Panzer Dragoon Orta
26th Apr 2003 | 16:15
Turbulence, tension and heaps of fun
The best shoot 'em ups make you feel like you're walking a tightrope across a crocodile pit during a hurricane. Every ounce of your energy focused on fighting to stay alive, nerves frazzled and brain fizzing with the sheer intensity.
Traditionally, 2D top-down and side-scrolling blasters like Contra, Radiant Silvergun and Gradius are the masters of making us sweat buckets. Now Panzer Dragoon Orta on Xbox is joining this exclusive club of arcade thrillers, with hardcore 3D action that'll twist your melon and stretch your shooting skills to their limits.
TEN BIRDS WITH ONE STONE
Orta's gameplay isn't conventional. It's every bit as mental as its 2D cousins, the screen rammed with nosebleed levels of activity. But there's hardly any of the regular frenzied bullet dodging.
Instead, this 3D beauty immerses you in a nutty experience that feels similar to the action in Sega's awesome techno blaster Rez. The main focus is on annihilating incoming projectiles and enemies rather than simply dodging them, and you can aim and lock onto tons of targets before releasing a single devastating attack.
Also like Rez, this dragon-riding dynamo is on rails. However, it has a couple of tricks up its scaly sleeves that help make the action feel freeform, fresh, and extra tough.
Unlike other on-rails 3D arcade-style shooters like Lylat Wars on N64, where your only worry is what's coming straight at you, in Orta you're forced to deal with oncoming threats from all sides. Therefore, although your dragon is always travelling in one direction, you need to constantly switch viewpoints. Pressing the left or right shoulder buttons lets you fend off attacks from side; hit both together to swing round 180Þ.
This unique feature makes the action feel super-tense because you're always under threat from creatures you can't see. But the one annoying aspect of this multi-directional gameplay is the way you can spend ages fighting monsters on your flanks and behind you, only then to slam into an obstacle because you have lost all clue as to where you're going. Bit of a Catch 22 situation.
PICK A DRAGON, ANY DRAGON
Along with the worry of which direction you need to face, you're also faced with the dilemma of which sort of dragon to use.
Your winged beast can transform into any of three different forms - Base, Heavy and Glide Wing - each suited to specific battle scenarios, adding a tactical element to the aerial adventure. Plus, as you progress through the 10 astounding stages, each dragon gradually evolves and powers up, giving them new abilities and more powerful attacks. But choosing which way you need to be looking and which dragon to fight with is as complicated as it gets. Which is fortunate, as Orta never gives you much time to think. There's always too much action kicking off in every direction. Just how we like it.