Reviewed: June 12, 2004
Released: March 23, 2004
Konami has been using its clout to introduce some fairly original titles this year. Lifeline might not have been the best adventure game ever made but it showed us something new and original in a time where everyone seems to want to play it safe when it comes to game design.
Cy Girls has made its way to U.S. shores, born from a popular Japanese franchise that manages to make for a surprisingly original game, at least in concept. This double-disc action-adventure title allows you to take control of two sexy, elite, super-agents, each with their own skills for combat, hacking, and other special abilities.
The underlying concept is ingenious and once you realize exactly what is going on you will have a revelation much like you did when you finally understood the Matrix. And much like the Matrix, you have to be shown what it is – it’s hard to explain in words.
Basically, the world suffered from a global power failure and sent the planet into a new Dark Ages. Several years later a new society emerges from the blackness, a physical world and a cyber world. The cyber world is an exact duplicate of the real world, at least architecturally speaking. You jack into a computer and “dive” into cyberspace, revisiting previously explored environments, only now they are in wireframe graphics with animated pulsing textures (think Neo’s vision of the Matrix).
You can play the game as super-hacker Ice, or sexy ninja, Aska. Each girl comes with her own story, own style of play, and their own disc. The two adventures share some levels but can be played independent of each other, although the designers recommend you start with Ice.
Gameplay is your traditional run and gun third-person action with a sizable chunk of puzzle-solving thrown in. There is a distinct difference in the way the two girls play out their respective games, plus you have the added bonus of both the physical and cyber universe that makes for some creative, and often frustrating puzzles.
There are some really cool elements mixed into the gameplay that have been missing from the genre. While a lot of these are more stylistic than functional, I hope we see them in the future. The first is Ice’s ability to lock onto a target and fire while moving in any other direction. You can even be running away from the enemy and firing back under your armpit. She can hug walls or hide behind crates and fire from cover. She can cartwheel across doors and hallways or perform a breast-crunching dive forward firing as she slides along the floor.
Aska favors stealth, as any proper ninja should. She can cloak to become invisible, run along walls like a certain Persian prince and is master of her wicked blade. Her sword attack can be mixed in with jumps and flips and often end in some violent fatalities. One of my favorite subtleties to combat is when a guard is dead but hasn’t fallen yet. You can run up and knock the swaggering corpse to the ground.
Fighting not only looks cool it is really easy to do since almost all attacks are a button-mashing affair. You’ll soon learn to appreciate the simplicity when you realize that enemies respawn infinitely and often, a fact that seriously hurts the gameplay since you are often required to backtrack through large portions of previously explored (and now repopulated) levels.
You can’t use weapons in cyberspace so you are forced to find, download, and use various cyber-skills. These are pretty clever and work almost like a spell system in an RPG. You pick the skill from the list and it shows you a pattern or sequence of buttons you must press to invoke that skill. I found myself learning the movements more than the symbols, which was an added level of immersion for me.
The missions are linear and the puzzles are straight out of “Game Design 101”. There are simple object fetch quests that turn into inventory puzzles. Early in the game you will need three colored rings to hack the mainframe for your first dive into cyberspace. You’ll find them scattered about in the most unlikely places, but when it comes times to use them there is no mistake about what to do.
Other puzzles are simply annoying, especially if you are replaying the game and know what to do but are not allowed to do it. For instance, early in the first mission you will need to open a shutter to continue to another part of the level. You’ve already passed the switch that opens that door four rooms and three hallways ago and now you must go all the way back, fighting newly spawned enemies, flip the switch, then fight your way back to the now-open door, through another fresh batch of enemies.
Another early puzzle has you lowering the temperature of the mainframe room. You first have to attempt entry and take a bit of damage before the game trips some flag that provides the rest of the clues in the linear solution. Of course this is after fighting through a massive army in an office cubicle section which you must now fight your way back through to reach the temperature control room then fight your way back through after lowering the temperature.
If I was getting experience points or increasing my abilities I wouldn’t mind fighting the same groups of enemies three times, but this seems to artificially inflate the gameplay. You’ll quickly slip into a trance, since the enemies don’t even change their spawn locations or tactics. It’s massive déjà vu.
