Review: Producto Number 03
Posted 15 Aug 2003 at 16:15 by Bas
Summertime is not exactly the most exciting time when it comes to games. Few releases and rarely any outstanding pieces of software make this the ideal time to allow your Cube some rest and go outside. Or will P.N.03 disturb your vacation?
P.N.03's visual style is a welcome change from the average urban third person shooter. The game is situated almost entirely on a space colony of modern design. Apart from a couple of levels on the dusty planet surface, the environments you find are in a sleek, light coloured style, reminiscent of films like 2001: A Space Odyssey. In the minimalist decorated rooms you'll find laser beams and transforming machines as your opponents. Your character, Vanessa Z. Schneider, a stylish woman dressed in hypermodern suits, fits perfectly in these surroundings. At first, the game's graphics are inviting but unfortunately they tend to get boring as they lose their charm due to a lack of variety in level design. Some nice details as Vanessa foot tapping on the beat of the music and the dazzling special moves compensate a bit for the repetitive look.
Technically, the graphics leave little to be desired; both Vanessa's and her opponents' movement looks smooth and the frame rate is fine. The image is sharp and makes the organic lines of the levels look even better.
The game sounds as it looks, which means a trendy beat music. The music fits the graphics well and completes the cool image. The soundtrack is good but not very special and fades into the background while playing. Sound effects, mainly wind, shooting and moving machines, are also up to par.
The automated weapon system in space colony mentioned before has gone out of control, slaughtering the inhabitants of the station. A mysterious person hires Vanessa to shut the systems down, which comes down to shooting every machine to pieces. During the game Vanessa has some rather uninteresting talk with her client about some practical issues and Vanessa's motivations (her parents were murdered by machines). It gets better in the end but the story is of secondary importance. P.N.03 is all about shooting.
The game has about ten levels. The levels consist of five to twenty rooms. You can go back to rooms and take slightly different routes so you can skip some of them. Despite the possibility of backtracking, the rooms don't feel as if they make up a whole building. This is caused by the status screens between the rooms. After completing a room, this screen appears with statistics on time to complete, completing percentage and points awarded. The screens can be dismissed by pressing a button, but they do slow the pace down a bit and replace the adventure feeling for a room-by-room scoring approach.Clearing the rooms of enemies is awarded by points. After shooting down one machine, a countdown timer starts. When a second enemy is taken out before time runs out, you score a combo. Except from an extra challenge, chaining enemies like this also provides more points. These points can be used to upgrade your current suit, or buy a better suit which also can be further upgraded. Besides shield, shot and energy upgrades, you can also get special moves. The moves vary per suit but are all beautiful and devastating. You'll want to see them all, but the game is too short to buy everything there is. To get enough points, trial missions can be played. These missions are not part of the story and don't cost continues but do earn points, which makes them handy but not very exciting.
Levels are usually concluded by a boss fight, which are fairly entertaining. However, on the easier difficulty settings some are just too easily defeated, losing three quarters of their life gauge after one of Vanessa's special moves.
Though the screenshots may lead you to think this is a standard third person shooter, this game has as much in common with Tomb Raider and Enter the Matrix as with scrolling shooters like Ikaruga. The controls are different from most third person shooters. Vanessa has less freedom of movement, most notably: she can't move and shoot at the same time. This is not a design flaw; the challenge of this game lies in the limited possibility of movement. Whether you'll like this is another question…
As Vanessa can't move and shoot at the same time, you'll have to put aside your Metroid Prime strafe & shoot tactics. In P.N.03 you'll have to walk to a point where you can see your enemies to shoot them – which is fairly easy as the computer aims for you, but you can change targets – and make sure you get out of the way before they return fire. Aiming is a little more difficult with moving targets but turning while shooting (only possible move while shooting) takes care of that. Strafing is impossible, so you'll have to make good use of jumping (forward, backward or sideways) and twirling sideways by pressing L or R to dodge enemy fire.
At first the limited controls seem awkward, but when you realize that changing them would take a great deal of the challenge out of the game, you'll probably accept it or decide this game is not for you. That is why I compared this game to a scrolling shooter (especially Gradius because your ship moves slow in that game): shooting, change position, anticipate enemy fire are much like Gradius tactics. Shooter fans may enjoy this more than those looking for a third person adventure, although it doesn't come close to Ikaruga's depth.
Though the controls are somewhat unusual you get used to them pretty quick and P.N.03 simplicity might grab you. Collecting suits is addictive and increases the lifespan somewhat. The game does get boring though, as there's little variation in environments, enemies and even bosses (some return in an upgraded version).
When completed on easy or normal – which only takes a couple of hours when not playing the trial missions – hard mode becomes available. The game is challenging but for most gamers probably too repetitive to play over again.
I should mention it again; the way this game plays is not bad, it's different. Chances are however, many won't like it as much as more traditional controls. The game's simplicity and upgrading may keep you playing much longer than you might expect, but it does get boring pretty soon. Not a reason to leave the beach, but for anyone who likes a decent shooter this stylish game is a great choice.
N-Europe Final Verdict
A different and stylish shooter but gets rather tedious.
It's got style
Limited controls, not for everyone
Gets pretty boring