by Justin Hall
Shooters: Rez-isting Orta
Panzer Dragoon Orta caters to its own extensive epic back story
involving genetically altered dragons bred for war by a technocratic
empire. All this is told through rich graphical cut-scenes, and
through history book entries you unlock as you play.
If you're not already a fan of the Panzer Dragoon series, this
may seem puzzling. It's a lot of production for a simple arcade-style
game. After all, Panzer Dragoon Orta is a "rail shooter" - a mostly
moribund genre where players move forward at a constant rate of
motion, blasting nearly everything coming towards them.
But it is precisely the game's genre that explains its sumptuous
production. Delivering a $50 rail shooter game these days demands
something extra. And no one could ask for more supplemental material
for a game. You would be hard pressed to put together a more extensive
encyclopedia on a less-interactive world. In some modern games,
you learn by exploring the 3D environment and interacting with people
or objects. In Panzer Dragoon Orta, you can only fly forward and
shoot. So instead of poking and asking around, you learn about the
world of the game by unlocking video sequences and menu-driven text
I wasn't inclined to like Panzer Dragoon Orta; I'm not much for
shooters, and I like exploration. But once the game started I forgot
my aversion to linearity. Panzer Dragoon Orta is eye-slamming: full-throttle
fantastic psychedelic. It boasts a frenzy of stimulation: colorful
missiles, enemies and tracer bullets whiz towards your flying dragon.
Corridors narrow, twist, turn, and then open into vast combat arenas.
Criticism seeped out of my head as I struggled to fly right and
shoot down all that flew towards me. Finally, I reached some impassable
obstacles. I put down the controller, rubbed my eyes, and realized
I was playing something that seemed a lot like Galaga.
Galaga is not a bad game. Panzer Dragoon Orta ups Galaga as a psychedelic
pageant rich with fantasy history. But my mind was blown better
by Sega's Rez, a 2002 shooter for the PlayStation 2. In Rez, each
of your shots adds pulse and tone to a throbbing electronica soundtrack
and spare, stylish enter-the-matrix eye candy. Rez aspires for "synesthesia,"
an in-game mingling of the senses. Panzer Dragoon Orta offers slavish
devotion to details about a mostly flat game world.
Panzer Dragoon Orta takes the deluxe-edition DVD approach to game-making:
oodles of information layered on top of the core product. Amidst
the voluminous text and pictures describing the game setting are
nestled a few smaller alternative games. The real gem of this supplemental
smorgasbord is a parallel narrative: after finishing the main game,
you can play as Iva Demilcol, a child whose family dies as a result
of the main character's actions. It's your job to play as him as
he craves revenge against the young woman you were just playing;
a rare Rashomon moment in an otherwise railroading game.
If you enjoy relatively mindless arcade gameplay with dense visuals,
you could spend a few quality evenings on your couch with a controller,
watching Orta pulse and preen on your screen. But if you want to
shoot, make music, and have something to think about afterwards,
try Rez instead.
Hall plays too many games but manages
to write sometimes. His subjects include diversion, participation,
romance, failure, Asia and California. Nearly everything he thinks
publicly emanates from links.net.