It’s odd. Although many have tried, few have managed to deliver a truly outstanding mech-based game. Surely big, hulking, robot death machines, city-sized destruction, and enough explosive ordinance to blow up a planet should create one epic action title? Apparently not, if the many and varied past attempts we’ve seen have anything to say about it.
Aside from the decent Mechwarrior series, Front Mission has been one of the few that has actually been worth playing, with the rest, especially the usually awful Gundam releases, quickly becoming bargain bin fodder. Now Front Mission returns, but this time it’s no turn based strategy title, and instead takes a stab at the third-person action shooter market.
Set in the distant future, mankind has become very proficient at killing, and not content with trifling weapons like tanks and jets, it created the Wanzer. These towering robots carry masses of firepower, sport heavy armour and rule the battlefields of the world.
World politics haven’t changed, though, and various nations are still at each other’s throats, with situations made all the more precarious by the use of giant orbiting space stations connected to the planet by giant elevators. Now, not only is the planet’s surface split into territories, but so is the space around the planet, and the space race has begun anew.
Things kick off with an attack on New York, one of the U.C.S’s orbital elevator sites. Dylan Ramsey is an engineer working on a new type of Wanzer, who is thrown into the fray during the attack, and uses his new, prototype robot to head off and find his father amidst the chaos.
As Dylan, players take control of this powerful experimental mech and have to proceed through several combat zones, starting with New York. Played entirely in third-person, the game is a frantic, fast-paced shooter that also features sections of on-foot gameplay, switching out the Wanzers for more traditional weaponry.
Clunk, clunk, clunk
In mech-based games, often the control setup is clunky and unresponsive, and your mech is slow to respond. Evolved, sadly, doesn’t totally escape this fate. The controls aren’t bad, and input response is actually pretty decent, but the mech itself can be a pig to use skilfully in battle, with an occasionally horrible camera adding to the difficulty.
Unless you use your limited boost and skate abilities (which quickly wear down during use) your mech will amble along at a snail’s pace. Understandable for such a large machine, but not enjoyable when you’re in the middle of battle taking damage and your boost has run out. The end result feels like one of those dreams where you desperately need to run, but just can’t. It does add a tactical element, and utilising your boost intelligently is something you’ll pick up, but it’s still a little irksome, especially in some of the tough boss fights where moving slowly will be the death of you.
Fighting in the mech isn’t a problem, though, most of the time, and thanks to a generous targeting system, homing missiles, and abundant health and ammo pickups, the game never becomes a chore. In fact, although it can be challenging if you ramp up the difficulty, it always seems to be just about right, including some tricky boss fights.
Unfortunately, the camera can be a bitch at times. One level in particular sees you moving down a narrow valley covered in trees, which tend to obstruct your entire view as you look around to try and target hidden foes, filling the screen with big, hunky pixellated shrubbery. You literally can’t see a thing, and end up taking damage due to a camera that stubbornly sticks to one position, unable to intelligently reposition to give you a better view. The problem isn’t a game breaker, though, and doesn’t happen all that often.
Occasionally, Dylan will step out of the mech for some on-foot missions, and while this is welcome and helps to break up the mech levels, it’s no award winning feature. Controls switch to more traditional run and gun fair, but with no real cover system and very loose targeting, it’s a bit of a let down. Guns tend to wander far too much, and enemy AI is practically nonexistent. Even facing giant mechs on foot isn’t too much of an issue, and a few missiles will usually put and end to your towering foes.
If you were hoping from some God Of War-style David and Goliath battles, though, think again. This is all fairly mundane stuff, with no real epic confrontations on offer.
Perhaps the most niggling aspect of the game, however, is the repetitive nature of the missions. Although there are various locations and plenty of varied mechs and foes to take on, the challenges you face are all samey, with most being simple point A to B, kill anything that moves affairs.
There’s very little, if any, originality here, and more mission variety would have helped. The addition of the on-foot section helps a little, but it’s not enough for some, I fear, and many will quickly tire of the same rinse and repeat combat.
Colour me happy
As you progress through the game you can earn money to upgrade and customise your mech, and this element of the game is handled well. There are a large number of parts and weapons to go for, with more expensive and powerful options allowing you to create the perfect death machine. You can also paint your mech how you choose, giving it that personal touch. Some mission require specific gear, such as hover legs to traverse bodies of water, but on the whole, you’re let loose to pimp your ride.
Visually, Evolved is pretty good, if not amazing. The detail on the various Wanzers is decent enough, and there are a few neat effects on show that help keep your eyes happy. Sadly, the environments you’ll stomp through are bland and identikit constructions, with drab textures and no real flair. The world has no unique feel or identity to it, and as such, it’s not all that memorable.
The story doesn’t fair much better either, with an awkward, hammy, and politically fuelled plot replete with poor vocal work. Because of this, you won’t care much about the characters and the story, playing simply to blow stuff up. Some characters are typical clichés, right out of a cheap anime, and others are drab and totally uninteresting.
Still, in a game about massive robots beating the crap out of each other, story isn’t all that important, and although it’s no award winner and isn’t the most polished title on the block, Front Mission Evolved isn’t all bad. Although repetitive, the core combat is still pretty enjoyable, and if you’re a fan of Japanese mech action, then this will no doubt float your boat.
If you’ve tired similar mech games and were left cold by the experience, though, Front Mission Evolved certainly won’t change your outlook, and you’re probably better giving it a miss.
Front Mission Evolved is out now and available from the Den Of Geek Store.