‘Panzer Dragon’

By Andrew Duff

Sega’s “Panzer Dragoon” shooter series, first made famous on Sega Saturn, has come roaring onto XBox.

“Panzer Dragoon Orta,” an XBox exclusive game, has you play as Orta, a young woman who has been locked away for most of her life, only to escape with the help of a mythical dragon. Now she is hunted by an empire that wants both her and her dragon dead.

Graphically, the game is gorgeous, with fantastic special effects and jaw-dropping, detailed levels. Of particular note are the enemies. The other dragon riders are just as vivid as Orta’s dragon and the bosses are both massive and cleverly designed, from huge empire airships to bizarre robots from the distant past. I don’t think a game this pretty could have been pulled off on any other system.

Controls are important for a shooter, and Orta’s take some getting used to. Luckily, lots of useful features have been included, like the ability to lock onto more than one enemy at once, screen-clearing special attacks and being able to transform your dragon for different playing styles. A tutorial is included, so players can fly and fight like professionals as soon as they start playing.

The music compliments the game play nicely, and the tracks are top notch. If Sega releases a CD of “Panzer Dragoon Orta’s” music, I’ll be sure to pick it up; it’s that good.

If this great game drops the ball anywhere, it’s with the difficulty. Even on easy, the first time playing barely gets you halfway through the second level. Now, I’ll admit I’m not the best dragon-riding gunslinger around, but sometimes the sheer number of projectiles rushing toward Orta can be overwhelming.

At the same time, the difficulty will have you coming back for more. The fourth stage engages Orta in a furious battle against an entire armada of airships, and the player has to make full use of all his skills to get through it. Though frustrating at times, every time you play a level, you’ll notice more enemy patterns, make better use of the terrain and use your large array of weapons a little better.

The best part is that the game rewards the player not only by advancing the story, but also by opening up cool extras, like new modes to try out, a picture gallery and even the original “Panzer Dragoon.”

If you’ve heard of the series, then Orta doesn’t let the name down. Give “Panzer Dragoon Orta” a try. You won’t regret it.