Pacific Rim: The Video Game, a companion to the new Guillermo del Toro blockbuster, aims to replicate the film’s experience of seeing huge robots go one-on-one against gargantuan monsters. In other words, it sounds like a dream come true for anyone raised on mech anime or Godzilla films. Development was even handled by Yuke’s, a developer famous for making numerous WWE games and the tie-in game to last year’s similarly themed Real Steel.
And yet, despite this, the final product can’t help but partially succumb to the eternal curse of the movie tie-in game. Though certain areas of the game are interesting, the basic gameplay and lack of presentation polish in certain areas bring down the overall experience.
Aside from a brief intro cinematic setting up the story via silent text and still pictures, there is no plot or cast of characters to talk about. The focus here is on the robots, known as Jaegers, and the monsters, known as kaiju. While the game lacks personality as a result of the aforementioned omissions, there’s no denying that a lot of effort clearly went into modeling the playable characters. The Jaegers in particular pack a lot of the same details as their movie counterparts, complete with a convincing metal sheen. Environments fare a bit worse, though, as they look rather basic in comparison.
The game is at its heart a 3D tournament fighter, albeit with more basic moves replacing intricate combos found in something like Street Fighter. The two competing characters can manuever in all directions, and the various buttons pull off specific preset attacks, with the left and right arm punches mapped to two of them, along with a projectile attack, guard, dash, and special attack that can be gradually charged up throughout battle before being activated.
The game’s single-player content is doled out under the guise of missions, which are still essentially straightforward one-on-one fights with the occasional twist thrown in, such as fighting two oppponents in a row instead of one. Again, though, there’s next to no plot to speak of and no characters to represent the Jaegers. While I’m not asking for an intricate and deep plot in a fighting game, the lack of anything of that kind makes for a real lack of personality.
Combat is functional, but can feel a bit clunky. Timing is key to landing a successful attack or block, I just wish my Jaeger felt a little more responsive and quick. It doesn’t help that later stages become a real exercise in frustration, with the kaiju you find yourself against pulling off stunts such as flying, which makes them much harder to hit.
One of the more interesting features of Pacific Rim is the fact that it has an experience and leveling-up system. Both winning and participating in battles, down to actions such as successful attacks and dodges, rewards you with experience points. Outside of battle, you can craft your own custom Jaeger with parts unlocked through winning missions, and spend the experience on boosting the stats of individual aspects, such as defense, health, and attack power.
A downside is that the game seems reliant on downloadable content from the get-go, offering the ability to buy packs of experience points with real money, and prohibiting basic features like custom colors and decals unless you buy a day-one pack. The makers have promised additional characters and stages are on the way, which is what DLC should be used for in a game like this, but I felt it necessary to comment on the unfortunate business model they’re currently using.
Local multiplayer works like you’d expect it to, but the online component has a more interesting feature. When you first start playing online, you can pick one of three factions. While your choice won’t directly impact the actual gameplay, if players in your faction play well, you’ll earn bonus experience points over time. Thankfully, you can still earn experience through multiplayer, though it’s easy to find yourself against someone with much higher stats for their custom Jaeger.
Pacific Rim: The Video Game isn’t outright bad, but it’s overall pretty average. The gameplay is functional, and the experience system is a neat idea for a fighter, but like I said before, it lacks personality, frustration is common, and the DLC setup feels like a money grab. I’ve seen worse in the world of movie tie-in games, but at the same time, I’ve seen better.
This review is based on a copy of the Xbox 360 version of the game that we received for review purposes.