Restricted Area depicts a dark future for humanity. The earth as we know it is a distant dream. Under the weight of pollution and war, nature is ravaged. The once proud nations are collapsed. Yet amidst the destruction, mankind has found a way to survive. United under one government, people now live in mega-cities. These massive metropolises are far from being an urban utopia, but they do offer people protection from the dangers lurking outside the walls.
Unfortunately, corruption runs deep within the cities. The unified government seems to be little more than a symbol. With their endless resources, mega-corporations are the ones truly running things. Completely dominating the wastelands, the corporations constantly struggle amongst themselves to gain the upper hand. Assassinations, kidnappings, and wanton destruction are commonplace. In this twisted and bleak world no one is truly safe. But for a mercenary that is willing to put his or her life on the line for secret missions, there is endless opportunity.
You can play Restricted Area as one of four characters. At the outset of the game, the characters arrive at a rundown part of a mega-city looking for a fresh start. They find work as freelance mercenaries and start taking on missions from a mysterious corporate contact only known as Mr. Jones. The first character, Johnson, is a former member of a special government unit. Once Johnson fought to steer power away from corporations and back to the people. But after the inexplicable disbanding of his unit, he is a broken and disillusioned man. Perhaps the life of a freelance mercenary will help Johnson find a new dream. If not, it might at least satisfy his lust to kill.
Formerly part of the Yakuza, Kenji Takahasi is an experienced swordsman and martial artist. Having trained as a warrior all his life, Kenji is cast into the mercenary life after a fateful fight with his father. Accused of murdering his father, an influential member of the Yakuza, Kenji is on the run. Hunted by the Yakuza, Kenji is honing his skills as a mercenary and waiting for the right time to return and restore his honor.
An exceptionally talented hacker, Jessica Parker is the daughter of a rich upper-class family. Yet Jessica was never fooled by the wealth surrounding her. She sees the corruption wrought by the corporations and chooses to fight against them. Aided by her battle drone, she puts her life on the line to combat injustice. Jessica’s fight is not for money or glory. It is a quest to correct what she knows to be wrong.
Victoria Williams carries with her an incredible gift. She is the first known human to display psionic abilities. She can read other people’s thoughts, manipulate objects with her telekinesis, or manifest her psychic power in blasts of energy. Yet Victoria has learned how to use her psionic powers under captivity. Subjected to countless horrendous experiments by the Oxygenetic Corporation, Victoria only recently escaped from her prison. Driven by a burning desire for revenge, Victoria is only biding her time and further developing her skills as a mercenary.
At its core, Restricted Area is a fairly standard action RPG. You will go through the game by completing various missions assigned by Mr. Jones. The missions will have varying objectives, but their fundamental structure will remain identical. The objectives typically include raiding a facility owned by a corporation to recover an item, rescue a prisoner, kill a specific target, or blow up the facility. You will start the mission either on the first level of the complex or outside in the wasteland. Scores of enemies will try to kill you as you proceed through whichever location you are raiding. As you defeat your enemies, your character will gain experience points and levels. With each new level, you will have the opportunity to improve your character’s main attributes such as strength, dexterity, or intelligence. You will also earn development points that can be used to enhance your existing skills or acquire new ones.
The straightforward structure of Restricted Area can bore players who seek many different missions and challenges. The game could have certainly benefited from a more diverse set of locations and a wider variety of missions. It can become very taxing to go through similar looking environments over and over again. The enemies are also lacking in diversity. While you will encounter various kinds of mutants, cyborgs, and guards, there is definitely room for more types of opponents. However, Restricted Area does have a number of features that can make it very entertaining for action RPG fans. The game play differences between player characters, considerable number of available skills, and the cybernetic enhancements can make Restricted Area an exciting experience.
The characters in Restricted Area have unique abilities that can significantly alter the game play experience. For instance, Johnson is the only character that can equip plasma throwers and flame throwers. With these powerful weapons, Johnson becomes true death machine. On the other hand, Kenji alone can use melee weapons. His ability to use melee weapons coupled with his martial arts skills will mean that Kenji will get up close and personal with the enemy a lot more often than the other characters. What makes Jessica’s character unique is her battle drone. Joining the fight and continually aiding Jessica, the drone makes for an invaluable ally. Jessica is also the only character who can access cyber space. Victoria distinguishes herself with her psionic skills. Her remarkable powers can be developed to levels where she will be clearing an entire room in a matter of seconds, making weapons little more than an afterthought. These unique abilities factor into game play through Restricted Area’s skill system.
