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Shin Force ~ Panzer Dragoon ~
Panzer Dragoon Orta
1x DVD
Import / Domestic
Dec, 2002 (Japan)
Jan. 15, 2003 (USA)
3rd Person
Flight / Shooter
Dolby Digital
HDTV 480pl
     > At the time of its release in 1995 (USA), Panzer Dragoon for Sega Saturn was largely cited as an average shooter stuck on rails by the critics.  In the mean time, people who didn't have the clairvoyance to see the splendor of Panzer Dragoon Saga are regularly paying over $100 to buy it used!  Of course now that Sega isn't a threat in the console market, the media has seen fit to rewrite history and sing the praises of Panzer Dragoon, Panzer Dragoon Zwei and Panzer Dragoon Saga.  Enter, Panzer Dragoon Orta for Xbox.  Having some former members of the now disbanded Team Andromeda and considerable prowess on the Xbox, Smilebit was chosen to develop the latest Panzer sequel.

     > In Panzer Dragoon Orta, the Empire has risen again and awakened dragons of their own, called Dragonmares.  Riders of the Imperial cavalry guide their Dragonmares to unleash a maelstrom of destruction upon the unsuspecting town.  You play the part of Orta, the white-haired heroine of the story, who is rescued by an incredibly powerful dragon in the beginning of the game.  Together they flee the burning town and the pursuit of the Imperial Army to begin an epic journey...

     > Panzer Dragoon Orta's graphics are stunning to behold. Smilebit's experience on the Xbox with games like Jet Set Radio Future and Gunvalkyrie has really paid dividends.  Everything from the reflections, lighting and models, to the sight-distance, special effects and textures is simply benchmark setting.

     > Simultaneously, there can be 10's of missiles coming at you, multiple enemies firing lasers, a huge animated boss, and you going postal on everything with your berserk attack!  All this eye-candy flows bye smooth as silk, as the frame rate is rock solid.  Check out the lower-right picture (below) to see one frame of a color morphing berserk attack on the first boss, a flying battleship.  Your 3rd person view of this mind blowing world should be familiar to veteran dragonriders, and is certain to please a newcomer.

     > The locales are richly detailed, and include a city at night, river pass, tunnel, cave, desert, and a gigantic fleet in the clouds!  Naturally, the world of Panzer Dragoon Orta is littered with tons of weird bio-monsters and bosses that await your arrival.  Throw in some awesome CGI cut-scenes to complete the story, and you have a perfect game in the graphics department.

     > Panzer Dragoon Orta's gameplay is much like its predecessors, in that you "fly" a dragon on invisible rails with multiple paths to choose.  As usual, you have to charge up the berserk meter before it can be unleashed on your deadly foes.  The new ability to "Glide" is also limited to your Glide meter's current status, which automatically recharges after every use.  To Glide refers basically to your maneuverability in relation to the enemy.  You can Glide faster or slower to maneuver around the enemy. 

     > One interesting new feature is the ability to morph into three types of dragons on-the-fly -- Base Wing (has shot, homing laser, average Glide, and many lock-on targets); Heavy Wing (has shot, most powerful homing laser, manually aimed berserk, no Glide, and few lock-on targets); Glide Wing (has a homing shot, no laser, max Glide, and a life-restoring berserk).  Each dragon will level-up by absorbing Gene Bases, which are released by defeated enemies, to maximum of level 3.

     > All in all, I'd say the evolution of Panzer Dragoon's control scheme has improved nicely.  Smilebit also made sure that the control is intuitive and tight -- a must have for shooter games.  Really, the only way I could see to potentially improve on this formula would be to make the game free roaming, instead of locked on rails.  Well,... two player cooperative system link would be sweet too.

     > The Panzer Dragoon series has always had excellent music, and the tradition continues with Orta.  This time around the music consists mainly of rhythmic orchestral beats, with a fairly catchy boss tune.  I would say Orta's songs are a combination of Zwei and Saga.  Personally, I think there's nothing in the series that can match the orchestral might of the opening and level 1 songs from the original Panzer Dragoon.

     > The sound effects are top notch, as usual, and full of variety.  About the only effect I don't enjoy is when your dragon takes a hit (for obvious reasons).  Again, Panzer Dragoonish is the spoken language you'll hear throughout the game, and it sounds as cryptic as ever.  Overall, this category is above average, yet fails to be exceptional.

     > For me, the fun in a shooter is deliberately blowing stuff up and enjoying the scenery along the way.  Panzer Dragoon Orta excels at the above, and adds a good story to boot.  It's reminiscent of genre forming games like Silpheed for Sega CD, which I enjoy greatly to this day.  Throw in some bonus unlockable features, like the entire original Panzer Dragoon, and you have a complete package for the hardcore gamer.  Even so, if you're not into flying around and shooting at bio-engineered monsters, then this game isn't for you.  It is, however, worth a rental (at the very least) to see if you might be swayed to the Dragoon side.
Bottom Line
     > Panzer Dragoon Orta has done what few other games have done for a series -- surpass the first in the series' overall prowess for the given console.  I can't imagine a fan of shooter games or the Panzer Dragoon series not owning Orta.  Finally, as I've been predicting for some time, Smilebit has proven themselves as a leading developer for Sega, if not in the videogame market as a whole.
Overall: 9.4 | Graphics: 10 | Control: 9.5 | Sound: 8.5 | Fun: 9.5
~ Shinobi ~

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