Then we have another type of puzzle that is even more annoying. Imagine a series of rooms laid out in a grid, each connected with passages. At the junction of each passage is a rotating room that will allow you access to only two passages at any given time. Naturally, all rooms and passage are full of enemies. You must make your way to the extreme limits of this evil maze freeing a bunch of prisoners. The catch is that you can only free them while in cyberspace but you can only rotate the junctions in real space. Did your head just explode? Mine did.
You guessed it. It’s like one of those circuit or pipe-flow puzzles where you have to create a path from point A (the dive terminal) to point B (one of several prison blocks) in the real world before jacking in and following that path in cyberspace. There are infinitely respawning enemies in both worlds, although the cyber enemies are a bit easier to simply run around.
To make matters worse, your objectives are not always clear. I don’t like it when a game hands me the answer along with the puzzle, but I do appreciate a little bit of guidance to get me started. All too often I was simply left to experiment or run around aimless (killing thousands of guards) trying to figure out what I was supposed to do.
The opening movie knocked my socks off and the between-mission movies were the only thing that drove me to complete this game. Yes, they are that good, both in quality and style and who can’t resist the gratuitous shower scene in the first 20-seconds of the opening.
I should also congratulate the designers on perhaps the best interface and HUD of any action game of recent memory. Everything has a very cyber-feel to it, even when you aren’t in cyberspace. The HUD is designed like a circuit board and when an enemy or interactive object gets in range it is highlighted with a box and connected with a line to a PIP insert. This not only allows you to see the direction a guard is facing, but there is also a health bar tucked beneath the close-up.
Levels are rather simplistic in design, often boiling down to mazes dressed with gorgeous textures. The marble floors reflect and metal looks like metal. Textures are outstanding but oddly enough everything seems a bit too colorful at times giving the game more of an anime movie feel – perhaps that was their intent.
The virtual world reminded me of TRON or the Matrix with its simple wireframe construction and just enough hints from the physical world so you don’t get lost. The cyber enemies were much more creative than the endless hordes of generic human guards. Much like the physical game world, cyberspace was very colorful, contrasted against a lot more black.
Sniff…sniff…is that some poor localization I smell? The voice acting ranges from terribly average to just plain terrible. The script and story are not to blame, but the overall quality of the voice acting is something right off of TV’s “VIP” or “She Spies”. In the case of TV they are casting looks over talent, but doing voices for a computer game should be all about the talent. At least it’s bad in a humorous way, so you can laugh at the movies after cursing at the gameplay.
Sound effects are definitely good with great sounds for gunfire, and just about anything else in the game that makes a noise does so. There’s no fancy surround sound, but the standard stereo support does a respectable job. Explosions are deafening as you will quickly learn with the first boss encounter.
The music is really good, very cinematic and slips into the background. It’s keyed to the action so you can always tell when you have cleared out a room, at least until you leave and come back to a fresh batch of enemies.
This is one of those games with about five hours of content stretched into a 15-20 hour experience through needless backtracking and annoying, unrealistic, respawning enemies. I can handle the cyber enemies regenerating since they are computer constructs, but having three guys pop into a hallway by simply leaving and returning is just bad game design.
Assuming you don’t go insane, break your controller, or both; you can easily expect 15-20 hours to finish both character arcs of Cy Girls. Whether you enjoy it or not is up to your own tolerance for repetitive gameplay. The two girls, each with their own CD is a nice touch and certainly doubles the playtime, but the game is very linear so there is no reason to every replay it once you are done. It’s $30 now but I’d expect to find this in the Greatest Hits section soon, and then it might just be worth it.
Cy Girls is a good game with a great concept only something happened when they were designing the gameplay. Note to Japanese game designers – when you kill somebody they had better stay dead unless you give me a real good reason why they keep coming back. Clones, holograms, “beaming” in from remote barracks, anything!
Combining infinite enemies with multiple trips through the same sections of the level just drags out what would have otherwise been a much better game. If you create a five-hour game then embrace it – don’t inflate it with every cliché in the book of bad game design.
Cy Girls is totally original, looks great, and features some excellent gameplay concepts, particularly control, movement, and the HUD. Konami had a great new franchise and a killer concept to play with here. It’s a shame that it was squandered away on something that only the most diehard of gamers will tolerate to completion.