Originally created 09/30/03

'P.N. 03' - strange name, plenty of action

And now, the winner in the "Worst Name for a Videogame" category - Capcom, for "P.N. 03."

"P.N. 03" stands for Product Number 03, presumably our heroine, the svelte, sunglass-wearing mercenary Vanessa Schneider. She's sent to some unnamed planet, where a computerized weapons system has snapped and turned the world into a battle zone.

That's all you need to know about the plot, which is as thin as a flophouse mattress. The name of this GameCube game is all about action, and "P.N. 03" has that, in spades.

Unfortunately, the game also has a few flaws, one serious and the rest just annoying.

Minor problems include the graphics, which consist of a series of generic, stainless steel-looking corridors which repeat ad nauseam, and the lack of variety in enemies. While the bosses are colorful and varied, the 'bots you have to fight to get to them aren't.

Control is the main problem, and while you learn to work around it, it shouldn't be that way. You need lightning reflexes to avoid attacks from the horde of pesky robots attacking you. But even if you're blessed with a ton of fast-twitch muscle fibers, the controller won't cooperate.

Vanessa's pace is, charitably, plodding. Her failure to move quickly when you need to dodge incoming fire is a constant annoyance and, of course, it gets you killed a lot.

To add to the problems, your weapons don't work while you're moving. So, you have to come to a full stop and then hit the trigger, leaving yourself open to a barrage of return fire.

Why, Capcom, why?

At the start of each mission, Vanessa drops into a central chamber with an exit door. The moment she passes through, the battle begins. Robots attack, firing lasers, missiles and tracer bullets at you. Timing - and the judicious use of shoulder buttons to dodge incoming fire - are your best friends, despite the snail's pace of her movements.

Look for things to hide behind or holes to duck into. Robots follow a set path and will rarely come after you, even if you're hiding just a few feet from them. Hit the shoulder button after they fire, sidestep into the open, let them have it and then duck back behind your protection.

The destruction of each robot earns you points, which can be traded in for weapons upgrades, new combat suits and other goodies, stuff you'll need as the game progresses to the tougher stages.

Graphics get a C+. While they are clean, crisp and adequately detailed, the sheer repetition will grind you down after a while. Vanessa's character is interesting, as are the robots, but everything else is from the "spacestation, generic" file.

Sound gets another C+ The sound itself is good, clean and crisp. But the tunes, like the graphics, start to repeat themselves far too soon. Sound effects are fair to good.

Control gets a C. The problems with having a sluggish heroine and aggressive, quick-moving enemies can be worked around, but it can't really be solved, and it will cost you dearly. It's a serious flaw.

"P.N. 03" gets a C. It's just an average shooter with a big-time control problem that puts it behind others on the shelf. Blasting robots is fun, but the frustration factor is troubling. Ultimately, it means I'd look elsewhere for shooting satisfaction.

"P.N. 03" is rated T, for ages 13 and up.

* * * *

Nintendo announced on Sept. 24 a dramatic cut in the price of the GameCube system, to $99.99. Nintendo said in announcing the move that it will have a library of 320 titles by the end of the year, making it a good buy, especially for parents looking for a system which focuses on kid-friendly titles.

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