PANZER DRAGOON REVIEW - February 1995
One of the most sinister things about PCs is the quiet, insidious way they sneak into your mind. One minute you'll be sitting there moaning about yet another new super-console coming out that you're going to have to spend £300 on if you want to stay up-to-date with the gaming state-of-the-art, and how ridiculous it is that there can't just be a single standard platform. But the next, you're quite happily trotting down to PC Mart with an open chequebook, ready to blow twice as much cash on upgrading your suddenly-obsolete PC ("But it was alright yesterday!" - your PC-less mate, who just doesn't understand) with a new graphics card, a faster CPU, a load of extra memory and a whole new operating system. You don't think twice about it - it's a PC, and that's just the way PCs are, right?
Only occasionally do you wake from fitful sleep, clammy with tepid sweat and mumbling "£230 for another RAM upgrade? What a fool I've been!" to yourself, only to fall back asleep and forget everything by morning. ("And if I'd bought a Saturn, at least I could have flogged my Mega Drive for a few quid, instead of having to chuck it straight in the bin. Doh!")
But anyway. If you're reading this at all, chances are you've just bought one of those fancy new Diamond Edge/nVidia super graphics cards. And hey, congratulations - the wacky world of Some Saturn Games is now at your fingertips. You know, polygons, all that stuff. So how come it looks like you're playing Magic Carpet on a 386, except you can't move around very much? Answer: that's Panzer Dragoon, that is.
Yes, yes, I'm getting on with it. Panzer Dragoon is a simple on-rails shoot-'em- up, like Alien Odyssey or Raven Project or something. It pretends not to be, but it is. You can, to a limited degree, swoop around within the constraints of the preset patterns, but not to the extent of actually affecting where you go - you can't even, for example, go round the left side of a pillar if you're supposed to go around the right side. To create a more liberated illusion, though, you can rotate your view through the points of the compass, so that you can shoot things behind and to the side of you.
Cunningly, the game makes quite a play of this, with enemies who dart around attacking you from all directions, but sadly they're the exception rather than the rule. The air of expansive freedom is also helped by the welcome lack of foreground-shortening fog effects, which creates a lovely open atmosphere (especially on the first two levels, the ocean and desert worlds), only to spoil it somewhat with the most jarring pop-up scenery imaginable. To be fair, this is only very noticeable on the first stage (as a huge and ornate temple materialises fully-formed in front of your eyes), but it really blows your suspension of disbelief apart for a while.
When the Saturn came out, Panzer Dragoon was one of the early flagship titles. As such, Sega's designers clearly didn't see the point of going to all that trouble creating such lovely graphics if nobody was going to see them and be impressed, so they didn't put too many obstacles in the player's way. There's no actual numerical shortage of enemies, but you're supplied with a weapon so astonishingly powerful that none of them will keep you occupied for more than a second or two - hold down the fire button and everything that crosses your sights will be targetted and permanently locked, ready to be annihilated by a fantastic multiple independent guided missile blast which takes out bad guys six at a time. It looks gorgeous, as huge curving blue streaks whoosh out from your dragon and streak inexorably towards their targets, but it removes almost all challenge from the game until the very last of the seven levels, where fast, numerous and resiliant adversaries force you to revert to the less accurate but faster standard cannon.
Panzer Dragoon is, in fact, less of a game and more of a (cough) interactive ride through what the Saturn (and now, for just a couple of hundred quid extra, your fantastically expensive brand-new PC) can do. It's really rather a nice ride for the first few attempts, with a quaint, delicate atmosphere (helped by the distinctly leisurely pace) unlike any shoot-'em-up I can recall, but once you've seen all the scary baddies and the pretty scenery, there's nothing that'll keep you coming back for another play. And given the blink-of-an-eye scale of the time that's going to take you (I can't see anyone playing it more than about half-a-dozen times, so think of it as a coin-op arcade game costing £7 a go), you're going to have to be pretty desperate to be rid of your money to consider actually buying it.
Magic Carpet, but slow and on rails. And without the complicated bits. Hmm.