In the future there is a woman who holds a grudge against robots. Her name is Vanessa Schneider and it's your job to guide her around monochrome hallways getting combos, blowing stuff up, and looking stylish. I don't like this game and even though I didn't complete it I have zero interest in ever playing it again.
Yeah I figure it's best to just get it all out of my system early. There are those out there who actually enjoy reading reviews where the author's thoughts don't make their appearance until towards the very end. As far as I'm concerned this review is over and all anyone needs to know is that I don't like this game. Actually wait I have to explain why I don't like it eventually right? Yeah whatever let's get this over with.
This game takes place over multiple levels that are broken up into dozens of rooms. These rooms run the gamut of hallways and arenas. Some feature a bit of light platforming, others might have checkpoints for the player to purchase items and restore health, but most contain enemy robots. These guys are arranged so that the optimal means of scoring is by destroying them in a certain order. When a robot dies a countdown appears. Destroy another robot before the countdown ends and it results in a combo. The amount of time available on the countdown is determined by the strength of the enemy. Each room is ranked according to how well the player performs and I think all of that is fine. It's a solid system and while it gets repetitive(thanks in part to the ridiculous number of free missions available) it serves as a good basis for the rest of the game.
For a game that emphasizes style I gotta wonder why the controls and mechanics are so clunky and boring. The thing with Vanessa is that in order to dodge attacks she has to move when the enemy fires. A number of action games allow the player to dodge bullets even when they're on-screen. In PN03's case however it's best to get out of the way before the light show begins. This is mostly due to the fact that Vanessa's dodging is not a free pass for avoiding damage. If I happen to dodge into the path of some lasers even if I'm still in the animation I'm going to take damage. For some this is a good idea since it lends the game a bit of an identity. I really don't care for it myself though. The lack of an invincible dodge means even for the most basic attacks I have to play it very safe, spend a lot of time behind cover, and focus more on choosing the right enemies to kill in order to get a good combo.
This probably wouldn't be so bad if I had more combat options. There's the regular attack and the energy draining special attack. There's no crouching attacks, jumping attacks, or even dodging attacks. Being able to move around while firing would have done wonders for this game. Instead combat usually involves Vanessa standing still while plinking away at whatever she's locked on to. With additional freedom the developers could have ratcheted up the intensity of the game with more enemies and attacks. This would require a bit more work to balance out but I think most of the scenarios in the game would be bettered with more involved combat. If the dodge was invincible then apply some limiting factor it like Vanessa tires out if she dodges too much. Make standing attacks the strongest and keep jumping/dodging attacks for weak enemies as well as enemies that are close to death so Vanessa can keep moving.
There are other issues like enemies having too much health which breaks up the pacing and the absurd trial mission setup. Surely it would have been better if we had gotten 10 good trial missions over 50 mediocre ones. There are a number of hallways that involve dodging wall lasers which really did nothing for me. It felt like something out of an NES game yet the level-designers felt necessary to include these sections so players could gain a better grasp of the control scheme. In a way this highlights an issue with the control scheme. Rather than use the controls to develop some new and exciting situations never seen before in a game they're put towards the kinds of things I got bored of over a decade ago. It feels like a bunch of needless complication for little result.
Game rating - 2 Stars out of 5
In conclusion I don't think of P.N. 03 as a bad game, I just don't like it. It's not exactly a sensible conclusion but I've always tried to take the path of least resistance when reviewing. The game succeeds in everything its sets out to do but I don't find any of all that compelling. It's certainly unique at least which is not something one can say about every 3rd person shooter.
My rating - 1 Star out of 5
Awhile back I read a number of forum posts that described this game as a "Modern Shmup" or something else to that effect. The comparison is sort of valid I guess cause it reminds me of Space Invaders. There's a lot of moving in one or two directions, some bits of cover to hide behind, and the game remains a consistent challenge even when only one or two enemies remain. Or maybe I just like this comparison because as it turns out I hate Space Invaders. Then again at least that game offered players the ability to move while firing.