Game Review: Enemy Zero (SAT)

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Title: Enemy Zero
Platform: Sega Saturn
Developer: Warp Inc. (Kenji Eno)
Publisher: Sega Japan
Release Date: October 31, 1997

 

(Editor’s Note: This game was covered using an official copy of Enemy Zero and was played to completion on a stock North American Sega Saturn console both owned by the reviewer.)

 

Survival horror is a very fascinating genre in the game industry and is one that takes on many forms. There are many franchises that have reached critical acclaim in this genre with the Resident Evil (Biohazard in Japan) series being a perfect example of this. Alone in the Dark and Silent Hill are also great examples of survival horror gaming. These series have seemed to overshadow some titles that take on the same mechanical and thematic formula and have perhaps done so to a higher degree. One such title is Enemy Zero and the D series from which it belongs to. This game is by far one of the most woefully underrated games in the genre. Solid storytelling, innovative mechanics and immensely challenging combat put Enemy Zero head and shoulders above its peers of the genre in the 32-Bit era of gaming.

Enemy Zero takes place in the future where space travel is commonplace. The universe of this game is easily comparable to that of the Alien films first envisioned by Ridley Scott. You play the role of Laura Louis, the co-pilot of the space exploratory vessel named ‘The Aki’. You are jolted prematurely from your cryogenic slumber when the ship goes into its emergency mode because of an unauthorized breach by an unknown organism. With this security threat it is up to Laura to locate all crew members and deal with the invisible alien threat and survive.

The game play of Enemy Zero is broken up into two core disciplines. the first is FMV (full motion video) based. Whenever Laura is in a specific room, as opposed to being in hallways and corridors, the game uses FMVs to display these rooms from various perspectives. When in this mode, Laura can move forward and can rotate left and right. Pressing the left or right shoulder buttons access Laura’s inventory which will fill with an assortment of items as the game progresses. The ‘A’ button is used to investigate certain things that the character can possibly interact with or acquire. Another feature that can be accessed only when exploring certain rooms is the save game function. Other uses of FMV include the cut scenes that are littered throughout the experience. All the full motion video graphics are done especially well for the time and all the environments are reminiscent of what anyone would expect the interior of a science fiction space vessel to look like.

The other core competency of Enemy Zero is traversing through the large mazes of hallways and corridors while trying to fend off the invisible enemy and find the remaining crew. As mentioned before, these areas are played in real time and not with pre-rendered full motion video. Most of these labyrinths are very dark and have many twists and turns. Enemy aliens wander all about these areas trying to find any humans to kill. Since these creatures are completely invisible you cannot rely on vision to combat enemies. Instead, the player is forced to rely on a tracking system that only uses sound to indicate an organism’s whereabouts. depending on the pitch of and pauses between the tones signify what direction an enemy is coming from as well as how close it is to the player. During most of the game Laura has a gun she can use to kill enemies before they catch her.

It is very important to note that Enemy Zero is by no means an easy game. Even though you are able to combat these aliens it is a rather difficult undertaking. The first thing that makes this game unforgiving is the inability to see your enemy. What is worse is that getting caught by an enemy means instant death. Gun play is also a dicey proposition. Most of these weapons have three or four shots at the most and all guns take three seconds to charge in order to fire. If you charge them for too long they will fizzle out. The most unforgiving aspect of combat is that the guns fire at an extremely short range and require you to be just a few feet from the enemy in order to land a successful shot. A redeeming quality to this combat is that the enemies die with a single shot. If in any case you fall victim to an alien you can reload a saved game, but it comes at price.

The device used to record game progress has limited battery power. Saving and loading game data uses up some power. This means that a game can only be loaded so many times before the device dies. When it does you have to start the game from the beginning. This is a game that is challenging by design and is not difficult to a fault for the most part. However, there are a couple of things in Enemy Zero that are irritating for all the wrong reasons. The first puzzle ever encountered in the game has no explanation as to how to solve it. The game simply expects you to guess the solution. While it is able to be solved, it will stump many because it has no explanation. This is not the best way to start any game and may be a turn off to some game players. Another detracting area of the game is the sheer linearity of the story coupled with forced story progression. Just to clarify, there is nothing terrible about the game’s story. This being said, the story only moves forward in certain areas or requires one particular action. Most of the time only one action can trigger the story’s progression and finding it may be confusingly difficult. Eventually, most will find these triggers to move the story progression, but will have to eliminate every possibility just to do so which can be a waste of time and can take the player out of the game.

To push the game forward Enemy Zero uses cut scenes which occur at pivotal moments in the game or when the player makes important discoveries. While the CG and voice acting are both par for the course for the time, the characters are well animated. Laura is especially believable as a human being just because of how she reacts to important happenings during the course of the game’s story. This game has its fair share of shocking moments that will change what you initially understood about the situation and the circumstances surrounding it. While the story is not anything particularly original it is expertly told. Another aesthetic element in this game that heightens the overall experience is the music. Composed by Micheal Nymen ( ‘The Piano’ and ‘Gattaca’), the soundtrack of Enemy zero has many memorable melodies that will stick in your mind well after playing. The sound design is superb and tends to complement the game design and helps to give the corridor traversing sections the sense of uneasiness and tension.

Even though the graphics are quite good, the game unfortunately does not take full use of the entire television screen. Instead, it crops roughly twenty percent of the video buffer in order to display both the FMV and real time 3D sequences at a consistent frame rate. However, that is the only thing that detracts from the game and is really a minor blemish on an otherwise beautiful experience.

It is hard to deny that Enemy Zero is a very unique piece of survival horror gaming. It is an interesting blend of real time action and FMV exploration that works surprisingly well. However, the sheer difficulty of the game makes it hard to recommend to everyone and it is probably for that reason that this game has fallen into obscurity. Even so, if you are a survival horror game veteran then you owe it to yourself to play Enemy Zero and take on this truly terrifying and tension riddled experience.

 

 

Rating IV-V

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