Damascus Gear: Operation Tokyo HD Edition (what a mouthful!) is one of those games that will most likely fall through the cracks. I hate to say it, but it’s true. It didn’t do anything bad. Objectively speaking, everything worked (or “played”, I guess) as advertised. On the surface, you’ve got a game about piloting a giant mech through Tokyo. You fight other mechs, and try to save the world. It’s pretty standard stuff, and it works fine.
But once you dig down past the surface however, you find… Well, not much. That’s because it’s pretty much all surface level. While Damascus Gear doesn’t do anything objectively wrong, it doesn’t really excel anywhere either. It’s content to be what it is. And for those who want a bit of mindless robot shooting that’s just fine — just keep in mind that that’s all you’ll really be getting.
RAGE Against the Machine(s)
Lately, I feel like I’ve been reviewing a lot of games with lackluster stories. Stories that are too vague, almost-nonexistant, or just leave me wanting to know more. And, well, Damascus Gear doesn’t really break that cycle. Hooray for consistency, I guess? Anyway, Damascus Gear takes place in a future version of Tokyo, where robots have run amok. Known as “RAGE”, these giant mechs were originally created to help humanity under the name “Gears”, but began operating by themselves for an unknown reason.
With many Gears quickly turning into RAGE, and with no real way to stop all of them at once, the RAGE began to tear Tokyo apart building by building. While most of the city (and its population) has been destroyed, a resistance organization known as Freya has been established to stop them. As the newest member of Freya it’s up to you to do your part for Tokyo, defend its people, and hopefully stop the RAGE once and for all.
Pretty cool concept, right? Well, unfortunately it doesn’t really go anywhere. That’s not to say that there’s no story development — because there is — but Damascus Gear‘s entire narrative seems very tacked on. To be honest, I wasn’t even entirely sure what I was doing at first. The game throws you into the story with very little exposition, and it’s up to you to gleam what you can from your conversations with others. I’m sure that there are plenty of reasons why one might want to play Damascus Gear, but I doubt that the story is one of them.
Am I “Mission” Something, Here?
Damascus Gear features a very orthodox, mission-based method of gameplay in order to carry out the story. Players will begin as but a lowly E-Rank soldier, and must complete their given missions in order to rank up. Completing missions will also net players rewards. Most missions are mandatory, but the game does throw in a few optional missions here and there. These optional missions are usually a bit more difficult to tackle than storyline ones but often come with better loot, so I’d recommend not skipping them.
Missions are generally very straightforward. Most of your missions in the beginning will have you cruising around what’s left of Tokyo and scrapping as many RAGE as possible, but they do begin to vary after a while. Delivery, survival, and escort missions will slowly begin to crop up as you slowly begin to rank up. While I did appreciate Damascus Gear trying to spice things up a bit, I’m not sure how successful I would call it in this case. Regardless of what your end goal in a mission is, it never amounts to much more than going from Point A to Point B, and destroying everything in your path. Or, in some cases, going from Point A to Point B and completely ignoring everything in your path.
Missions are also graded. How, you ask? By clear time, of course! At least, I think so. The only post-mission stats the game shows you, along with what grade you got, is your clear time and the number of items that you’ve acquired, so naturally I assumed that I could S-Rank things by blazing through levels quickly. Ah, but I ended up hitting a wall when it came to the game’s survival missions. After all, if the game tells me to “survive for 10” minutes, I can’t survive for 10 minutes in less than 10 minutes. Maybe it’s also based on number of kills or damage taken? I’m honestly not sure. And that’s incredibly frustrating. I’m a bit of a perfectionist when it comes to things like this. Not being able to know why I got the grade I did really got under my skin.
Shoot, Heal, Repeat
With a game like Damascus Gear, you’d expect to be shooting plenty of robots. And you do! But that’s all you do. You might be asking yourself “well, is that a bad thing?” The answer, of course, is no; it certainly isn’t. Do you remember what I said earlier, though? About the game not really having anything under the surface? Well, the most blatant example is with the game’s combat.
