the rebels’ level of preparedness for combat. That said, battles are relatively short, thus placing a premium on intrinsic strength as opposed to strategy building.

Needless to say, SoNs are extremely difficult to overcome even with Talis driving the powerful Red Rev. Thankfully, Metal Max Xeno employs a forgiving system in which in-game death simply means starting over at the Iron Base. Because there is no cost to failure, however, the risk-reward interplay becomes imbalanced, and advancement is a matter of when, not if. It certainly doesn’t help that the locations of the dungeons and items, not to mention the frequency with which monsters spawn, are randomized. Thusly, repetition winds up being as much an end as a means.

Compared to previous series releases, Metal Max Xeno boasts of audio-visual flair. Its graphics are polished, well-rendered, and appropriate for its hope-amid-the-end-of-days narrative. Meanwhile, its anime-style music, spot-on ambient sounds, and Japanese voice tracks serve as perfect complements. Concomitantly, players won’t find it hard to immerse themselves in their exploration of Dystokio as they look for survivors and aim to be rid of any and all obstacles standing in their way.

In the final analysis, Metal Max Xeno is a worthy addition to the franchise, representing a much-needed update of both aesthetics and gameplay and signifying better things to come.

POSTSCRIPT:
The Crew 2 (PS4): Visually and aurally, it’s a marked improvement over its predecessor. Representations of known landmarks are believable if not spot on, aided in no small measure by the outstanding level of detail that remarkably requires little to no discernible load times. The soundtrack is catchy, and auditory effects are well timed and properly modulated. The script and voice acting could have been better; occasionally, the dialogue seems stilted and inappropriately produced. Still, there’s nothing in the cutscenes that qualifies as a dealbreaker.

Gameplay wise, The Crew 2 tries to pull out all the stops, but doesn’t always meet lofty objectives. Players aim to increase the main character’s “following,” the de facto mode of currency that defines progression, through the completion of a gamut of tests, skills challenges, and triggering events that literally need to be photographed for posterity. Meanwhile, the driving dynamics take a little getting used to, and not simply because of the number of choices on tap. Oddly enough, collision detection continues to be iffy, and rubber-band AI opponents abound.

Nonetheless, The Crew 2 promises to amp up the fun factor for hours on end. Perhaps it can be deemed a jack of all trades and master of none, but it does have plenty for everybody. And, best of all, its open world figures to keep on growing with content updates that Ubisoft aims to periodically roll out for free. Featuring an enhanced online experience and continuing support, it counts itself among the best massive multiplayer hybrid arcade-sim racing franchises featured on the PS4. (7.5/10)

Super Robot Wars X: its core design is solid, but it does have some flaws. The story is forgettable, and is little more than an excuse to pair all the robots up under one banner. Its presentation is amazing, but it does get repetitive after a while to see the same attacks happen over and over. The sprites look good, but the backdrops and backgrounds seem fairly generic by comparison. Most tellingly, it suffers from mecha imbalance, which becomes more evident in higher levels of difficulty. The challenge spikes can turn players off if they’re unprepared or inexperienced.

Still, Super Robot Wars X is a must-buy for fans of the tactical genre. And while it does possess the potential to shock the unprepared and uninitiated, it rewards patient gamers with an experience they’ll remember and lean on whenever another title from the series is in the offing. (8/10)