There are 15 skills that any of the characters can learn. These shared skills govern things like your character’s proficiency with various types of weapons, ability to negotiate prices with shopkeepers, and chance to find items. There are also 15 additional skills that are unique to each character. Johnson can develop his plasma weapons and flame thrower skills to gain proficiency with weapons inaccessible to other characters. He also has skills that improve his reflexes, ability to inflict critical damage with attacks, reduce enemy armor, or firing rate. Johnson’s unique skills are designed to ensure he will become the most effective character in wielding ranged weapons. Kenji on the other hand has skills to aid his melee combat abilities. Besides improving his proficiency with swords, Kenji can develop the ability to regenerate health automatically, counter enemy close combat attacks, or gain damage reduction. Victoria’s special skills give her the ability to make enemies fight each other, shield herself from damage, unleash powerful psionic blasts, and even attack enemies hidden behind walls. Finally, Jessica can improve her drone’s combat abilities by increasing its energy storage or attack speed. She can eventually customize her drone to regenerate its own energy or learn how to make custom modifications to her weapons.
The attribute development and equipment selection will also depend on your character selection. For instance, since Kenji will have to stay close to the enemy and suffer the most damage, it is important for him to have a high constitution, which will increase his hit points. Since Johnson relies exclusively on ranged weapons, having a high dexterity will help him increase his chances of hitting opponents. Victoria will benefit most from having a high intelligence score since it directly affects the amount of psionic energy she can have.
Restricted Area replaces the magical items from fantasy themed action RPG’s with cyberware and bioware. These items work as mechanic or organic enhancements to your character’s natural abilities. Cyberware and bioware can change your character’s base attributes, ability to evade enemy attacks, or the damage dealt by your attacks. The amount of bioware or cyberware that can be equipped by your character depends on his or her tolerance level. The tolerance level can be increased by adding points to your character’s strength attribute. It is also possible to genetically optimize cyberware and bioware. This costly operation ensures that items are fully compatible with your character’s metabolism and eliminates the tolerance requirement. For Victoria, optimization also removes the psionic energy penalty she suffers when she equips bioware or cyberware. Players will have to make sure the items they are using compliment their characters’ key attributes and skills. It is also advisable to pay attention to which company has developed the cyberware or bioware you are using. Products from the same company will have synergy. If you have two or more items equipped from the same company, you will receive additional bonuses to your stats.
Each character in the game has a somewhat different storyline that unfolds as you go through the missions. The different backgrounds of the characters and individualized storylines certainly make the game more colorful. Especially considering that the game play experience can vary greatly based on the character you choose, upon going through the game for the first time, players might find enough incentive to play the game with a different character. Restricted Area also features some optional content. Upon completing the first few missions for Mr. Jones, another corporate contact, Mr. Smith, will appear. Smith can give you access to optional randomly generated missions. Each time you successfully complete a mission your reputation increases. The missions available from Smith are dependent on your character’s reputation level. The higher your reputation, the harder and more rewarding missions you will be able to access.
Restricted Area has a solid concept and interesting characters. However, a number of problems can seriously hurt the gaming experience. The first problem is with the enemy intelligence. Your opponents will do little more than charge straight at your character or shoot from a distance. Given the fact that you will often fight mindless mutants, the apparent lack of sophisticated enemy attack patterns is not a huge issue. However, what makes matters is that your opponents are horrible at finding their way around obstacles. Once a group of enemies start charging, you can simply go back a few rooms. Usually, only one or two enemies will be able to follow you. Opponents get stuck behind walls and other objects all too often. Even during boss fights you can expose this glitch to get certain bosses caught behind an obstacle. While the boss creature helplessly struggles to get to your character, you can sit back and defeat it from a safe distance.
Another problematic feature of Restricted Area is the save system. Each character is only allowed a single save slot. You are allowed to use the quick save and quick load features at any time during the game. However, if you die during a mission, forget to load your quick save, and return to town, the game will automatically update your save file and deduct points from your reputation. Thus, you will be unable to return to the last point where you had actually saved the game. If you do want to attempt the mission again, you will have to go back to the beginning of the level you died. This does prevent players from having to replay the entire mission, but it can still cause a fair amount of backtracking. Restricted Area also does not allow players to quit the game without saving.
To add insult to injury, Restricted Area does not let players pause the game either. Even if you open the main menu, the game will continue running in the background. You will not be able to control your character unless you close the menu, but enemies will be able to attack you. If you have to stop playing for a second while you are in the middle of an intense fight, you have no choice but to let your character die.
Restricted Area also suffers from a few stability issues. On the computer used to prepare this review, the game froze several times on the load screen. A save game file also essentially became corrupted as the game would freeze every time the file was loaded. Fortunately, the technical problems do not occur very often and Restricted Area runs smoothly for the most part. Since each character you create is allowed only a single save file, it might be a good idea to make backup copies of your characters as you go through the game.
Overall, Restricted Area is a fun action RPG, but it has some considerable problems. The repetitive nature of the game, lack of mission and enemy variety, and technical problems are enough to prevent many players from enjoying the game. Gamers looking for a truly intellectually stimulating experience should think twice before buying Restricted Area. However, the game does have a lot to offer to action RPG fans. The interesting characters, dark futuristic setting, unusual cyberware and bioware items, and unique character skills make Restricted Area an entertaining experience. Players willing to accept and overlook the game’s problems can have a great time with Restricted Area.
The final grade is 75/100.