Zone of the Enders: The 2nd Runner – MARS review (PSVR)

Konami’s VR-enabled remake of Zone of the Enders: The 2nd Runner launched this week, over fifteen years after its initial release on the Playstation 2. How does it stand the test of time, and is it worth playing in VR? Here’s our review, based on our time playing with a Playstation VR headset.

Fifteen years sounds like a lot, but the game’s seen a couple of re-releases over the years for other platforms. I own the game’s HD version on PS3, and I believe the same version also came out for Xbox 360. The 2018 version bumps the visual quality up even further, with support for 4K visuals (on a Playstation 4 Pro) as well as the ability to play in VR.

The ability to step into a giant mech in VR was instantly recognized as a high potential genre when RIGS was launched, but its arena combat approach wasn’t really my cup of tea – so I was looking forward to Zone of the Enders and its story-driven anime approach from the moment it was announced by Konami. Luckily, it doesn’t disappoint.

zone of the enders - the 2nd runner2

The wait was a long one though, because I didn’t get my first hands on experience with the VR version until Gamescom, just a few weeks ago. And… it was a little overwhelming. It had been a few years since I had played one of the earlier versions of the game, and the demo threw me right into the middle of combat – where I struggled a little with the controls and just hammered the attacks that worked instead of mixing things up, which is what you’re supposed to do.

Not seeing the gamepad (this is a Dualshock-controlled game) didn’t help, but luckily this is a non-issue in the full version of the game. There is plenty of tutorial content to help you get to grips with the controls – and I’d say it’s a mandatory series of lessons because much of the game is spent in first person mode when you play in VR.

While the entire game is playable in VR, not everything is fully realized in 3D – for obvious reasons. Even though all of the combat is in (first person) 3D, the anime cutscenes play out on a flat surface in front of you – a bit like how the PS4’s media player works when wearing your VR helmet. Head into a mission, and you find yourself strapped into the cockpit of your Jehuty.

zone of the enders - the 2nd runner3

With your Jehuty, you can engage in either melee or ranged combat – and you’ll often utilize a combination of both if you want to be successful in anything but the easiest of difficulty modes. What’s fun is that you’ll also see a little avatar of your mech in the corner that shows you exactly what you’re doing – a nice little go-between now that you’re playing from a cockpit view instead of a 3rd person perspective.

The 2nd Runner does show its age, despite its visual upgrade. The cockpit looks very detailed because it’s been especially developed for the 2018 VR version, but enemy models and ships lack in detail as they are basically just higher resolution, crisper versions of their original PS2 versions. Compared to titles like EVE: Valkyrie or even RIGS, you can tell this is a game which already had an HD version during the previous console generation. There’s also little in the way of lip-syncing during cutscenes, but that’s hardly surprising when you consider the release date/era of the original game.

On the upside, this is clearly the best looking version of Zone of the Enders: The 2nd Runner so far, and it performs wonderfully well. This helps in reducing motion sickness, as combat can get very hectic indeed with action going on all around you. The large outdoor environments are a great fit for the game’s mech-based gameplay, and convey a real sense of raw mechanical power. If you enjoyed the original then VR is a great match for it and a must-buy, but it you didn’t enjoy titles like Archangel, EVE and RIGS then Zone of the Enders is unlikely to sway you and might just be a tad too overwhelming.

Score: 7.5/10

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