Dragons return in Sega sequel for Xbox

Tuesday, January 28, 2003

One of the most movingly beautiful games of the Sega Saturn era was "Panzer Dragoon."

Now that the company is out of the hardware business, Sega and developer Smilebit have come up with a sequel that's even more spectacularly gorgeous -- for the Xbox.

"Panzer Dragoon Orta" will dazzle you with its amazing good looks, but you'll really be hooked when you start playing.

"Panzer Dragoon Orta" is a traditional shooter of an obsolete "rail" style not often seen in modern games, in which you have little latitude about where you travel as you work through 10 complex levels.

You can move from side to side and up and down to avoid obstacles or enemy fire, but you can't stop and you can't explore. In these days of vast 3D environments and free movement, the game is an anachronistic throwback to an earlier time.

That said, it's the looks and the action that make this an amazing creation -- and both are presented at the highest level.

Orta is a young girl who is rescued from an evil empire by a huge dragon. Their adventures -- and their efforts to avoid being blasted by the bizarre enemies they must face -- form the core of the game.

Also traditional is the action. You battle past waves of opponents, almost constantly firing as you bob and weave to avoid incoming fire. The shoulder triggers allow you to rotate 90 degrees with each click so you can fire at enemies alongside or to the rear.

Adding to the retro feel are the level-ending bosses. Powerful, diabolically designed and with a lifeline seemingly a foot long, the battle to beat the bosses and clear each level is long, protracted and dramatic.

Orta's dragon can morph into three forms. The base dragon is maneuverable and able to target many enemies at once. The small glide wing is highly mobile and allows the best use of Orta's weapon, a powerful pistol. And there's the heavy wing, a larger target but with the most powerful lock-on firepower.

You can certainly try to play the entire game with one dragon form, but it won't be easy. Quickly changing among the three, depending on the firepower you need, makes victory far more likely.

Do well and there are loads of hidden items to unlock, including the complete original "Panzer Dragoon" game.

Graphics get an A+. The images are strange, otherworldly, beautifully crafted with a vast pallet and delightful detail. Moving through the world of "Panzer Dragoon Orta" is a weird, wild experience you won't soon forget.

Control gets a B+. The limits on your movement are frustrating at times, as you try without success to dodge everything thrown at you. But whatever dragon form you choose, it follows your instructions easily. Morphing is lightning fast, targeting is easy and controls become second nature after an hour or so.

Sound gets an A. The effects are excellent, and the score features wild synthesizer sounds which are as unusual aurally as the graphics are visually. There's also a language invented just for the game -- Panzereese -- with subtitles to explain what's being said.

"Panzer Dragoon Orta" gets a solid A. It's quickly become one of my favorite games, with nonstop action in one of the most beautiful game worlds ever created.

"Panzer Dragoon Orta" is rated T, for ages 13 and up.




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