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Also in this issue:

Taste Tribes
by Joshua Ellis

Josh examines the online, inter-connected groups of people that you turn to for advice on music, art, fashion, books, etc., and the broader implications of these taste tribes.

Panzer Dragoon Orta
for Xbox
developer: Sega
publisher: Sega

reviewed by Justin Hall

May 26, 2003 | games

Sega's Shooters: Rez-isting Orta

Panzer Dragoon Orta caters to its own extensive epic back story involving genetically altered dragons bred for war by a technocratic empire. All this is told through rich graphical cut-scenes, and through history book entries you unlock as you play.

If you're not already a fan of the Panzer Dragoon series, this may seem puzzling. It's a lot of production for a simple arcade-style game. After all, Panzer Dragoon Orta is a "rail shooter" - a mostly moribund genre where players move forward at a constant rate of motion, blasting nearly everything coming towards them.

But it is precisely the game's genre that explains its sumptuous production. Delivering a $50 rail shooter game these days demands something extra. And no one could ask for more supplemental material for a game. You would be hard pressed to put together a more extensive encyclopedia on a less-interactive world. In some modern games, you learn by exploring the 3D environment and interacting with people or objects. In Panzer Dragoon Orta, you can only fly forward and shoot. So instead of poking and asking around, you learn about the world of the game by unlocking video sequences and menu-driven text explanations.

I wasn't inclined to like Panzer Dragoon Orta; I'm not much for shooters, and I like exploration. But once the game started I forgot my aversion to linearity. Panzer Dragoon Orta is eye-slamming: full-throttle fantastic psychedelic. It boasts a frenzy of stimulation: colorful missiles, enemies and tracer bullets whiz towards your flying dragon. Corridors narrow, twist, turn, and then open into vast combat arenas. Criticism seeped out of my head as I struggled to fly right and shoot down all that flew towards me. Finally, I reached some impassable obstacles. I put down the controller, rubbed my eyes, and realized I was playing something that seemed a lot like Galaga.

Galaga is not a bad game. Panzer Dragoon Orta ups Galaga as a psychedelic pageant rich with fantasy history. But my mind was blown better by Sega's Rez, a 2002 shooter for the PlayStation 2. In Rez, each of your shots adds pulse and tone to a throbbing electronica soundtrack and spare, stylish enter-the-matrix eye candy. Rez aspires for "synesthesia," an in-game mingling of the senses. Panzer Dragoon Orta offers slavish devotion to details about a mostly flat game world.

Panzer Dragoon Orta takes the deluxe-edition DVD approach to game-making: oodles of information layered on top of the core product. Amidst the voluminous text and pictures describing the game setting are nestled a few smaller alternative games. The real gem of this supplemental smorgasbord is a parallel narrative: after finishing the main game, you can play as Iva Demilcol, a child whose family dies as a result of the main character's actions. It's your job to play as him as he craves revenge against the young woman you were just playing; a rare Rashomon moment in an otherwise railroading game.

If you enjoy relatively mindless arcade gameplay with dense visuals, you could spend a few quality evenings on your couch with a controller, watching Orta pulse and preen on your screen. But if you want to shoot, make music, and have something to think about afterwards, try Rez instead.

Justin Hall plays too many games but manages to write sometimes. His subjects include diversion, participation, romance, failure, Asia and California. Nearly everything he thinks publicly emanates from








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