Damascus Gear is basically a 3D, gun-filled hack-and slash. Each level is filled with plenty of RAGE, and it’s your job to take them down. RAGE come in a pretty nice variety – ranging anywhere from basic scouts, to nimble fighters capable of paralyzing you, to hulking guardians carrying giant laser canons – and Damascus Gear honestly did a really good job with mixing them up. No two levels had exactly the same combinations of enemies, and the fact that new RAGE types were constantly being thrown was refreshing.
Unfortunately, for all of the RAGE variety out there, you basically dealt with all of them in the same way. All you really need to do is stand there, shoot, and spam health packs. Saying that might make me sound like a total newbie, but hear me out for a second. Aside from one specific weapon type, Damascus Gear doesn’t let you strafe. If you want to shoot, you’re going to have to stand there. And, on top of that, most of the RAGE out there are pretty nimble. Because of this, the game doesn’t really leave you with many options regarding maneuverability — leading to the old “just stand there and shoot” method being the most effective.
Because of how combat is set up, it got old very quickly. After a while, I stopped paying attention to how the enemy mechs acted. So long as I had enough health packs, I could just walk into an area and unload on everyone. And, thanks to how easy it is to get money, along with the fact that you can carry a whopping 99 health packs, I never had to worry about running out. If the Damascus Gear may have gotten a pretty makeover, but in this case it’s kind of like using expensive wrapping paper to wrap up a batch of day-old cookies. The presentation is nice, and the gameplay isn’t bad, but none of it is fresh. There were several times where I stopped playing for a while, simply because things became too stale.
A Conquest of Customization
Damascus Gear‘s customization features were probably the game’s strongest point. While you’re out there giving it your all in Tokyo, you’ll inevitably pick up quite a few Gears parts from the RAGEs that you’ve taken down. Officially, you’re supposed to turn all of this loot in, but the game tells you straight-out that you can ignore proper protocol. You know, since you’re busy saving the world and all.
In lieu of any sort of leveling up, customizing your Gears at the dock with the parts that you pick up is how you become stronger. Your Gears are able to equip quite a few things, including head, body, leg parts, and more. In the beginning, finding and equipping new parts is fairly straightforward. You find a new part, equip it because it’s objectively better than what you have, and so on. Things change after a while, however. Eventually, you’ll begin to discover that the parts that you’re picking up come with special skills. And these skills are definitely something to keep an eye on.
In contrast to each part’s base stats, which are consistent, skills are completely random, and affect a number of different things. These can be both good and bad, so more skills doesn’t necessarily mean a better part. The skills that you get on each part are also completely randomized, and don’t always relate to the part itself. For example, you could get shoulder parts that increase your boost, or leg parts that beef up your defense way more than normal. It’s important to pay attention to not only what parts you have, but what they do as well.
Equally important are the weapons. Damascus Gear has a number of different Gears weapons to choose from – so many, that it can actually be difficult to decide what to use at first! Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on how you look at it), a lot of them end up working the same. Melee weapons deal a lot of damage at close range, while ranged weapons sacrifice raw power to put some space between you and your enemies. There’s some slight deviation between certain weapon types, but their differences become less relevant the longer you play.
Finally, there are what the game calls “back” weapons – powerful weapons mounted on your Gears’ back (thus the name). In contrast with the same-ness that many of the primary weapons had, back weapons are all very different from one another. From laser canons and missile launchers, to flamethrowers and overdrive modes, back weapons are an incredibly necessary tool to have when you’re fighting hordes of RAGE off by yourself. Also, they’re fun to use.
What You See is What You Get
Dmascus Gear: Operation Tokyo HD Edition is a nice touch-up of Damascus Gear for the Vita, but adding some polish probably wasn’t enough to counterbalance monotonous gameplay and a lackluster story. For all intents and purposes the game works fine, but it never ends up shining all too brightly. If you’re a mech fan, you mind want to check this game out. If you’d like a relatively cheap hack-and-slash, then this game might be for you too. Those looking for something with a bit more substance however, might want to look elsewhere.
FINAL VERDICT: 2.5/5
Available on: PlayStation 4 (Reviewed) ; Publisher: A Plus Games ; Developer: Arc System Works; Players: 1 ; Released: October May 31, 2017 ; ESRB: T for Teen ; MSRP: $14.99
Full disclosure: This review is based on a copy of Damascus Gear: Operation Tokyo HD Edition given to Hey Poor Player by the Publisher