Originally a PS Vita exclusive and then ported to the PS4 and ‘PC, Damascus Gear: Operation Tokyo, developed and published by Arc System Works, now comes stomping onto the Nintendo Switch.
Set in the year 2097, forty seven years after World War 4, the game puts you in the seat of an operator who controls giant mechs known as GEAR systems. Originally developed at the time of the fourth apocalypse, these robotic warriors were the primary forces in battle, until some of the units turned rogue and forced the rest of mankind to live underground. As a new operative for the GEAR organisation, it is now your job to turn the tide of war and take the fight back to the rogue mech units, known as RAGEs, in order to reclaim the devastated landscapes of a post-war Tokyo.
Following in a similar mould to games such as Dungeon Hunter and Diablo, Damascus Gear is played from a 3D isometric view above the desolated streets of Japan’s capital city. With its hack & slash/shooter gameplay, you are tasked with a variety of missions such as patrols, defeating high numbers of RAGE units, survival, escort and target eliminations. Much like the elements that comprise the RPG/Dungeon exploration genres, fallen enemies and level completions rewards you with an abundance of loot which range from mech parts and weaponry to repair kits. With a focus primarily on combat, these drops present you with a myriad of options with their countless combinations of outfitting your GEAR mech ready for the challenges ahead. Either alone, or with AI wingmen, you traverse the streets of Tokyo in order to rid them from the threat of the RAGE machines and bring peace to the rag-tag pockets of humanity that are left from the devastation of war.
Using an on screen map, you guide your mech around the streets with the left thumb stick whilst each arm is mapped to a corresponding button; namely Y and X. You can utilize a laser-dodging boost with the B button whilst A engages a super-powerful photon blast with the L and R shoulder buttons performing a first aid repair and speed boost respectively. With your control of each arm, you can perform a variety of attacks depending on which weaponry you equip to your mech. You can equip long-range guns or melee swords and even a variation of both to cover all eventualities in combat. With a very gratuitous level of loot drops, you’ll be chopping and changing the characteristics of your mech at regular intervals; even with parts or weaponry that may be the same make and model as previous iterations, there’ll be some sort of variation to make you change the way you outfit your GEAR.
Customisation and personalisation play a major factor within the gameplay of this title. There’s a satisfying element to equipping your mech, changing the colours of its different components and even naming the machine that you’ll become quite attached to the more you play. Any equipment that becomes redundant can be sold in an in-game store where you can purchase extra add-ons, although these items are largely of an inferior quality to what can be found on the battlefield; however, it’s always worth investing everything you’ve got into repair kits as you’ll soon learn that these become invaluable.
Combat, too, is particularly satisfying and well implemented within the game. Although the variety of attack options are quite limited, the range of weaponry and how you mix-and-match them upon your mech offers different techniques in how you fight. Apart from the melee and ranged combat, learning to read each type of enemy’s attack movement and counter-attacking them gives a rather smug feeling of superiority; especially when encountering the larger boss mech varieties. Ranged attacks automatically lock on to your foes, leaving you free to manoeuvre in avoidance of enemy attacks. Boosting becomes vitally important here, as does selecting which mode of attack you use as both melee weapons and guns have a limited use before the need for a cooldown period that keeps you on your toes.
Graphically, the game functions reasonably well. The mechs, especially with your own personalisation, look suitably cool, as do the variations in the RAGE bots. Explosions can look impressive too, as well as the powerful attacks of your back or shoulder mounted photon weapons. The scenery, however, can look rather bland and a bit samey after a while with its limited palette of greys and browns, but don’t let that put you off as they suit the aesthetics of the game quite well. In fact, the whole game has a very arcadey feel to its gameplay and visual effects which adds a nice quality, however, there is a lot more depth involved than what you might find in your typical arcade-styled game.
If there is anything fundamentally wrong with this game, then it has to be the AI of your compatriots. When teamed up with other members and their GEAR, they don’t seem to be able to grasp the fundamentals of what you are trying to achieve within the game. For instance, they’ll often go a bit gung-ho and charge into battle which results in them dying quite a lot and leaving on your own to complete the mission. Other times they will simply wander off or just stand dormant within a hail of laser fire or melee attacks. Although this can be frustrating at times, it doesn’t really hamper the gameplay too much, unless you are playing an escort mission and the AI simply lines themselves up to be cannon fodder. Despite these shortcomings, the game does allow you some leeway with its faltering AI behaviour by letting you keep any loot you find, regardless of whether you complete or fail the mission and its repair kits are rather generous in both their healing properties and frequency in which they can be obtained. The story can be a little lacklustre too, but the constant action more than makes up for this.
Overall, Damascus Gear offers a very solid experience with enough gameplay to keep you coming back for more. Whether it’s the lure of loot or satisfying combat, the game constantly dangles a carrot in front of your nose to keep you playing. With over four hundred different varieties of customization and personalisation, as well as all the DLC from its previous incarnations, this game contains enough content to keep you involved during its ten hour or so campaign level. Varying mission lengths, from a couple of minutes up to around twenty, makes it ideal for both casual or more hardcore gaming sessions and contains enough variety to combat any staleness in their execution. This is a descent little game for the price that will have you coming back for more GEAR rather than quitting in a frustrating RAGE.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Nintendo Switch code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.