reviews\ Nov 22, 2002 at 7:00 pm

Phantom Crash - XB - Review

Phantom Crash is not like other mech games.  You don't control a big, slow, mechanical thing that resembles a human that towers above buildings.  In fact, these mechs - actually referred to as "Scoobees" - are smaller than many buildings, rather fast, and light.  Okay, so ten tons isn't that light, but compared to the behemoths of Steel Battalion, it is.  Another thing that separates the game from others is its quirky, almost lighthearted atmosphere.  People aren't trying to kill each other, but rather battle for money, as sort of a sporting event.  This event is called Rumbling, and is where you'll be fighting several other Scoobees at once.


The rules of rumbling are simple: There aren't really any.  Basically, you enter the closed-off arena through one of several gates.  You have a shield that will protect you as you emerge, but it will only last for a few moments until you start strategizing.  Now it's a total free-for-all, every man for himself.  There are never any teams or allies.  While this could become disappointing, thankfully there are several things you can do to spice things up.  The first of which is your AC - Active Camouflage, not air conditioning, mind you.  By turning on your AC you become pretty much invisible for a period of time.  It is still possible for enemies to see you, as your outline is visible from light steering away from you, but unless they're very close you should be safe.


A very interesting aspect of the game involves assembling your actual Scoobees.  A map interface, similar to that of Gran Turismo's, will allow you to visit various shops and locations.  There are three major distributors of Scoobees, each focusing on either light, middle, or heavyweight machines.  The ones offered by the distributors are usually pretty pricy, so it may be a better idea to head on over to Wild Arms, a sort of shop that sells used mechs, as well as modules for them, and Chips.  Chips are, in a sense, your co-pilot.  During battle, they will warn you of incoming missiles, let you know that your Active Camouflage fuel is running low, as well as of course sneering at defeated rivals.  Each Chip has an animal personality, such as a cat, dog, or horse, and depending on which you pick, various attributes will be changed, such as the height and width of your targeting reticle.


Each Scoobee can be customized to your liking by modifying its arm weapons (assigned to the left and right triggers), shoulder weapons (set to Y and B, by default), it's lower body (there are ones on wheels, ones with legs, ones that hover, etc), colors, name, and more.  Shoulder weapons tend to be more heavy and powerful, such as missile launchers, compared to arm weapons that are usually lighter and weaker, like pistols or machine guns.  Shoulder weapons vary, from simple homing missile launchers, to grenade launchers, or ones that shoot four rockets at once.   There are also melee weapons that can be equipped to one's arms, such as a knife.  These tend to deal a lot of damage, but require that you are very close to your target.


Of course, customizing your Scoobee is only half the fun.  Rumbling is really a lot of fun.  It's very frantic, and trust me, your adrenaline will start pumping on more than one occasion.  There's nothing like cloaking yourself, taking out an enemy from behind with a knife, only to find your AC run out at this point.  Uh-oh!, your Chip informs you that some missiles are locked on to you.  With some quick maneuvering, we're now in the air, spinning around, and aiming our machine gun at the attacking Scoobee.  Things get even more intense when one of the "bosses" comes into the arena.  The bosses are much like any other mech, except they're usually a lot stronger.  Taking down one of these guys is a real accomplishment when you're only starting out, and will net you a lot of money to spend on parts or whatnot.


Or perhaps you'd be more inclined to spend your cash at the music shop.  This place offers a wide selection of albums, which offer one track a piece.  You can configure play lists with all of your owned albums later, and blast some metal along with them.  The music itself is quite varied.  A good bit of it brings back memories of titles like Sonic the Hedgehog... it has a quirky, fun feel.  There's also a lot of techno, and some rock, and other stranger stuff as well.  I found myself with a decent collection of tracks I rather liked, but I can imagine someone else might really wish this game had a custom soundtrack option.


The graphics in the game aren't bad, either.  In fact, they're pretty nice and I don't have too many complaints about them.  A few more special effects might have been nifty, but as it is, fire looks good, and environments aren't that bad.  It's got style, for sure.


Is the game flawed, then?  Yes, it is.  It could use some more variety, for sure.  The rules of Rumbling never change, so it's the same every time.  Some team play matches would have been appreciated, or at least some varying conditions.  Also not helping is the lack of arenas - the three that are there are good, but they can become tiresome after awhile.  You would think that only three maps would give you time to learn each map and create some strategies, but the stages don't offer much in the way of complimenting your mech.  In some spots, it feels like you shouldn't even be there.  But for the most part, they're good.


The game is actually a pretty fun, and certainly original.  If you're looking for a mech game that isn't so serious and similar to others out there, you'd do good to pick it up.  The Multiplayer elements are hardly worth mentioning, which is unfortunate, because the game's multiplayer could have been great.  A delay to add Xbox Live support would have been wonderful - the controls take a bit of getting used to, so your casual gaming friends might not have a blast with you playing the game.  Online support would have been wonderful, so people who have actually played the game could get online and battle.  The nature of Rumbling would make for awesome matches, honestly.  So, aside from my few gripes, by all means, keep an eye out for this title.



Gameplay: 8.4

Phantom Crash is more of an action title in the vein of Gun Valkyrie than a regular mech game, but it's very fun.  The gameplay can be quite addictive once you learn the in's and out's of the game, and you're bound to get an adrenaline rush when up against tough opponents.  The only thing missing is some much-needed variety from fight to fight.


Graphics: 8.6

The graphics in this game are not lackluster in the least.  Everything is stylish and usually smooth.  Animation, or what there is of it, is done well, along with nice textures and lighting.  Nothing really breathtaking, but cool nonetheless.


Sound: 8.0

This point is definitely arguable.  You cannot use soundtracks you have ripped to the Xbox hard drive, which seems unfortunate.  However, what music there is, is actually kind of cool.  A lot of it has an old-school gaming feel, something that might remind you of Sonic the Hedgehog.  There's also rock, techno, and a few other styles of music around to hopefully satisfy people, and the music managing system is actually pretty neat.


Difficulty: Medium

Phantom Crash is by no means an easy game, especially in the beginning.  It took several rounds of fighting for me to figure out what was going on, but once I did, I started kicking some butt.  Of course, there are always higher-ranking matches to offer some difficulty, but they aren't necessary to play in.


Concept: 8.5

This game is dripping freshness like a wet towel.  While some might think it could be compared to "Gran Turismo with mechs", the actual gameplay is so much different from anything out there that you can't help but play, or at least watch.


Multiplayer: 7.0

This game has the potential to be very cool in multiplayer thanks to the nature of the game and the fighting, but there is a problem.  Most people probably won't be able to pick up and play the game, and actually win easily - it takes some time to get used to.  And despite the lack of customization, it can still be fun with someone who knows what they're doing.  This game screams for online play.


Overall: 8.1

Unless you have a good friend (or a few) who've also spent a good amount of time with the game, multiplayer probably won't be too great, which is unfortunate.  However, the game is still fun and very cool when you play alone.  Customizing your mech is a lot of fun, and taking it into battle can be a blast.  Literally.  If you're looking for a mech title that isn't quite like most others out there - or just a fun action title, perhaps - do not pass this up.


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