VR has a welcome habit of resurrecting the most unexpected of franchises. Gungrave is ending its 16-year hiatus later in 2018, for example, and even Double Fine’s dormant Psychonauts series found a new home inside PSVR. Perhaps even more surprising than these two, though, is the return of the Konami’s Zone of the Enders: The Second Runner, not just because of its underdog status but also thanks to its publisher’s increasing distance from the traditional gaming market. The upcoming PS4 and PC re-release is just one of four games Konami is releasing this year.
If you’re one of ZoE’s many cult followers, you should count your lucky stars that Zone Of The Enders: The 2nd Runner – Mars even exists. Having gone hands-on with the new demo, though, it’s not hard to see why it does.
Mars lets you play through the entirety of ZoE 2 in PlayStation VR (PSVR), Oculus Rift and the HTC Vive. Doing so trades the series’ traditional third-person camera from which you pilot advanced battle suit, Jehuty, for a first-person cockpit view. It’s a logical swap though, based on the new demo, not an entirely practical one; the out-of-body experience lets you see more of the game’s expansive maps, typically infested with swarms of enemies. An automatic lock-on system also means diving into those swarms for melee attacks erratically jolts you around.
ZoE’s control scheme, meanwhile, has its own learning curve to master, with attacks assigned to one button and defined by if you’re moving and how close you are to an enemy. If you’re new to the world of ZoE, the demo’s opening moments can be unnervingly hectic.
It’s worth persevering (and, for the weak of stomach, diving into the comfort options), though, as Mars’ VR support can be tamed. Even for someone who hasn’t touched a ZoE game since 2012’s HD remasters, I managed to find my feet in the 15-minute demo and even started to enjoy the ever-strafing combat system. While cannon fodder enemies exist purely to let you live out your Gundam dreams, a mid-demo boss fight sees you picking choice moments to dash in and slash away before retreating to shoot down a sea of missiles at the last moment. It’s especially rewarding to see enemy mechs sent flying by well-timed attacks.
That new cockpit view has some nice touches, too. A small hologram of Jehuty sits to your right side, showing your movements as if you were playing from the traditional perspective. It doesn’t make up for the reduced field of view, but it does help you gather your bearings a bit. It’s a shame that many of the game’s in-cockpit cutscenes quickly revert back to a virtual screen, though Konami seems to have gone an unexpected extra step by making the traditional cutscenes 3D.
Ultimately I’d guess the VR version of Zone of the Enders 2 will go down pretty much like the traditional version; it will find its passionate fanbase in the people that gel with the series’ somewhat awkward controls and laughable dialogue, but it’s still a little too janky to gather an audience any bigger than that. When you think about it though, VR owners — and PSVR owners in particular — are willing to put up with a few hiccups if there’s an enjoyable core experience, and The Second Runner definitely offers that.