Front Mission Evolved Review
Giant robot games are an acquired taste. The Japanese acquired the taste for them a long time ago and have never looked back but, despite the success of The Transformers, Western markets have never embraced the giant mechs of the gaming world in the same way. Square Enix and Front Mission Evolved’s developers, Double Helix Games, have got a tough job on their hands creating something that’s going appeal to gamers over here.
That job becomes tougher when you’ve named your giant robots ‘Wanzers’. Replace the ‘z’ with a ‘k’ and you’ve got… ahem, sorry, that was immature.
Taking the form of a 3rd-person shooter, Front Mission Evolved is all about guiding your Wanzer through each stage and blowing the crap out of the numerous enemies that block your path. That’s about it; this is a game about blowing stuff up, watching the pretty explosions and repeating. Initially this is legitimately entertaining, the mechs are fast and agile, a hover ability giving you access to higher terrain, your thrusters a great way to zip around the battlefield and deal fatal melee blows on your enemies while your homing missiles satisfyingly dispatch most enemies in style and with little difficulty.
In short, the Wanzers look great, feel great and are great at dealing serious damage in a short space of time. If they appeared in more games I’d be very happy. The problem is that they appear in this game, and this game is isn’t all that great.
After the initial honeymoon period, Evolved soon becomes repetitive, dull and incredibly shallow. Enemies are complete idiots and more than happy to sit right in front of you as you easily outgun them into oblivion, the only challenge coming from the fact that there are so damn many of them to contend with. This undermines the game’s customisation options, in which you can select various body parts that alter your Wanzer’s speed, strength and weapon capabilities; as long as you’ve equipped something opponents can be dispatched with relative ease.
The customisation options are pretty well thought out and suitably in-depth for a game about giant robots, allowing you to tailor your Wanzer to suit your style of play i.e. you can go into light and fast, relying on your skill as a pilot to avoid damage, or you can set out with heavy armour and simply bulldoze your way through. It’s so frustrating that you’ve been given such a cool toy to play with but are never challenged to make full use of its abilities.
When you’re not fighting the idiots you’re fighting incredibly tough idiots in the form of boss battles that seem designed to test your patience and little else. The bosses have a lot of health and it takes a long time to whittle it down to nothing. Yet, once again, these moments require almost no skill to complete. While they may be able to absorb punishment more effectively than Ricky Hatton’s nose, they only seem marginally interested in returning the favour and, when they do land a blow, there’s always a health pick-up in close proximity to negate any ill effects. They leads to a dull back and forth exchange of missiles and gunfire until, 20 to 30 minutes later, the bastard has keeled over and died.
In a bid to break up the monotony there are a moments in which you’re taken out of your Wanzer and sent out on foot. To say these segments lack charisma would be a massive understatement, they lack just about everything. Movement is clunky, the environments are so Spartan in their design that you may as well be playing in a whited out room that is occasionally punctuated by a fireball and the firefights lack any kind of engagement whatsoever; it just doesn’t like feel you’re packing any power in your weapons. It feels overwhelmingly lifeless and you’ll soon be begging for the superior entertainment offered by in the seat of your Wanzer.
Multiplayer fares somewhat better as you get to pitch your Wanzer against other real players online, even the most novice of which pose a significantly greater challenge than anything in single player. Working with your team in hunting down the opposition is fun and the levelling system gives you something to work towards – although it’s difficult to see the online community staying in tack long enough for anyone but the most ardent fans progressing all that far through the ranks.
Much like in single player your experience points unlock new parts to upgrade your Wanzer making for matches in which there are a good range of different play styles on display. However, the five maps and very limited game type options (Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch, Domination and Supremacy) mean you experience most of what is on offer in a couple of hours.
Front Mission Evolved is a fine example of taking a great character and not knowing what to do with it. The Wanzers are enjoyable to play around with in and of themselves but the tasks you’re assigned lack any creativity, originality or entertainment. It’s frustrating because you get the feeling that there’s a good game somewhere here if the mechs had been utilised properly.