Repetition and little level variety work against Slave Zero.
The idea of piloting huge battle robots isn’t new, but the idea was mostly relegated to the simulation genre with games like MechWarrior and Heavy Gear. Then came Slave Zero, a robot combat game that is completely geared towards fast, third-person shooter style action. Unfortunately, Slave Zero begins to feel mundane long before it should – not due to any glaring flaws, but rather because you’ll soon realize the experience just doesn’t have much to offer beyond what you’ve already seen in the first few levels.
It goes without saying that Slave Zero is set in the future – 500 years in the future, to be exact – and that your ultimate mission is to save humanity, not destroy it. The battleground: Megacity S1-9, a “vertical city” (which means the skyscrapers are really tall) designed as an industrial complex to churn out weapons for the First Corporate Dynasty, which is headed up by a Very Bad Guy called the SovKhan (short for Sovereign Khan). The manual describes a pretty cool wasteland surrounding the city, but because you never venture outside of the city limits, you’ll just have to imagine how bad it is.
Opposing the SovKhan is a group called the Guardians, descendants of ancient warrior priests who’ve sworn to destroy Megacity S1-9. But their bravery and wisdom are no match for the SovKhan’s army – and things look even more bleak for the Guardians when they learn the SovKhan is about to “harvest” an army of giant slaves, the product of cybernetic embryos, metal exoskeletons, and an enigmatic compound called Dark Matter. As the game opens, the ETA for the SovKhan’s slave armies to receive their marching orders is only a dozen hours away, but there’s one last hope for the Guardians: a stolen Slave unit. They select their finest warrior (that’s you) to take control of the unit, “meld” with the monstrous fighting machine, and wage a one-robot assault on the SovKhan’s almost countless forces in an effort to destroy the slave robots while they’re still in an embryonic state.
Slave Zero never aspires to be a “Mech-style game, and consequently you’ll find that weapons control and movement are blessedly simple: without a “torso twist” function, fighting is pretty much the same as controlling your character in any number of first-person shooters.
Your robot can carry three types of weapons at any given time – ballistic (big bullets), energy, and missiles’ and each can be upgraded to provide more accuracy and firepower. What’s more, you can fire missiles simultaneously with either ballistic or energy weapons to deliver massive killing blows. Graphical effects for all weapons are pretty sweet: streams of flame and smoke trail behind missiles, slugs flash when they hit enemy ‘bots, and energy weapons create a miniature light show when fired.
You’ve also got the ability to pick up cars, trucks, girders, and even people and hurl them at enemies, but by the time you’ve lined up your throw, you’ll have taken more damage than you would have if you’d just used your weapons. I was excited when I read in the manual that you can use a girder as a club – the idea of swatting down bots and planes had me revved up – but all I could ever do was toss them like any other object. And you can try stomping ground-based tanks and even enemy robots, but this too is merely a novelty rather than a truly useful tactic.
Still, there is plenty of intense action in Slave Zero, seasoned with cool pyrotechnics and propelled by an adequate story, but by the time you reach the fourth or fifth level, it all starts to wear down. One reason is that about the only time you get the sensation of being inside a 60-foot giant is at the start of the game, as you stand on a freeway and watch cars pass under you. Many of the SovKhan’s robots are about the same size as you, and soon the combat begins to feel more or less like any other FPS, only with robots instead soldiers. The game also suffers from repetitive gameplay and scenery.
There’s no doubt there’s fun to be had with Slave Zero, but unless you can shut your brain off entirely, there’s no denying that the good times won’t last all that long. In the end, there’s just not much innovation here to truly hold your attention.
System Requirements: Pentium II 233 MHz, 32 MB RAM, Win95