When Capcom announced P.N. 03 along with Viewtiful Joe and Killer 7 last fall, I had high hopes for a series of games that would have distinctive visual styles and interesting twists on standard modes of gameplay. After playing P.N. 03, though, I’m pretty disappointed.

To be fair, P.N. 03 has a lot of things going for it. The environments are nicely done; many reviewers have complained about their sterility, but the spareness of the various rooms that Vanessa fights in seems completely intentional, and the design of the levels forces the player to attack them with different strategies: a tight corridor with nowhere to hide results in a standing shootout, while a huge round chamber requires constant dancing and dodging to avoid the shots coming from all sides.

The main character, Vanessa Z. Schneider, looks really good, and not just in the “nice outfit, hur hur hur” kind of way. Her character animation is excellent: apparently, it was done without motion capture, but you’d be hard-pressed to see the animator’s hand in her movements as she steps, twirls, and crawls through the world. Scoring in the game revolves around combos — after destroying an enemy robot, you have a short window of time in which to take out another one to get bonus points — which encourages the player to keep moving and attacking, rather than the slow fire-and-duck tactics that many people resort to in shooters.

At its best moments, the game almost looks choreographed, as Vanessa runs into a room, shoots, sidesteps a couple of times, shoots, does a flip, and lets off a highly stylish special attack. Unfortunately, experiences like this — moments of pure concentration that achieve effortlessness — are few and far between. For the most part, it’s a struggle to time your motions and attacks, because the character animation, while nice to watch, is awkwardly paced, and different moves don’t flow into each other well. The controls are also confining, making fast turns difficult, and disallowing seemingly sensible motions like jumping to the side.

A while back, I mentioned the idea of playing with a game rather than against it. Rez is the prime example of this: the rail-shooter mechanic and the synchronization of music, sound, and visuals are designed to make every play session look like a demo reel, and to immerse the player ever deeper in the game. Sly Cooper achieves similar effect in its chase levels by destroying the environment around the player, forcing her to keep jumping and running from platform to platform, but making it so that the constant motion feels natural instead of panicked or forced. P.N. 03, however, only offers the combo system to nudge the player into the flow of the game, and places too many obstacles in her way.

It’s a shame, because P.N. 03 could have been a truly great game, a cross between Rez and Space Channel 5, but it ends up being little more than a decent third-person shooter with some great character animation. Ah, well. I’m still hoping that Viewtiful Joe lives up to expectations.