Mechs and robots are always cool but is this Super Gundam Destiny amazing or Michael Bay what am I watching terrible? Mech games are always pretty niche in the west and the fact you’ve likely never heard of Assault Gunners in the first place is testament to this. Originally released on the PsVita in Japan back in 2012 and never localised, Assault Gunners has now been ported to PC and in this review the PS4 with new HD graphics and a lot of DLC.
These days you’ll struggle to find much passion for the mecha genre outside of Gundam games and it feels like Assault Gunners HD is trying to fill that gap in the market. The rush from piloting a giant hulking machine as you blast others and collect items to upgrade is an itch that recent Mech games haven’t managed to scratch. It’s just a shame that Assault Gunners HD really isn’t filling any gap only reminding people of how good we used to have it.
Oh and it’s worth noting the review copy I had included all of the DLC, so any mention of amazing voice work – That’s DLC only.
Assault Gunners HD is a simple game, you have a choice of story missions or a survival mode both of which throw you into a small area with Ai robots, tanks and airships to destroy with your custom mech which is built from parts you find or buy with points through play.
The game starts with a standard suit of metal and quite an array of guns to choose from but sadly the difference between an assault rifle and laser rifle is largely cosmetic. The strangest thing about the combat is that with a title such as Assault Gunners HD and the focus on long range attacks there is a designed button always assigned for punching and it’s the weakest and most awkward attack in the game. It’s a shame that the guns feel weak even after upgrading, the lasers sound like toy guns and the only positive note is that the missiles look nice with clouds fanning out when fired but the targeting is clunky and the frame rate can chug if you get a little too trigger happy.
The best action robot games have to use fast, fluid controls and tight movements (and yes I was thinking of Zone of the Enders as well). I say the best do this because the controls in Assault Gunners HD are horrible. I can’t even imagine playing this for extended periods on the Vita. The weapons can be assigned to the Triangle, Cicle and X buttons and then fired with R1. There is a nice boost/jet that works with L1 in the same way as Zone of the Enders (your mech sort of jets in the direction your pointing) but despite this interesting mechanic of sharing shield energy with boost just results in FPS style moments of hiding behind a wall waiting to recover, a few upgrades later and it refills so fast it becomes redundant. Oh and L2 simply slowly turns the camera left, no reason it just does that. The fact there are zero control options in the game doesn’t help, if you could improve the incredulously slow camera controls it wouldn’t be as painful and seems a massive oversight.
As for the missions themselves Assault Gunners HD quickly develops down into terrible busywork with most missions simply being to ‘Destroy all Enemies’. There are occasional moments of getting to a target but even these end up becoming ‘Destroy all Enemies’ missions once that parts complete. Normally not a problem in mech games but in Assault Gunners HD most of the time (even on Hardest difficulty) the Ai will simply wait for you to be close enough before they attack. If they don’t get stuck in walls or obstacles first. In short the small boss battles are a welcome break from the grind despite being horribly unbalanced.
At first I thought the HD in Assault Gunners meant this was an original PSOne game scrubbed up to high resolution and simply tinkered and fixed for new age generations. Finding out it was originally launched on the Vita made a lot of sense but didn’t excuse a lot of it’s problems in design. The areas are huge empty spaces with little to nothing in them, this would be excusable on the Vita hardware where it’s a common trick to cover for the lack of hardware but when you spend a few moments lugging your mech from place to place in Assault Gunners HD for the PS4 you quickly tire of seeing the same objects strewn around and the same patterns of enemy layout.
The interface is also terrible and just not suitable for a TV screen at all. It’s either too big and bulky taking up the screen with needless weapon details or so small you cannot hope to see anything. The radar is all but useless and even after maxing the upgrades in the radar so you can see everything your own mech is still a tiny dark blue arrow than you cannot rely on in battle.
The mechs do look nice in the hanger, it’s just a shame the same can’t be said for the enemy robots, tanks, terrain, areas, weapons, gunfire, lazers, ships or cutscenes. Some cutscenes enemies move behind buildings to die as to hide there’s no death animation. The lighting even in the hanger starts to lose its luster when you realise it’s a single source floating around to give the illusion of movement. The whole of Assault Gunners HD just needed a lot more polish before it moved to the big screen and it’s a running theme the more you play.
The noise. God the noise.
I will take the noise of the sound of metal grinding on metal to my grave. When your standard mech walks it makes this horrific grating chunky ear shredding noise that is just awful. There are other leg parts but until you get to the higher tier stuff it doesn’t fix the noise they just CARRY ON WITH THE NOISE. The grating movement sound ‘effect’ aside; The guns sound passable with the noises you expect however the lasers sound pathetic Poundland toy zappers that carry as much weight as you imagine. The only weapon to sound how you expect is the missiles.
The music is pretty good and one of the good things Assault Gunners HD brings. It fits the genre nicely and is clearly influenced from other mech action video games. It’s very sythy poppy upbeat music that sounds great the first time you hear it. The HD part of the Assault Gunners title would lead you to believe someone would think about the transition to a console but sadly not, the music is only Vita sized soundbites that loop far too quickly. If your tinkering with building a mech just mute the TV or you’ll give up before your done. What once a nice surprise starts to become a chore.
