A tip of the hat to Michael Collins who, knowing my weakness for turn-based strategy games, suggested that i check out Ring of Red, (or, in Unicodese, Ring of ?ed), a PS2 tactics/action hybrid.
There are advantages to not buying a game until 8 years after its release, and one of them is this: I was able to pick this up at The Exchange for a mere $7. Given the current state of the stock market, that’s about all I can afford.
Ring of Red takes place in an alternate-history universe where the United States did not drop the atomic bomb on Japan. Instead, the United States committed to Operation Downfall, the full-scale invasion in Japan. When the smoke cleared, Japan was divided between a Russian-controlled Hokkaido, a communist Japanese north, and a democratic Japanese south. In this world, weapon development trends took a turn for the Thoroughly Japanese, and created giant fighting walking mechs.
Now, when you say the word “mech”, the natural inclination is to imagine Voltron-like robots, leaping and jumping around with swords and pulling off finishing moves. And, to tell the truth, there is a little of that. But not much. What’s most enjoyable about the game’s mise-en-scene is this: the explanation for the mecha is that they are artillery designed to navigate difficult terrain. So for the most part, to borrow a phrase from Michael, they look and feel like huge cannons that someone bolted a couple of legs to. And the legs don’t work that well.
The turn-based portion of the game is mostly concerned with manuever warfare and taking (in effect) victory points, which reward you with some mech repair and, sometimes, additional combat troops. There are several different varieties of mechs (in game terms, “AFWs”), each of which wants to engage from a different distance. So you might try to move pieces around the board to match up your long-range 4-legged mech against a short-range light mech, from a distance.
Once you enter combat, the game changes to a semi-arcade mode. You have your weapons platform, and three squads of troops with you. Two of the squads are on the ground, and a third crews your mech. You can issue orders to the squads, having them attack the enemy mech or the enemy soldiers, or use various special powers (if they have them). The crew on your mech spends its time loading the AFW’s guns. When the load gauge is full, you can fire. This moves you into a first person “sniper rifle” sort of view, with the targeting reticle swinging wildly around the screen. To shoot the enemy and damage or destroy him, you have to time your shot.
The interesting tension here is that the longer you stay in targeting mode, the better your aim gets (and the less the reticle sways). But you only have a limited amount of time (around 90 seconds) per battle, and the enemy is trying to shoot you, too. So there is an incentive to take the shot as early as you can.
I haven’t decided yet if I will see Ring of Red through to the bitter end. It suffers from a few problems that are typical of 8-year old PS2 games. You can’t save a game in the middle of a sortie, and believe me, sorties can last a long time. The action combat is full of beautiful and dramatic combat animations, all of which you will desperately want to skip after the third time you see them, but you can’t. As near as I can tell, you can’t even pause the game while in the middle of a battle. I sort of imagine myself putting the game down and never playing it again the first time that actually inconveniences me.
But for $7, it’s hard to complain too much about these little drawbacks. If you’re a tactics junkie, look for it at your local used game store. If nothing else, I enjoy the scenario and the art style.