Saturday, 13 August 2016

Project Minerva Professional (PS2)

It's odd that this game got a western release, since it's a weird kind of celebrity vehicle thing for Norika Fujiwara, an actress who isn't well-known in the west at all (the only thing that westerners might know on her IMDB page is the live action movie based on the comic Boys Over Flowers). Even more oddly, the game's opening credits list er as "Star and Planner", though I assume her role in planning was just agreeing to be in a game, and possibly having the enemies be robots because she didn't want to be seen as a bloodthirsty mercenary? Or maybe it really was a passion project for her, and she genuinely had a bunch of ideas for an action game in which she wanted to star?

If this game was made in the west, about a western model/actress/general celebrity, it'd probably be very different. Look at Kim Kardashian's game, for example: a phone game about fashion and fame and all that sort of thing. Project Minerva Professional, by contrast, is a military/sci-fi themed squad-based 3D shooter. Norika "plays" a woman named Alicia, who is the leader of a military task force charged with saving humanity from the evil robots manufactured by Minerva Corporation. This is done in a series of missions (I hear there's over a hundred, though I've only played through about six of them), with various typical squad shooter objectives: kill a number of enemies, plant bombs in certain locations, rescue the hostages, and so on.

Now, though I do think it's a bit of a shame that almost all modern 3D action games use a near-identical dual analogue control scheme, I think the fact that Project Minerva came out before that layout had been standardised is what really hurts it the most, more than the useless squad members running around like headless chickens, and more than the very simple (and Simple Series-esque) stage layouts and mission parameters. (Though it wasn't originally released as a Simple Series game, it really does feel like one, and actually got a rerelease a bit later as The Simple 2000 Ulitmate Series Vol. 23). Alicia is moved with the left stick, the right shoulder buttons are used for aiming your gun and looking through your binoculars, and the left shoulder buttons are used for centering the camera behind Alicia, which is the only direct control of the camera you get. Another typical (and hated) trait the game has in common with a lot of Simple Series games is the insane level of grinding. Weapons and armour are slowly made available in the shop, and once they're available, they still need to be bought, with insane prices that require several stages to be completed before they can be met.

You might wonder what the right analogue stick is doing, and it does nothing besides being a duplicate of the controls mapped to the d-pad, which are used for selecting and giving orders to your underlings. There's lots of other weird quirks in this game too, like how enemies don't appear on the radar unless you look at them through your binoculars and "mark" them, which has to be done for each enemy individually. You also have very little offence or defence at short ranges. There are some short range weapons, but they aren't great, and  you can't move and shoot at the same time: to shoot, you hold down R2 to look through your weapon's scope, aim with the left stick (so you can't move at the same time), and shoot with the square button. To make things worse, the direction you'll be looking in when you hold R2 isn't necessarily going to be the direction the camera is pointing in beforehand, making it very difficult to quickly aim and shoot at enemies. Unlike the clunkiness of Deep Water, this awkwardness doesn't add anything to the game, it is just annoying awkwardness.

Having said all that, there is some fun to be had in Project Minerva Professional. Since the late 90s, it's been a widely held opinion that there's a certain satisfying thrill to be had in shooting far away enemies through a scope, and that does still apply in this game, even through all the clunkiness of the controls and the weirdness of the camera. There's still dozens, and probably even hundreds of better games that offer the same thrill, though, so unless you really love the aesthetic of early PS2 games, you should just go for one of those over this one.

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