Unique is overused, but there's a game out now that honestly merits the word.
Not perfect, but unique.
Maken X is a Dreamcast creation from Altus for Sega, a first-person "shooter" with no gunplay. Instead, a strange sword that starts life looking like a pickle on steroids is your weapon of choice, and "brainjacking" enters your vocabulary for the first time.
The game begins at the Kanazawa Research Institute, where the big brains have been working on Maken, a cucumber-like bit of artificial intelligence that is designed to extract Psi, the human spirit, from people it meets. After a dark visitor comes and goes, leaving a teacher dead in his wake, Maken merges with the mind of Kay Sagami, a student of the slain teacher. She will use Maken to avenge her teacher's death and defeat the forces of evil before Maken devours her Psi completely.
This is really the first time Dreamcast has a first-person "shooter" of its own, and the game takes full advantage of Sega's powerful console. This is an easy game to learn, giving you full command quickly and letting you enjoy both the action and the sights and sounds.
This is not a routine hack-and-slasher. Altus has added a neat "lock-on" feature that lets you target a specific enemy and clobber him, then switch to another quickly and easily. There's also an excellent addition to the lock-on. One button along with the lock-on and you flip over behind enemies to attack from the rear.
It might not sound like much, but when you get to the bosses, it's invaluable. Don't leave home without it. The lock-on also shows a small gauge in the center of the targeting device that shows your opponent's life as it ebbs from your attack.
There's a bar at the top which does the same thing for you. There are a lot of life 'ups scattered around, so being careful and collecting every one you can should stand you in good stead.
The game takes you through 20 levels as you rove the world — Moscow, Athens, London — with Maken brainjacking up to 13 other people to take on their attributes and weapons. You will find that some areas are only available to specific characters, making brainjacking a key to completing the game. Brainjacking may be the most entertaining part of the game. It certainly makes for a lot of choices.
That's not as easily said as done, since there are (count 'em) seven different endings. The plot gets a little convoluted, but this isn't an RPG; you're here for the action, not the story.
Racing at 60 frames per second, Maken offers an army of nightmare enemies to conquer. With the speedy frame rate, everything works smoothly and as designed.
One drawback, in case you like slicing and dicing your friends: Maken is strictly a one-person game.
Maken's graphics get a solid A. They are spectacular in every way, boldly colored and drawn with an imagination that borders on the warped.
Sound is a B, with good effects and a minimum of irritating, intrusive music. Control is a B also. Everything is logical and easy to find and use, with the swordplay easily controlled and quite dramatic.
Maken X is something new, something different for Dreamcast and for everyone who enjoys first-person shooters but is tired of all the shooting. You won't learn fencing from this game — in fact, the swordplay is a little lame at times — but if you like arcade combat with a bit of a twist, Maken X just might be the game for you.
Maken X is rated M, for ages 17 and older.