Review: “Shogo: Mobile Armor Division” (Retro Computer Game)

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My first encounter with “Shogo: Mobile Armor Division” was on a demo disc from sometime in the late 1990s.

At the time, I didn’t really like it. This was probably because I was playing it on my Dad’s old computer which, if memory serves correctly, only had a Pentium 166. The game was slow and jerky, and it mostly seemed to feature anodyne, bloodless combat between robots. Being a child with a tiny attention span, I soon forgot about the game.

Last autumn, I was looking at a large sale on GOG and waiting for a game I really wanted to go on sale (it didn’t 😦 ). But, near the end of the sale, I noticed that this old game had been reduced to a little under two quid… and I thought “I remember that!“.

Since I had fond memories of playing “Blood II: The Chosen” the previous autumn and since “Shogo” was a FPS game by the same developer, I looked at a couple of reviews and then decided to check it out.

So, let’s take a look at “Shogo: Mobile Armor Division”:

shogo-logo

“Shogo: Mobile Armor Division” is an anime-themed sci-fi FPS game by Monolith. You play as a soldier called Sanjuro who is sent on a series of missions by his girlfriend, Karthryn’s father Admiral Akkaraju. Kathryn is the sister of his former girlfriend, who died during a previous mission. Sanjuro also gets to use a giant combat robot occasionally. There’s also something about a mysterious type of fuel called “Kato”. And, yes, the plot seems to be both intentionally confusing and designed not to be taken seriously.

Yes, like many great 1990s games, this one doesn’t really take itself too seriously. Yes, there are a few genuine laugh out loud moments, but a fair amount of the humour is the kind of generic sarcastic humour that was popular in the 1990s. It isn’t the funniest classic FPS game I’ve played but, compared to the more modern trend towards ultra-serious FPS games, it is very much a comedy game.

Yes, this cat toy is actually a weapon you are given in the game. It squeaks and shouts "magic claw" when you use it. Naturally, your foes quake in ter... no, actually they just start shooting at you.

Yes, this cat toy is actually a weapon you are given in the game. It squeaks and shouts “magic claw” when you use it. Naturally, your foes quake in ter… no, actually they just start shooting at you.

The guy in the top corner of this screenshot looks like a hilarious caricature of modern FPS game protagonists, or Fred Durst. Or both. Anyway, I laughed at him. But not with him, because he's too serious to make jokes.

The guy in the top corner of this screenshot looks like a hilarious caricature of modern FPS game protagonists, or Fred Durst. Or both. Anyway, I laughed at him. But not with him, because he’s too serious to make jokes.

In addition to this, there’s some other funny and/or cool stuff. For example, a few of the enemies early in the game will actually shout Latin phrases from the first “Blood” game at you. I literally trembled with joy when I heard this!

Likewise, the game also has a “Rise Of The Triad” style credits easter egg – if you wait long enough after the end credits finish, you’ll be treated to a few funny messages, before learning more about the development history of the game. Eventually, the credits are filled with a succinct manifesto, which explains why games from the 1990s are so much better than modern ones….

"Gameplay rules", "Breaking the rules rules" etc.. These are all things that game developers seem to have forgotten THESE days....

“Gameplay rules”, “Breaking the rules rules” etc.. These are all things that game developers seem to have forgotten THESE days….

Talking of gameplay, I should probably actually get on to actually reviewing the game.

First of all, about a third of the missions involve piloting a giant robot. Whilst this might sound like a dreaded vehicle segment that has no business whatsoever being in a FPS game (Red Faction II ‘s submarine section, I’m looking at you!), the gameplay in these parts of the game is thankfully just standard FPS gameplay – but you play as a giant robot who has even cooler weapons.

And you get to explore cities that sometimes look like something from "Blade Runner" too!

And you get to explore cities that sometimes look like something from “Blade Runner” too!

The gameplay in the “normal” FPS segments is something of a mixed bag though. Although you get a few imaginative weapons, you’ll probably just end up using the generic assault rifle for most of the game. Likewise, the combat mechanics in this game are… unique. In essence, the enemies behave in a more “realistic” way.

What this means is that the instant that they see you, they will start shooting at you with weapons that are as powerful as yours. If you turn a corner and don’t look first, you’ll end up dead. If you decide to rush towards a group of them, you’ll develop a lethal case of bullet poisoning within 1-3 seconds. If you don’t save your game often, you’ll end up smashing your keyboard with frustration. If you’ve played nothing but slow, easy, modern regenerating health-based FPS games, you’ll get very well-acquainted with the loading screen.

One other interesting thing about the combat is that you will sometimes randomly score a “critical hit” – which will do extra damage to your opponent and give you some health too. Given the relative lack of health power-ups in the game and the strength of your enemies’ weapons (as well as the fact that they can score “critical hits” on you too), this helps to keep the game enjoyable.

It's also surprisingly difficult to get screenshots of, since the "critical hit" message only appears for a second or so.

It’s also surprisingly difficult to get screenshots of, since the “critical hit” message only appears for a second or so.

Likewise, it makes you balance a fast and aggressive playing style with the level of caution and strategy you need to actually defeat many of the game’s enemies. If you like your FPS games to actually be challenging, then you’ll be in heaven here.

Plus, like many classic FPS games, “Shogo” also features boss battles. However, since these bosses are either very large or use explosive weapons, you can usually either find a completely safe vantage point or easily trick them into destroying themselves with the splash damage from their own weapons:

Seriously, in one of the game's two endings, the FINAL BOSS is a huge robot. And it can be defeated by just standing on the other side of this tiny door and shooting at it slowly for a couple of minutes.

Seriously, in one of the game’s two endings, the FINAL BOSS is a huge robot. And it can be defeated by just standing on the other side of this tiny door and shooting at it slowly for a couple of minutes.

In terms of the level design, it’s also something of a mixed bag. Some of the levels are classic, non-linear 1990s-style levels. Other levels are a bit more linear. For the most part, the levels are reasonably well-designed, although I did end up getting completely stuck on one of the “robot” levels. It was only after actually looking at a walkthrough that I learnt that the tunnel you’re supposed to go down is cunningly disguised and very easy to miss, yet extremely obvious when you know where it is.

Plus, interestingly, the game apparently has two branching paths near the end of the game that apparently affect the final couple of levels. Although, at the time of writing, I have only seen one of these paths – the idea was still at least mildly ahead of it’s time.

Yes, this one choice affects the entire ending of the game.. and it's still better than what I've heard about the ending of "Mass Effect 3".

Yes, this one choice affects the entire ending of the game.. and it’s still better than what I’ve heard about the ending of “Mass Effect 3”.

Another mixed thing about the level design is the level of visual creativity on offer during some parts of the game. Yes, quite a few of the levels are just the usual generic military bases, sewers, buildings etc.. that any seasoned FPS gamer is well and truly bored of already.

*Yawn* How original....

*Yawn* How original….

But, especially near the end of the game, there is some truly beautiful visual design. Seriously, it is Art!

Yes!

Yes!

Oh god yes!

Oh god yes!

I must be in heaven!

I must be in heaven!

All in all, “Shogo: Mobile Armor Division” isn’t a perfect FPS game. But, it doesn’t have to be. It’s a relic from an age when FPS games lived by the mantra of “Gameplay rules!”.

It’s a piece of childhood nostalgia that actually turned out to be better than I remembered. It’s a game from an age where designers knew that FPS games were just meant to be silly fun. It isn’t “Doom II” and it isn’t even “Blood II: The Chosen“, but it’s still probably more imaginative than the bulk of modern, mega-budget FPS games.

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get at least three and three quarters.

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