There's one simple thing that anime does better than any other medium, and that's putting everyone into giant robots. Thankfully, the developers at Skydance Interactive appear to have agreed with this sentiment by creating Archangel, a game where you pilot a giant anime robot to fight tanks, planes, and giant robot wolves. Does taking the best part of anime and transferring it a video game prove to be a winning combo, or does this robot fall apart?
Archangel takes place somewhere in the future, in a world wrecked by disasters. A private company by the name of HUMNX has taken over, using a military cult-like following to conquer the world. You'll play as either Gabriel or Gabby Walker, a pilot for a resistance group who is being put in charge of a giant mech run by an AI called M1K1. When HUMNX breaks into the hanger and kills Walker's son and many of their resistance members, Walker decides that it's time to bring the fight back to HUMNX. So, he hops into his giant robot, grabs his three closest friends, and starts a rampage of destruction.
I actually found myself surprised by Archangel's story thanks to how well it's presented. Strong performances help convey each character, making them feel just a little more real. Depending on how you play the game, there's also a chance for a ton of dialogue. After each level, you can talk to your crew or the AI and expand on both the world and the characters a little more. These aren't just quick one-off conversations either, you can easily spend up to 20 minutes between levels talking to your team and getting to know them. The presentation and ability to have these world building conversations help, as Archangel's story is pretty basic and predictable otherwise.
At an absolutely basic level, Archangel is a rail shooter. You'll use the PS Move controllers to control each of the mech's arms which are armed with different weapons. One arm can swap between rockets and missiles, while the other has a machine gun and a rail gun. You'll be using these weapons to blow away enemies before they have a chance to get you. Each weapon serves a purpose, with the machine gun great for large groups of weak targets, while the missiles helped with highly mobile flying enemies. Big explosions and dramatic sparks fly out of objects and make your weapons feel like they have a real kick.
The mech has a couple of noncombat abilities as well. With the press of a button, you can put up a shield on either arm, which allows you to block attacks for a limited time. This is going to be necessary, as your mech is surprisingly fragile despite being a six story tall robot of death. You can't block all attacks with the shields, but you can at least keep yourself alive and operating much longer. You can also hold down a button to ball your hand up into a fist, allowing you to just punch any unlucky enemy that decided walking right up to a giant robot was a smart move. Rare to use, but amazingly satisfying when the opportunity presented itself.
At all times you're accompanied by Walker's three buddies: Bulldog, Liberty, and Rambler. Similar to the Star Fox series, these three characters will actively participate in battles, but also need to be bailed out of trouble when things turn south. So long as you don't let their health bar empty they'll keep assisting you when possible. Each character also has a special ability that gets used at set story moments. Bulldog can shoot out a bomb that, if shot, destroys all on-screen enemies, Liberty can dispense healing nanomachines, while Rambler can charge up a laser that you can aim just by looking. All the abilities are interesting, but I couldn't help but feel that it was a missed opportunity not letting me activate them when I wanted instead of saving them only for specific story moments.
Archangel does miss some of the things that make a rail shooter unique and fun. Without movement being a necessity, the game can focus more on dramatic and insane set pieces, but most of the time I felt like I was doing little more than walking from one area to another while shooting targets. There's also only a single boss fight in the entire game, serving as a climactic final encounter. For a genre that's usually known for awesome set pieces and absurd boss fights, it seems strange that Archangel has neither. Especially when you have a giant anime robot, which makes other giant anime robots seem like a no brainer when it comes to providing something new and interesting to fight. There are a couple of mini-bosses that do reappear to try and provide a challenge, but the game reuses the same few fights over and over and they're all just normal enemies with extended health bars.
At the end of each level, you're awarded points depending on your performance, and you can use these points to upgrade your robot. You can replay levels to earn some extra points, something that's going to be necessary if you want more than a few upgrades by the end of the game. It does provide a bit of an incentive to replay levels, but for most people, the game will be over once you're done with its three-hour campaign. The lack of extra modes feels like another miss, as that could have extended the game's life.
On the bright side, as I played through the campaign I was treated to some fantastic visuals. The environments were constantly impressive, a good amount of work being put into selling the post-war version of America. Cities felt like they were wrecked, and walking through them and being eye-level with skyscrapers was always a treat. I also enjoyed how there was always a very very slight delay between Walker's movements and the robot's movements, giving the feeling that he was actually controlling the robot rather than making it feel I was doing so without him. While the in-game controls and visuals were nice, the menus were constantly driving me crazy. The layouts are a bit too far spread out to be convenient to use, and they were all finicky and prone to not tracking my hands correctly. Thankfully, this was only a problem outside of gameplay.
While I didn't know that much about Archangel before diving into it, I'm rather glad that took the leap. At its best, I got a genuinely fun rail shooter that let me live out my giant robot fantasies. Despite this, I always had a nagging feeling that it could have been better and was missing out on some of the things that really make rail shooters great. Still, I had a fun time for a few hours, and it's hard to be upset at that. Plus it's a way to enjoy the only good part of anime without having to watch anime or rewatch Pacific Rim for the fifth time, so I'll consider that a win.
- Surprisingly Interesting Characters
- Fun to Use Weapons
- Visually Impressive
- Feels Satisfying
- Strong Voice Acting
- Ultimately Predictable Story
- Lacks Unique Scenarios
- Repeated Mini-Boss Fights
- Little Replay Value