The biggest surprise for me was hidden in the navigators options. They have hired some of the GREATEST ANIME VOICE ACTORS OF ALL TIME!? Seriously, the voice talent in the game far outweighs any single other aspect. Check the navigator options and have a look if you have the DLC! There maybe no subtitles for their dialogue when in the game but let’s have a look at the voices shall we?
Keiji Fujiwara – You’ve seen Full Metal Alchemist by now right? Maes Hughes. Something a little newer? Attack on Titan he’s Captain Hannes! Brilliant!
Jôji Nakata – Hellsing’s Alucard is an unmistakable voice but how about the fact he voices Kazuya Mishima in Tekken to?
Norio Wakamoto – Remember Cowboy Bebop? He voices Vicious! He was also the original voice for Dragon Ball Z’s Cell
Takehito Koyasu – Almost all of the voice actors in this game have voiced a character in GinTama but Takehito is the voice of Shinsuke Takasugi possibly the best villain yet lest not forget the classic Mobile Suit Gundam Wing where he voiced Milliardo Peacecraft / Zechs Merquise.
Kana Hanazawa – Aside from 4 albums she’s also voiced Shiro in Deadman Wonderland and Chiaki Nanami in Danganronpa
Mamiko Noto – 2 albums as well as various roles in many titles including Fairy Tail (Mavis Vermillion) and the brilliantly twisted Elsa Granhiert in Re:Zero
Atsuko Tanaka – As soon as I heard a word from this actrice I knew it was the Major, Ghost in the Shells leading lady, not to mention a diverse portfolio of roles. She even has a part in Devilman Crybaby as Silene.
Maaya Sakamoto – This name had me to do a double take. I know Maaya’s music before anything else, it’s simply magical and well worth a look. The most memorable role I’d say was definitely in Hellsing Ultimate when she sang as Rip van Winkle.
I can only only think that the entire budget for the game went on the voice work. It’s also a shame they only recorded a few lines, you’ll get to hear your favourite voice actor shout “shield energy fully charged” about a hundred and one times before your done. If anything this game is more aware than others how important their voice work is with some trophies linked to which navigator you pick.
Don’t bother with the story, it’s hilariously cliche and what starts off as humorously tongue in cheek starts to lose it’s charm when you realise it’s taking itself seriously. Far too seriously when your introduced to ‘Ghost’ a mysterious Ai pilot that is either a rogue working with the now sentient builders or just sympathises. It doesn’t help there is a very sketchy translation at work here that doesn’t add subtitles for a lot of the dialogue. Granted a lot of it is simply “I get that” or “I’m heading to the objective” but when pilots leave the field their little lines could have done with a translation.
Story mode has an alternate path when you complete it, although with no hints on how to assess them and no obvious alternate path in the missions to take you’ll likely struggle to unlock these. There is a survival mode but this is simply a few levels disguised as waves of the same layout of enemies over and over. Some levels even start you next to enemies while your being attacked so good luck on harder difficulties!
Poorly placed Ai is a problem you’ll spot more as you play Assault Gunners HD. You start to see patterns and realise that the enemies are always being spawned in small boxes or lines over and over to the point where some enclosed tunnel levels make it terribly obvious the designers are running out of ideas in how to reuse the same walking mechs interesting after killing hundreds of them.
You can gain experience and level up your pilot but you don’t have anything to show who your pilot is or why they’re even in this. The story is not compelling to say the least and the lack of any personality to your pilots or wingmen doesn’t help the feeling your smashing toy robots together in a sandbox.
The game difficulty is nonsense and the difficulty curve is less an arc and more a straight line that suddenly jumps up for no reason except to get you back to the grinding to collect parts with more tedious smashing of enemies to rank up your points and go back to the grind.
The tinkering is fun in any mech game in the same way that any terrible game can be fun with multiple people it’s just a bit more Gundam or Evangelion bootleg for my liking. There doesn’t seem to be any original designs to set it apart and given series such as Code Geass and Full Metal Panic have proven you can still come up with some interesting designs it’s a shame that everything looks so bland and dull. The fact there are minimal preset colours for your mech doesn’t help it feels like another size limitation from the Vita creeping in and could have been fixed in the HD upgrade.
What a mess. Assault Gunners HD reminds me so much of Sonic The Hedgehog 06. You can see the plan, the work and how they were progressing and getting better as the game went along. It just feels like Assault Gunners HD was released to make money before it was finished still made to fit as small as possible onto a Vita memory card, the fact it’s 840mb on the PS4 and 264mb on the Vita should say it all. You can take damage seconds after a mission starts, you can spend time watching Ai simply run at walls ignoring you, the difficulty is simply not enjoyable or challenging, the sounds make you want to hit the TV but the voice work forces you to endure. Assaulting your senses the gunners are Hard to Derive pleasure from.
Assault Gunners HD receives a Thumb Culture Trash Award
Disclaimer: we received a digital code to carry out this review
This review was written by one of our contributors Sam K (Elderly Goose)