Without question, Mobile Suit Gundam: Crossfire is one of the PS3's best-looking launch games. Featuring meticulously detailed giant robots that look like weathered, imposing monsters covered in thick slabs of metal, it's possibly the closest any console game has ever come to photorealism. Unfortunately, all those big, beautiful steel titans just make it even sadder that Crossfire somehow manages to make giant robots with big guns and mammoth lightsabers dull.
Adapting the events of the first Mobile Suit Gundam anime series, Crossfire tosses players into a war between the Earth and a rogue nation of space colonists, the Principality of Zeon. Players can choose to play on either side of the conflict, advancing through the ranks as a nameless officer and gradually amassing a vast stable of mecha and pilots.
That's a pretty cool idea, and Crossfire puts players behind the controls of around 30 giant robots over the course of its two campaigns. The action is pretty awesome at first, with most of the mecha able to snipe enemies from a distance; strafe them with mammoth machineguns, rocket launchers and laser cannons; and even get in close for some lightsaber/laser-axe duels.
Those last fights are the most visually arresting (and damaging), as you'll be able to explosively slice body parts off your foes' mecha or lose them yourself. Dismemberment is actually a key gameplay hook, as losing a hand, head or leg can restrict you from using weapons, destroy your vital radar or make you even slower than before. Still, there's a certain pride in having your arms and head blown off and still winning the mission by kicking everything to death.
Even with those moments of glory, the gameplay gets old pretty fast. The close-up duels are sluggish, and you'll usually end up doing the same attack animation over and over until your shattered enemy decides to keel over. Sniping only really works when your target is standing still, and a successful firefight almost always boils down to locking onto an enemy and running in circles while shooting them with power-pellet-looking bullets.
Granted, things get more interesting when you eventually earn more powerful mecha, more varied weapons and squadmates who'll actually respond to your simple commands (which don't carry any sort of visual or audio confirmation that they've been issued or understood, by the way) instead of just standing around dimly. But that takes a while, and you'll encounter plenty of frustratingly difficult enemies and seemingly cheap deaths until you reach that point.
Unfortunately, new equipment and pilots are really all you have to look forward to. The entire mission-based plotline takes place in the span of about 90 days of game time; during that period, you're free to pursue missions, take a few days to repair and customize your mecha or just sit around waiting for the war to end. It will, eventually, regardless of what you choose to do; battles happen whether or not you choose to fight in them, and most are time-sensitive and will become unavailable if you wait around too long. The good news is that, once the war ends, you can start over and play through the missions you missed while keeping all your souped-up robots and pilots.
That's about all the story you'll get out of Crossfire, though. There are no real characters to speak of, and the skeletal plot seems to exist only to pull you from one mission to the next. That's not unusual for hardcore mecha games, but the customization and action might seem a little too simplistic for fans of Chromehounds or Armored Core.
It doesn't help that, beyond its polished robots, Crossfire 's visuals fall flat. Some of the environments are really pretty, but overall the lush jungles, splashing rivers and barren deserts of the game look lifeless, artificial and - dare we say it? - low-res. It gets worse when you consider that most of them have pretty low visibility, and even desert canyons and sunny tropical bays have an impenetrable wall of fog in the near distance that prevents you from seeing too much of your surroundings.
The developers of Mobile Suit Gundam: Crossfire were apparently under a tremendous amount of pressure to deliver a Gundam game in time for the PS3's launch (the franchise's popularity in Japan rivals Star Wars' over here), and it shows. All of their energy seems to have been directed at making fantastic-looking robots that do interesting things, while everything else feels almost like an afterthought. There's no real multiplayer, either, apart from slightly stripped-down, one-on-one vs battles that rarely last longer than a minute. Crossfire has its unique thrills, but there are plenty of games, even in the PS3's limited launch lineup, that deserve your money more.