Enemy Zero

Enemy Zero
Game Name: Enemy Zero
Media: 4 CD-ROM
Publisher(s): SEGA
Developer(s): WARP
Genre(s): Survival Horror
Release Date: 1997
Serial Number: MK81076-50
Region: PAL

Enemy Zero ScreenshotA spiritual successor to Warp’s chilling adventure game D, Enemy Zero takes the same FMV puzzle gameplay and combines it with a radically different breed of first person shooter action. Enemy Zero doesn’t defy genre classification, but it does break most of the genre rules.

The game’s story is obviously derivative of the film Alien, including most of the plot twists: A spaceship is carrying a cargo of dangerous alien specimens, who manage to break free and terrorize the unsuspecting crew members. This is rather surprising considering how original D was with its plot, but the story of Enemy Zero isn’t bad, just over-familiar compared to D. The emotional moments are well-executed, thanks largely to the stunning FMV quality.

Where Enemy Zero really comes up short in comparison to D is the adventuring gameplay. Nearly all the puzzles are either stupidly obvious (e.g.get a keycard, use it to open a locked door) or so ridiculously obscure that you’re more likely to discover the solution through persistence and luck than reasoning. At times the adventuring is downright counter-intuitive; at one point early in the game, you have to run straight at an alien, despite the fact that you have no weapon at that point!

Enemy Zero ScreenshotFortunately, the adventuring is only half the game. The rest is 1st person shooting, though it breaks so many rules of the genre that it hardly feels like it. The key twist is that enemies are invisible. Your only way of detecting them is a device which makes a different tone depending on whether the alien is ahead of you, behind you, or to your left or right. The rhythm of the tone is faster the closer the enemy is, a feature which, in addition to helping you pin down an enemy’s location, really gets your heart pounding at points!

On top of the invisibility, your character has no armour and thus dies after just one attack. Luckily for your character, enemies have no ranged attacks and are few in number; with only a couple exceptions, only one or two appear in each area. Nor is precise targeting necessary, as all weapons fire a very short range but broad blast that will instantly waste any alien that is roughly in front of you. So the enemies are beatable.

However… You cannot simply pound the fire button any time an enemy approaches to win. Weapons must be charged up for a few seconds before firing, and if you let the gun charge too long or not long enough, you lose the charge. This means you have to time your shots with each enemy’s approach, because if your first shot misses, you may not have time for another one. Even if you have time, you may not have the ammunition; all but the last weapon in the game holds only one or two shots.

Enemy Zero ScreenshotThis unconventional brand of first person shooting, where you must make every shot count and split-second judgments are the difference between flawless victory and instant death, does take some getting used to, which is why Warp provided a simplified training mode on Disc 0. The training mode really helps with getting a grip on things, and once you’ve done that, the shooter experience here is gripping, challenging, unusually realistic, and unlike anything else on the Saturn – or any other console.

Yet when viewed as a whole, Enemy Zero is something greater than even that. Yes, the story is unoriginal, and yes, most of the puzzles are a joke, but the presentation turns E0 from a straight shooter into a cinematic experience. You don’t tackle levels so much as scenarios which fit into the game’s story (to give examples would involve spoilers, I’m afraid), and contrary to what you’d expect, the shifts between FMV adventure and 1st person shooter are not jarring. Both the realtime 3D graphics and FMVs are smooth and remarkably well-aged, rendering the spaceship as a memorable setting lined with slick yet realistic-looking technology. The more you play, the harder it is to escape the feeling that you really are trapped on a spaceship with invisible aliens lurking through the corridors.

Enemy Zero ScreenshotDeveloper Warp didn’t quite know where to stop with the originality, though. Unlike D, you can save your game, but it costs 4 points from a set supply, and each load costs 2 points. It’s an interesting idea for upping the challenge and tension, but in practice it’s a pain.

For starters, E0 is too long to potentially have to start over due to running out of points. Getting through all three discs takes about three hours, and the long cutscenes are unskippable. Moreover, since this is before the days of pause saves/quick saves/whatever you call them, if you quit without dying, you’re effectively penalized 2 points. It’s not a good thing when a game makes you choose between forcing yourself to do long play sessions and starting all over. If you have a memory cartridge you can get around the load penalty, but having to do so is a nuisance.

It’s hard to get around the fact that Enemy Zero is full of flaws. If nothing else, the poor quality of the puzzles, some of which can barely be called such due to their easiness, is a persistent drag. And yet, a flawed masterpiece is still a masterpiece. The scenario of fending off invisible aliens in a isolated environment could not have been more well-rendered and immersive. A true Saturn original, Enemy Zero is a game that you may or may not love, but must certainly give a try.

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