There aren’t many franchises more influential in Japan than Mobile Suit Gundam. With fifteen TV series, nine movies, eleven OVAs, one series of animated shorts, and over one hundred video games released under the Mobile Suit Gundam name, its popularity is astonishing. Unfortunately, the quality of Gundam games does not match the quality of the anime series. Ever harder to explain is that the good Gundam games—such as Mobile Suit Gundam: Extreme Vs—never leave the shores of Japan. Instead, we are stuck with duds such as, Mobile Suit Gundam: Crossfire, or average affairs with Dynasty Warriors: Gundam. Let’s take a look at the newest entry into the long running series, Mobile Suit Gundam: Battle Operation, and determine if it is worth your time.
Mobile Suit Gundam: Battle Operation is a free-to-play, team based, multiplayer game released by Namco Bandai exclusively to the Japanese PSN. But do not let the fact that this is a Japanese title dissuade you from playing Mobile Suit Gundam: Battle Operation. The game is easy to obtain, the price is right and no prior knowledge of the Japanese language is required to enjoy the experience. Anybody can create a Japanese PSN account free of charge, and the process is painless. Not only that, but the game itself is completely free to download and playable on your native region’s PlayStation 3. This makes the barrier of entry practically non-existent and players have nothing to lose.
You’ll immediately notice the game’s control scheme is displayed in Japanese. But fear not! There are images online detailing the control scheme in english, and it’s not long before you’re using your thrusters, planting bombs and traversing the battlefield with relative ease. There are a variety of manoeuvres at your disposal, in this regard. You’re able to jump, go prone, crouch, aim down your scopes and more. This level of mobility ensures that the game feels closer to the anime, but even people relatively unfamiliar with the series can enjoy this game.
Being that this game is centered around its multiplayer, the only Gundam knowledge you’ll need to know is slim. The game takes place during the One Year War, and this is enough information for you to get stuck into the game’s online play.
Battle Operation’s multiplayer offers a relatively fast paced competitive experience. Each match is 6v6 and these exchanges last for eight minutes. In order to win the match, you’ll need to earn points by capturing spots on the map, bombing the enemy base camp, and destroying enemy Mobile Suits. Whoever has the most points by the end of the match is the winner. This is relatively simple, but it paves the way for a lot of satisfying action.
There are some issues with the system in its current state, however. Eight minute matches make for fast paced confrontations, but you’ll spend more time waiting in between these exchanges than taking part. In order to deploy a match, you require the use of one energy nod. You can carry a maximum of three, allowing you to play a total of twenty-four minutes before you need to recharge your energy nod. A successful recharge takes two hours, meaning you could potentially wait up to six hours before your next twenty four minute session. You can purchase more energy nods via the PSN, but the free-to-play appeal is lost upon doing this. If you feel this is a problem you can look over, or you only intend to play Mobile Suit Gundam: Battle Operation in short spurts, then there is still a lot of fun to be had here.
Your experience evolves the more you play. Much like the top dog first person shooters of today, Mobile Suit Gundam: Battle Operation offers a robust levelling system. At the end of each match, you will gain experience points that bring you closer to your next rank. Levelling up this way will unlock different toys for you to play with. You’ll unlock weapons, other Mobile Suits, and separate Gundam parts to customize whichever suit you’re currently using. There are twenty-six Mobile Suits to unlock, thirteen for the Earth Federation and the other thirteen for the Principality of Zeon. More are being added in the future as paid DLC, and you will need some Yen cards to join in on the action!
Launching into battle is also simple. Make sure the top option on the list is highlighted, hit x three times and once you’re in the lobby, hit x and then hit yes. You’re now ready to launch into battle! The first thing you’ll notice upon entering the match is your movement. It feels somewhat clunky, but this was a very clear design choice. The slow movement speed works perfectly and makes sense within the context of the game—you are piloting a giant Mobile Suit, after all. However, movement outside of your Mobile Suit is sluggish, and although it’s not detrimental towards the gamplay, it is worth noting. Sometimes contributing to the sluggish feel is the lag. This is minimal and will take you a session or two to get accustomed to, but I never felt that it greatly affected my skills in combat.
However, two areas that need improvement involve the pace of the combat. It takes an awful lot to bring these Mobile Suits down, and it doesn’t help that reloading your weapon takes forever. The plasma swords and battle axes definitely pack a satisfying punch, but in order to balance out the damage output, you must ‘recharge’ after each swing. Unfortunately, this system doesn’t reflect the same excitement found in the anime’s swordfights.
On the contrary, Mobile Suit Gundam: Battle Operation’s presentation does the anime justice. From the earth shattering stomps of the Mobile Suits, to the sound effects of your guns and plasma swords, everything sounds great; even the announcer—who I cannot understand a word of—did a nice job. This level of quality is true for the game’s visual also. Namco Bandai put a lot of effort into realizing the look of the suits from the original anime series, including damage effects and sword swipes. Unfortunately, the explosions look a little off, and the environments can be dull to look at.
Of course, it doesn’t help that there are only two maps to play on. A desert map and a green-land map; hardly a rich and vibrant realized world. Maps aren’t the be all and end all of this competitive experience, but you’d think a space map could have added more variety—or better yet—supply more maps via DLC to help support the initial free-to-play model.
I will also note that outside of the Mobile Suits, this game does not use the Gundam license in any effective manner. It would have been nice to recreate some iconic battles, or to choose a pilot to go along with your Mobile Suit. This is a small complaint, and it is simply unfortunate that the license wasn’t used to its full potential here.
Overall, Mobile Suit Gundam: Battle Operation is a solid game, and it might serve as more than a little diversion for some of you out there. The gameplay is solid—if you can get used to the lag—and there is a lot of stuff to unlock in this game. It’s just a shame that you have to wait more than you play, and that there are only two maps to battle on. Take away the Gundam name, and Battle Operation is still a very solid shooter. It may not be the best use of the Gundam license, but for a free game you can do a lot worse. I recommend that you give it a try for a few matches, and if you don’t like it, just know that you did not waste a single cent on it.