Preview: Metal Dungeon

You got enough mettle to enter this dungeon?


Bam! Got the varmit!

Spells ahoy!

Don't think that there won't be bosses to fight.

Your guess is as good as mine...

Fighting pig-people.

Yeah, but can it play Warcraft III?


Hmmm... yup, attack works for me.


"Conductive Material Imprisonment Center?" You fools! What kind of a name is that?
Platform: Xbox
Developer: Panther Software
Publisher: Panther Software
Rated Teen for Blood and Violence.

Many people have yet to make up their mind on the Xbox. Sure, it seems to have the edge over its competition in technical terms, but that only goes so far. Fans of Japanese-style RPGs with linear storylines have thus far given the Xbox a thumbs down, as there are no games of that sort available at the time of this writing. Metal Dungeon is an RPG of Japanese origin, but the game is unlikely to convince the hordes, for several reasons.

Metal Dungeon takes place in the far future when humans getting mechanical implants is a way of life. Unfortunately, these implants seem to have more to do with boosting power and strength than they do with encouraging sanity, as cyborgs are running amok on the surface of the planet. The fearful masses have fled to metallic bunkers to wait out the chaos. In one of these, THE Metal Dungeon, magic and monsters from some long-forgotten era have awakened to cause further distress to the frightened populace. Enter a party of cyborgs - good guys, who have been created by the player - who set forth to brave the Dungeon and bring the terror to a halt. There, that about covers the story right there. There's not much in the way of plot that happens in a deep dark dungeon. This lack of story will be a turn-off for the aforementioned linear-story fans, but in a game where the premise is exploring ten levels of a dungeon, there's just not much room for insightful characters or a gripping plot, unfortunately. The game is still quite linear, since presumably the levels must be explored in order, but there are a couple of things that shake up the chain. The levels are almost completely randomly generated, so the layout is different every time the player traipses through them, and there is a selection of sub-quests the player can spend time with.

These quests consist of things like fighting mock battles or bounty-hunting monsters, and the rewards vary from items to money. However, much of these items and funds will go towards advancement in what is reportedly the most fun aspect of the game: party member customization. Besides creating the characters at the beginning of the game, players can boost them by giving them chips and implants, as well as equipping them with spells and equipment. Players can also mold their characters' attributes at level-ups. Here is the major appeal of Metal Dungeon, appeal for all RPGamers. One can create characters in many games and customize their statistics in even more, but rarely does a game have a setup where both can happen in the same game. Even when they do, they probably aren't as prevalent or engrossing as Metal Dungeon's system. Of course, the game has some generic control over what the party is going to turn out like. There are only five character classes to choose from, they being Fencer, Striker, Analyzer, Caster and Broader. The option to choose pre-made characters exists, but that takes away from the fun of the game. Players will want to indulge in some of Panther's pre-made creations later in the game, though, when the party discovers corpses of heroes long-gone in the dungeon. All that needs to be done is a little reviving (cue suspension of disbelief) and someone has joined the party. The interesting thing about these recruits is that they might have a class different from the other five.

So after customizing the party, what do you use it for? The action of the game comes from crawling through endless and repetitive dungeon areas, fighting large amounts of monsters. The combat system is somewhat reminiscent of the active-time style used in Massively Multiplayer Online RPGs. The party automatically attacks the enemy, presumably using attacks they are effective with. The player can step in to give specific commands to party members. Though real-time battles haven't been seen in many games for a while, and this hands-off approach is unique in offline games, this could hurt Metal Dungeon. The monotonous dungeon-crawls and unengaging battles sounds like a good prescription for insomniacs. One would hope that the game changes the battle music around occasionally.

The game doesn't have anything exceptional to offer in terms of technicality. The graphics lack spunk and colour, and the characters' movements could be more fluid. The spell and monster designs are decent, but overall the Xbox could do much better. No, this game scores its points by having deep gameplay, and gets bonus points for allowing that play to be shared by up to four people. Controllers can be assigned to party members as in Final Fantasy VI.

Once again, there are several reasons why Metal Dungeon won't make converts out of the PlayStation 2 RPGamers. They are the game's lack of story, the monotony of the gameplay, a disturbing number of similarities to the dreadful Robotrek, and the lack of any visible proof that the Xbox has superior graphical abilities. Still, if and when the Xbox does become a powerful name in the world of console RPGs, people may take some time off from Fable to backtrack to the world of Metal Dungeon to experience some excellent character-oriented strategy. If you are one of the minority RPG fans who own an Xbox, than Metal Dungeon will keep you occupied until the real stuff comes out - the game supposedly has 100 hours of playing time. You can get a head start on the nineteenth of November.

by Matthew Scribner

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