Prior to writing this article, I didn’t realise that this game was one of the “Capcom Five”. Back in late 2002, the Gamecube wasn’t doing so well. Nintendo was struggling to capture market share against both rivals at the time, the Playstation 2 and the Xbox. Nintendo asked Capcom to come up with some new games that would be sure boost hardware sales and prove that the Gamecube had the backing of one of the industry’s biggest developers.
You’ve probably heard of a few of the other 4 titles. They were Viewtiful Joe, Resident Evil 4, Killer7, Dead Phoenix and P.N.03. Much to my surprise, they were all actually overseen by Shinji Mikami himself, the creator of the Resident Evil franchise. Sadly, not much came of the partnership, Dead Phoenix was cancelled and P.N.03 was the only title of the four that stayed exclusive to the Gamecube. Killer7 sold alright although not without receiving polarising reviews launching Suda51’s career. Viewtiful Joe got a Playstation 2 port with extra content and I’m sure we all know that Resident Evil 4 was a smash hit, making the jump to other platforms and going down in history as what many consider to be the definitive entry in the franchise.
So what happened to P.N.03? Well, no one really talked about it. It was considered a critical and commercial failure and that was about it despite having been directed by Shinji Mikami himself. It’s not really hard to see why a lot of reviewers had a bad time with the game as it was developed on a fairly tight schedule. In some regards, it can feel quite unfinished when you’re playing through it. If you can find a cheap copy though, it’s one of those games that was designed in a way that can be initially confusing. However, if you can master the controls and gameplay, there’s some fun to be had.
The story is very, very barebones. The main character is freelance mercenary, Vanessa Z. Schneider. You don’t really learn much about her aside from a snippet at the end which still tells you next to nothing about her character. At the start of the game, you are contacted by a mysterious client who tells you that your goal is to destroy the Computerized Armament Management System robots or CAMS for short, which have gone out of control. Vanessa has a variety of Aegis suits which can be either offensive, defense or a balance of both to suit the player’s preferred style of gameplay. Each comes equipped with a different energy drive which, provided you have enough energy, will perform a special attack once you input the correct combo. I found most of the combos had a long invincibility time so you could just dodge some of the strongest attacks by triggering your energy drive. Each Aegis suit comes with preselected blocks that you can upgrade with points accumulated from defeating enemies along the way. You can also obtain extra points through optional trial missions which are randomly generated levels in between main missions.
The actual gameplay is what I would say is considered most polarising. Vanessa can run forward but she can’t strafe so if you want to run left or right, you have to have her do a 45 degree turn as opposed to just simply side stepping. She can however jump left or right by pressing the left and right triggers respectively as well as perform a large jump by pressing the B button. Your main attack is being able to fire energy bolts from your hands so you’ll spent a lot of time mashing A. The skill that comes into play is being able to side dodge incoming attacks gracefully as the developers aimed for her to have a more acrobatic style to her animations. It sounds somewhat similar to Devil May Cry which was developed by the same company but you are also rewarded if you choose to take a more defensive approach as well. Aside from the controls, most of the game consists of moving from room to room clearing out CAMS robots. You’re presented with a screen in between each room scoring you on how you dealt with the room, extra points for taking no damage for example, and how many rooms there are to clear in total which is never more than about 15 at most. At the end of each level is either a core guarded by a number of enemies or a boss fight. I found most of the boss fights to be a little bit underwhelming in terms of their tactics but the game shines most when it comes to normal battles mixed with the dodging mechanics.
The game is fairly short clocking in at around 4 hours on Normal difficulty and about 1 1/2 hours on Easy mode. There is both a hard mode once you complete the game as well as an extra unlockable suit and bonus scene at the end should you fully complete the game. I found most of the areas to be kind of bland. They all consist of white, futuristic interiors only contrasted by the planet’s brown exterior during the few rare times that you leave the facility. There are a handful of different enemy types who are pretty cliche. You’ve got your flying support types, long range projectiles, hard hitting yet slow robots, you name it and it’s probably there. I really don’t have a lot to say about the actual content of the game, which was rushed, but the combat system is something that I think is worth checking out even if you just play on Easy until you get the hang of it. There’s nothing quite like being able to do a forward flip over some incoming homing missiles then quickly sidestepping an incoming laser that would have easily destroyed you in any other game.
Developer / Publisher: Capcom
Released in 2003