Smilebit's second Xbox game is a big departure from its first, Jet Set Radio Future. Set in a alternate year 1906, Dr. Hebble, the man behind a new revolutionary human jet pack, has gone missing. He is rumoured to be on a planet infested with giant bugs and it is your mission to save him with the aid of his jet pack technology. While fighting giant bugs, armed with huge guns and a jet pack, sounds like great fun, is Gun Valkyrie good enough to stop the swarm or will the bug spray be needed?
You play as either Kelly or Saburouta. Kelly is much more agile than her counterpart but she lacks the firepower that Saburouta has. The game recommends Kelly for the beginner but I found that playing as Saburouta was easier due to his extra firepower. You can play most of the stages as either character but a few require you to use one in particular. Controlling the character is harder than you would expect. Both of them are equipped with jetpacks that you must use to do nearly all the moves in the game. The left trigger is used to boost vertically and the left thumb stick button is used to boost horizontally in the direction the stick is facing whilst the button is pressed. Basic hovering in the air is simple to do but the boost only lasts for a few seconds. To make this boost recharge you have to perform combos in the air. To do this you must boost in different directions while near an enemy. This is very hard to do but once it is mastered the game becomes much easier to play.
'Gun Valkyrie is definitely up there with the best in the looks department'
A major problem is that the game has no normal strafing move. To move sideways you have to boost in that direction. This is especially annoying when playing the indoor stages as there are lots of corridors and traditional first-person shooter controls would have worked better. The other problem with the controls is how you move your character around. The left stick moves the character like it would in a platform game and the right stick is used to aim. This is very awkward as the aim on the right stick is only for a narrow space, so to aim for something more than a screen away you have to turn the character with the left stick then aim more precisely with the right stick. If the developers had gone with Halo controls and included strafing, the game would have been a lot more fun to play and much easier to pick up.
The Xbox really does provide gamers with some great eye candy and Gun Valkyrie is definitely up there with the best in the looks department. The game has four locations that each has a number of stages, making a total of ten levels for the gamer to play through. Each of these locations is visually spectacular. The draw distance in the outdoor stages is phenomenal and the texture quality is superb. The indoor levels look equally stunning and feature great lighting and some stylish visual effects. The two playable characters in the game also look great. They are both incredibly detailed and feature great looking shiny armour that seems to reflect the environment. At various stages in the game you will go up against bosses. Not only are these incredibly tough to beat, they also look fabulous and easily rank with the best bosses in any videogame. All the action moves at a constant frame rate, which is vital for a game that gets as frantic as this. There are only really two negative points with the graphics. Firstly, a lot of the textures are repeated throughout the levels. This is particularly noticeable in the outdoor Valley stages, but this isn't enough to ruin what is a great looking game. The other problem is that the variety in enemies is quite poor. Most of the game's bugs will be seen after a few levels and this takes away the element of surprise that could have existed.
The sound in the game isn't as thumping as I had expected but it does its job well enough. The games soundtrack is actually quite sedate but each area has a different theme that seems just right. Being a game that is about blasting giant bugs, I expected an onslaught of firepower in the sound department, but they are few explosions or big booming sounds. The weapon sound effects are fine, but they don't quite have the meat behind them that was needed. The game supports Dolby Digital 5.1 sound and surprisingly it helps the game a lot. This is one of the first Xbox games to use it well and it makes you feel like you are in the middle of the action. If you can use 5.1 sound you will get a vastly superior experience to playing with the disappointing standard sound.
If you are after a game that is going to last you a while this may be for you but it might not be for the right reason. The actual game is very short and once you get accustomed to the controls it can be finished in one sitting. The longevity comes in actually learning the controls and perfecting your combo moves. If you are prepared to learn, you will be playing the game for months, as the game play is quite addictive. If, however, you can't get past the control scheme, you will probably give up after a few hours.
Many games today allow the player to get straight into them and finish them without ever having to put any real work in. You could be poor at games and still finish a lot, as many of them make it harder not to finish them than it is to finish them. Gun Valkyrie then comes along and asks the player to learn a whole new control scheme that is different to anything they have used before or fail miserably at the game. While the developers have made a game that, once mastered, is excellent, the initial difficulty will be too tough for most gamers.