It is important for me to start this review with an important caveat: I have not watched a Gundam series since I was a freshman in high school, when—I believe—there were episodes on after (or maybe before) Dragonball Z, which I had a bizarre fascination with that I will never quite understand. Therefore, it is entirely possible that I have somehow missed a vital bit of information that would somehow make the incoherent mess that is this game’s narrative make some kind of sense. As far as I can tell, the plot is supposed to be something reminiscent of Marvel’s Secret War, in which a bunch of characters from various Gundam series appear on a planet in the midst of a conflict about… something mysterious that you can find out for yourselves.
Honestly, the story is not that important. The game is here for fans of the series to play as the characters that they remember, in the giant robots that they so adore, in battles purported to be the ones that fans remember from whichever series it is that the game has decided to pay tribute to at the moment. It is entirely possible that this novelty alone will make the game worth buying for those who are massive fans of the Gundam series.
Everyone else would probably be better off spending their money elsewhere. It’s not that the setting is bad or that the game at times feels like you’re doing battle with a series of increasingly esoteric fortune cookie sayings, it’s that the gameplay itself simply doesn’t work—but not in a broken mechanics or controls kind of way. Indeed, I would venture to say that the controls are solid and uncomplicated, which is always nice. You can hack at the enemy or shoot at the enemy or even fire insane missile barrages at the enemy with relative ease. The game has problems, but it’s not a control problem.
The problem is that the gameplay is repetitive—tediously so—and the screen is so cluttered with enemies that you very often cannot tell where exactly you’re supposed to go or who in particular you are supposed to be killing. This is such a massive problem that I wound up skating around levels, murdering legions of identical-looking enemies with no real clue what I was supposed to be doing or indeed if I should have been doing something else. This is a tragedy, to be honest, because there’s an interesting mechanic buried under the confusing display. Essentially, you are put into a battle for every level that plays out a lot like a game of king of the hill. You grab control of different areas of the world by murdering all the enemy in the area until your own soldiers show up and secure it. Once you’ve done that, you gain any number of bonuses—from the ability to teleport across the map to the ability to summon in your friends (other characters from the Gundam series in their own, special giant robots). Capture enough of these territories, and you can even prevent the enemy from gaining reinforcements—at which point the commander appears and you battle to the death. Kill the commander and you win the battle!
Unfortunately, the levels all stay more or less the same. Once you’ve fought a few battles, you’ve really seen all that the game has to offer—although, like I said at the beginning of this review, this might be exactly the sort of thing that fans of the series are looking for. Outside the battles, you can design and kit out your very own Gundam, which is a nice thing for fans of customization, as long as you don’t mind the fact that your very own Gundam will behave surprisingly like the stock Gundam that you started out with. The customization is largely cosmetic, and while there are stats to each model of robot to keep track of, it never felt to me like the higher numbers resulted in doing more damage. Some of the special moves that you get to unleash (each Gundam has its own special move, of course) are impressive looking, but ultimately you can easily get just as far just as quickly (if not more quickly) by mashing the melee attack button. The battles are jammed with enemies in an attempt to make them feel epic in scale, but they never feel exciting. Despite the fact that you really can choose your own path through a particular battlefield when deciding which territory to claim next, it still feels distressingly linear. The heat of battle just doesn’t seem all that hot, and the game seems to be banking on fans’ love of the series to provide the excitement that the gameplay fails to deliver.
You can, of course, choose to play cooperatively with a friend over Xbox Live or (wonder of wonders!) locally with a split-screen co-op mode. I’m generally of the opinion that co-op can make almost any game more fun to play, but sadly Gundam 3 is one of the exceptions to this rule. All co-op play does is make things even more confusing as you cast about trying to figure out where on the map you are in relation to your partner, or indeed where your partner is when you are in the exact same area. The HUD needs some major work, the environmental design is lackluster, and the fact that your companions will spout the same two or three phrases over and over again while an absolutely grating soundtrack plays ensures that those who do decide to play the game will want to play it with the sound turned off. There’s a lot of potential here for a game that I would enjoy playing, but the execution is terrible.