Gamestyle Archive intro: another debut piece on the archive this time from Ollie Barder who was our resident mecha expert. Ollie during his Gamestyle tenure mainly reviewed titles from this genre and for a period was based in Japan so was a great source of material. We even managed to gain press status for the Tokyo Game Show so Ollie could attend and report from the event. Hopefully there are more mecha reviews waiting in the archive.
Published: this is tricky as this record isn’t available but I’d suggest the summer of 2002
The Japanese word “murakumo” means “a gathering of clouds”, a suitably Zen title for a high speed chase game. From Software generally have a habit of doing good games that have robots in them (their RPGs are generally awful), Murakumo is no exception. Set in the near future humanity has discovered a new power source, one that allows things to travel really, really fast. Due to the high speed nature of these things, A.I.s are needed to monitor these beasts. The final products are called “A.R.K.s”.
You control “Team Murakumo” a bunch of specialised A.R.K.s and their cocky pilots, their job is to eliminate the misuse of A.R.K.s, but something awry is afoot. Normal A.R.K.s are rampaging through the city of Oliver Port for no reason, what could it have to do with Lugnal – an evil arms manufacturer – and what the hell is the LX-30 GeoSweeper? The catchy premise the game offers is “high speed chase action”, which isn’t far off. Each mission requires you to take down a boss A.R.K. in a variety of environments. Some of the Team Murakumo A.R.K.s are better suited for some missions than others, but the real kick the game offers is not that far off from your average racing game. Learn the track. Learn it good. In doing so you can optimise the damage you inflict, crucially in some cases. If you don’t move quickly though, your opponent will escape. So a speedy dispatch is a must. Considering the speeds you are moving at, the handling can be a bit infuriating at times.
Turning is easy, either with the uses of verniers or just on its own, but gaining altitude (or losing it) can be a real struggle. Admittedly you can use the “Top Gun Fox2 FlightStick” with the game, so maybe this will negate this issue somewhat. But with the pad, particular movements can be a challenge. This is not to say that the game is unplayable with the pad, far from it. The Xbox pad does a stirling job of maneuvering your avatar of high speed justice, so well in fact that it is more than easy to acquire “SS” rank on all the missions with it. If you are “hardcore” though, you may want the dedicated peripheral.
For all the fun the game offers, and it is fun, it is brutally short. The main “Scenario Mode” only has 17 missions and the “Expert Mission” mode (unlocked after getting a suitably high rank after completion of “Scenario Mode”) only has ten missions, admittedly some of them can be incredibly challenging. Admittedly there are a plethora of options to “unlock”, but the game itself is all too brief. There is no versus mode either, something that would have added greatly to the replay value. Despite being a Japanese game, the majority of the story is in English. Admittedly the voice-acting can grate but the story is relatively engaging and, hell, you want Team Murakumo to kick Lugnal’s arse. The music is pretty apt though, 70’s chase movie cheese. Actually, the game’s aural prowess is rather impressive. Dolby 5.1 surround sound is fully utilised throughout the game, it can be incredibly useful at times too.
Aesthetically it is a bit weird though. Admittedly Takashi Aoyagi’s design work is super slick,but the graphical representation of Oliver Port can be a little sketchy at times. The draw distance, for one, feels a little sub-par for an Xbox title and the graphics – bar the A.R.K.s – can be a little on the bland side too. The replays are also from third person view only, which feels rather dull too. But, overall, these facets do not detract from the game all that much. In summation though, a nice title but all too brief.