Shogo: Mobile Armor Division may have been a really innovative game when it originally came out, but unfortunately, some of its greatest qualities haven’t aged very well.
Back in 1998, Shogo: Mobile Armor Division was considered an innovative first-person shooter because it featured an unlikely marriage of on-foot sequences with the ability to pilot huge mechas, making it stand out at a time when some of the best games in the genre were coming out (including Unreal and Quake 2, among others.) Undoubtedly, Shogo was a great game back then, but this is not a matter of: Is this game any good? But rather: How well does it hold up?
First of all, I’m pretty sure many people love Shogo’s plot as the game does have a story, albeit a pretty ridiculous one, but I wouldn’t necessarily consider this a story-driven title. It does, however, feature multiple characters who deal with feelings of love, friendship, loss and revenge. Sadly and even though some of the plot details are told through some in-game sequences, the story is mostly explained through dull written reports that appear before and after each mission. The choice of explaining the relationship the main protagonist has with other secondary characters through these boring and lifeless reports is woefully inadequate. Apart from that, the main campaign is almost entirely linear and one-dimensional and only by the end of the game you are given an opportunity to choose one of two dissimilar paths.
As I previously said, Shogo allows the player to pilot one of four immense mechas and to control the main character on various on-foot missions. Although controls are quite similar in both sections, there are minor differences between them. When you control the colossal anime-style robot you shoot enemies like tanks or other robots and you may even step on soldiers at the same time you try to find the exit to that particular zone. Usually, at the beginning of each segment, the player is allowed to select one of four robots and each one of them has different characteristics to all the others. Some are faster and lighter, while others are heavier and can resist more enemy attacks without quickly perishing. Additionally, there’s a wide array of weapons at your disposal that are very satisfying to use, but if by any chance you run out of ammunition, there’s the always reliable knife or katana. When controlling the main character, there are a couple of underwater sequences that have a few basic puzzles which are neither gripping nor complex. In fact, finicky controls make the game feel overly archaic and at times the protagonist/mecha doesn’t respond to your input, making some of the fights more complicated than they should.
An aspect that has aged well is Shogo’s humor. The title makes many references to multiple anime series from both the 80s and 90s (like Platlabor, Gundam, Evangelion and more) but fortunately, it doesn’t alienate those players who aren’t familiar with them. The self-aware style of humor is surprisingly funny and is reflected on almost every aspect of the game without feeling repetitive or forced. Most dialogues are ridiculous, but in a good way, as for example the main character likes to constantly utter one-liners proper of characters like Duke Nukem. One mission I thought was particularly hilarious, was one in which a lady asks you to rescue her baby (read: a cat) as the little creature has been captured by enemy soldiers who want to eat it. Before you could save the cat though, you are required to find its favorite toy which says some bizarre and ridiculous phrases when used as a weapon. This silly mission adds something different to the regular pace of the game and the results are whimsically funny.
Shogo definitely doesn’t look as good as it once did. Most environments are dreary as they lack details and even when some rooms and corridors have posters that reference some popular anime series, some others just feel empty. Characters, on the other hand, look appalling and even though the designers were probably trying to parody some anime characters by providing them with a distinctive cartoony-look, the results are terrible. Robots look much better, especially the ones which can be controlled as you can easily tell one from the other just by looking at them. The game does have a few lightning effects that probably looked awesome when the game came out, but seem pretty primitive when compared to modern shooters in the genre. Furthermore, each character is voiced in a pretty dissimilar way and even when some of the voices seem unsuitable, some others definitely add to the game’s humorous style.
Shogo has other issues that can be associated to its age. Although the title has four difficulty settings (easy, normal, hard and madness) the artificial intelligence is laughably bad as sometimes the enemies stand still while you shoot at them from a safe distance. At other times, you are the one being fired but you can’t tell where the shots are coming from or enemies surprise you in ways that feel cheap and unfair, making the experience way too frustrating. Another problem is the inclusion of numerous multiplayer modes that have been rendered obsolete as they can only be accessed through the TCP/IP, one of the most old-fashioned and archaic ways to play online, therefore, I don’t think many people will be able to enjoy this portion of the game with others. As I already stated, the title is extremely linear as level design is pretty straight forward and each passage indicates the direct path to the next corridor. It should also be noted that almost at the end of the game, there is a choice which affects the main plot and even though this isn’t mind-blowing or anything like that, at least it adds a little variety to the extreme linearity.
In conclusion, Shogo: Mobile Armor Division may have been a really innovative game when it came out, but unfortunately some of its greatest qualities haven’t aged very well. The artificial intelligence is idiotic, the multiplayer is pretty much inaccessible, level design is extremely linear, it suffers from some bugs and its controls are archaic. Still, it’s surprising that even after so long, there isn’t anything quite like Shogo as not many first-person shooters allow you to pilot huge mechas that seem to belong to an anime series and this game definitely succeeds at that.