Part 7: Short Essay for Level 7
For all of its size, the exterior of the Atmospheric Processing Plant has actually very little playable space in it. The catwalks back and forth, with the elevators and then the massive power conduits running between them create a very linear path that gives the impression of something greater than it actually is.
It's an example of how you can do loop-backs and folding pathways over and under each-other to utilize the space you have in a way that isn't just totally filler, unlike the second level. The difference between the two is that each 'floor' is relatively unique, but most importantly, you can shoot across them.
Look, I cannot over-stress just how much being able to look at a place you won't be for a couple minutes, whipping out the Mercury Bow, and pot-shotting some Syndicate mook does to keep the layout of the level fresh and interesting. The capacity to not only see where you are going, or where you are from and meaningfully interact with it is something that other games of the era, like Halo couldn't. The concept of the Corridor Shooter became firmly entrenched at this time, where compact spaces became the norm and set-pieces more viable as the technology advanced.
In a way, the limitations of the engine only helped here.
Of course, this still doesn't excuse the horrific lack of safety rails.
The timing puzzles in this level are something we will see again in the next level, but I find that they're not that hard. Just annoying on occasion when you go out the wrong door and have to wait for the cycle to finish before trying again. And they don't overstay their welcome either, which is nice. The game doesn't force you to do one after another after another after another, but treats it as a relatively unique environmental obstacle.
Moving on, the existence of these plants is the first real sign that is thrown into the player's face that there are serious issues in the world. Well, aside from globe-spanning criminal syndicates, and a near-totalitarian world government trying to keep things together. The general atmosphere around the world is so bad that these sorts of facilities are all over the planet, sucking in air every moment, cleaning the worst of the pollutants out of it, then spewing it back out into the cities themselves. These perform such a vital function that the authorities take their operation seriously, and make the effort to preserve these megatructures rather than manipulate them for their own ends.
Which is why I'm deeply confused as to why Muro brought Shinatama here of all places. We can read between the lines that the Syndicate are doing something to the processors, but the exact modifications aren't revealed to us... for now. But regardless of that, his presence here is actively harming the Syndicate's goals. He's drawing attention to the facility, and I absolutely guarantee you that the TCTF will go over that place with a fine toothed comb to figure out everything from how he got in, to what he did with Shinatama.
You. STUPID. FUCK!
Muro, you are a goddamn Saturday Morning Cartoon Villain, and I apologize to all the SMCV's out there for the comparison! Kidnapping/stealing Shinatama was a good idea, as you now have a Command and Control SLD for the local TCTF branch. Great! Then you waste that windfall, and Barabus' death, and all the resources used in the strike on what...
Look, there's no justification for this action in-story or whatever the hell I can think of beyond Muro doing this simply out of spite for Konoko kicking his ass in the past couple of days. And that's just a tenuous connection, something that I had to try and stretch for because it's not stated or implied anywhere that Muro would do such a thing! He's supposed to be a big-shot in the Syndicate, not... not this!
OK, let's step back and look at something I can address. The initial cutscene were Griffin tells Konoko to not get involved, and how it doesn't work. What bothers me about this is what it's lacking. Namely, Doctor Kerr. We've seen in person that Konoko really pushes back against hard-stances, and that's Griffin's method of leadership and command. Kerr, on the other hand, is portrayed as more emotionally soft, and willing to speak and listen. His presence in that cutscene would change nothing in the overall plot, but give a larger context to Konoko's actions, and present future decisions in a more compelling light.
Here, let me show you how it could have been scripted;
Konoko "I'm going in after her!"
Griffin "Stand down, that's an order."
Griffin "I've dispatched a strike team. They have orders to recover the SLD."
Konoko "That's not good enough! This is personal! Shinatama...!"
Griffin "Which is precisely why you should have nothing to do with it."
Kerr "Konoko, listen to Griffin. He's trying..."
Konoko "No! I can feel her."
Kerr "The Neural Link!"
Griffin "Konoko, you're compromised. I'm ordering you to help cleanup this building. Not go after the SLD."
Konoko "I don't care. My mind is made up."
Griffin "And I am your Commanding Officer."
Kerr "Konoko, please. Would Shinatama want you to put yourself in danger because of her? Commander Griffin knows what he's doing."
Konoko "No, Uncle, you're wrong. I know she knows I'll come for her."
Kerr "And if she does, you're just walking into a trap. Let Griffin do his job."
Konoko "I don't care! She is my friend! I don't care what either of you say, I'm going after her!"
Kerr "And if it was me, kidnapped by the Syndicate, and Shinatama was standing here telling you to hold back? What then?"
Konoko "I'd tell her what I'm telling you. I would save you."
The important part here is to emphasize Konoko's impulsive decision making process, even when presented with perfectly viable options. She still has to act herself, putting Shinatama and herself at risk, as well as alienating both Griffin and Kerr in the process. She doesn't think, and this needs to be established as her fatal flaw. In addition, I think that it needs to be shown how she reacts to Kerr and Griffin differently. Griffin is a harsh taskmaster, and is given a hard line in return, feeding into his own hardness. Kerr takes a different, more emotional approach, and has his logic cut out from under him. Konoko values him, her father figure, just as much as she does Shinatama, her sister figure.
Mentioning the Neural Link again serves a purpose of slightly changing the latter cutscenes as Konoko descends the elevators. These aren't some sort of abstract changing of the camera to prove that Muro is so stupid that he seems to have problems remembering to breathe, but that Konoko is feeling the torture inflicted on Shinatama through their Link. And because of this, she's rushing headlong into... what comes next level.
Consequences be damned.
But hey, one of the things that happened that came from before the rush to get the game out of the door, Konoko's glider-thingy is in a corner behind where she starts the level.
In a game so lacking in incidentals and details, seeing this is jarring, and yet an example of what could have been.