Platform:  PlayStation
Players:  1
Memory Usage:  1 block

    There was a time when Square was riding on top of the industry as a whole as Sony's golden developer on the PlayStation.  After Final Fantasy VII made Sony a pile of money, continued to cement the PlayStation as the second coming of video games being popular for everyone, and returned Square to the powerhouse publisher they were known as on the Super Nintendo it was time to branch out.  In the past Square had made many different genres of games and were probably best known in the United States outside of the RPG genre for the Rad Racer series and The Adventures of 3-D Worldrunner on the NES.  So it was after the release of Final Fantasy VII, Bushido Blade, and SaGa Frontier yet before Parasite Eve, Brave Fencer Musashi, and Xenogears that Square did something unexpected and gave the industry one of the greatest shooters of all time.  Proving that the Japanese like to use German in science fiction just as much as Americans like to use Japanese, Einhänder was released in the United States in 1998.

Description:  In 2245 a small prosperous colony called Selene launches its third war against the nations of the Earth which exiled their hopes of independence hundreds of years before.  The only way to break the Earth forces is with a deadly combination of prototype tactical fighters and and pilots trained for suicide runs.  Selene sends three tactical fighters down to Earth for the final mission of the campaign, as an Einhänder pilot you've got the entire Earth war machine to blast through to complete your mission.  Einhänder is a tribute to the side scrolling shooters of the past such as R-Type and Gradius but it goes further to use the power of the PlayStation to be its own game.  Simply translated, Einhänder means "one hander" which is the name given the class of tactical fighters in the game due to their special characteristics.  Each of the three ships you can choose from has a manipulator arm that can be used to pick up weapons throughout each level and toggle between them as well as change their position on the fly.  In other words each of the ships has one manipulator arm, or hand, that can be used to carry weapon pods - an Einhänder.  Although rendered in 3D polygons Einhänder is still very much a classic 2D side scrolling shooter featuring excellent production values and a unique look and feel that is still unlike any other game.

Graphics:  Hands down this is one of the most beautifully designed games to ever be released on the PlayStation.  Everything is rendered in full 3D polygons and moves smoothly and fluently.  Although the game remains on a 2D plain in terms of game mechanics, the camera pans around, makes wonderful scaling movements, zooms in and out smoothly, and all of this very cinematically without breaking the gameplay or pulling the player away from the experience.  All the enemies and weapons are rendered perfectly and the lighting and reflection is some of the best ever to be seen on the hardware.  If Einhänder is remembered for one thing it's graphical style in the boss battles.  The bosses aren't just incredibly detailed, they're huge!  Most bosses take up the entire screen and have multiple levels of attack and destruction which are still as impressive today as they were back in 1998.  The CG sequences are among some of the most impressive Square has ever made in their long history and round out the graphics package making Einhänder one of the most visually stunning games of this era.  Even the menu and loading screens have a unique visual flair.

Sound:  While not amazing the sound is still good and it does what it should.  Explosion sounds are nicely varied and the sounds of your ship moving around and changing speed are well done.  The soundtrack is typical shooter faire however it doesn't detract from the game any, just don't expect music as catchy as the Gradius themes.  The whole audio package is going for more of a cinematic feel which it pulls off well.  The voice work between missions is excellent, some of my all time favorite voice over in any game and it really adds to the experience of piloting one of these futuristic prototype craft.  Additionally the narration in the opening CG movie is of film caliber as well.

Play Control:  As with any shooter the game is only as good as your connection to your ship.  Thankfully Square gave Einhänder solid and perfectly responsive controls.  Cycling between captured weapon pods is handled with the shoulder buttons as is your ship speed adjustment, which makes everything very intuitive.  One button fires your normal shot while another fires whatever weapon pod is currently being held by the manipulator arm.  The currently selected weapon pod can be moved to the top or bottom of your ship by pressing another button and how the weapon pod reacts is denoted by which weapon it is.  For example some of them simply either sit on the top or bottom which changes their firing angle while some will point behind you in certain orientations.  Although your weapon set up is extremely flexible the controls remain simple so things never get out of hand and after a few minutes cycling and using weapon pods becomes completely transparent.  If there is one lacking feature of the controls it's that there's no analog support but given that this game was released before the DualShock analog controller became standard, it's excusable.

Replay:  Shooters rarely have replay beyond the drive to play though them again after completion and Einhänder is no exception.  However given the polish of this game playing through it again is a privilege.  With the amazing visual style, tight controls, and amazing boss battles you'll come back to Einhänder.  The game mechanics change a bit with each different ship which alter how the game must be played since it changes your base weapon configuration.  There were some complaints of no two player option being included but given that the story is built around a last ditch suicide mission it wouldn't have made sense.

Final Verdict:  Einhänder was released over five years ago and it still commands about the same price it did at launch because it's simply one of those games that is genre defining.  Einhänder is to the PlayStation what Radiant Silvergun is to the Saturn and if you remotely consider yourself a shooter fan then you should already own this.  It is spectacular, it was spectacular in 1998, and it's spectacular today in 2005.

Written on 04-22-05 by David, insanedavid@classicplastic.net

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