Front Mission Evolved
You’d think that if Michael Bay’s production company, Platinum Dunes, went into games development that their output would be extremely similar to Double Helix Games’ Front Mission Evolved. You can’t shy away from it once you sit down with the game that comes to us via Square Enix; this is unabashedly comparable to Bay’s own Transformers movies. Although it’s a premise built from the proposed formula that all robot vs. robot properties are top-dollar experiences, Front Mission’s formulaic approach to mission design and repetition soon wears thin.
Set in the year 2171, it’s not that Front Mission Evolved is let down by its story – which remarkably is one of the better aspects of the entire game. Dealing in civil unrest and conflicting super powers, our protagonist (and your controlled compatriot) is engineer Dylan Ramsey, whose initial search for his father (the creator of the E.D.G.E system – an ability similar to bullet-time that slows down action and improves damage dealt) leads him to be enlisted in the army against the forces that have attacked the USN orbital elevators in Manhattan. It might sound convoluted, but Double Helix manage to inject enough plot twists and turns, well established characters (if a little clichéd in the enemy camp) and neat ideas to remain interesting and engaging.
The combat system for this third-person mech shooter is also adept and robust. The device of using the shoulder buttons to control the mech-suits’ left and right shoulders, and the triggers to control the hands, is intuitive, easy to get to grips with and really allows the action to kick off straight away. This, along with the ability to customise your Wanzer’s suit (short for ‘wandering panzer’) elevates the game, initially, from what could have been a run-of-the-mill shooter. Customisation options are integral to progressing in the overall game, with around a hundred different items to buy and attach to your mechanised killing machine, from melee items to different types of rocket-propelled grenades and bazookas. It gives players that solitary chance to get deep into stat comparison and that RPG-like tendency to try out each new element. The added touch to change colour and for all customisations to appear in cut scenes (via the sufficient in-game engine) is also superb.
However, our admiration for the game can only carry us for so long – FME falters instead not on its mechanics, but on how the game feels like one long slog through to the finish. We wholly applaud the developer for getting the mechanics and options spot on, but playing through each of the named missions is an experience identical to the next. Environments rarely change from the industrialised, metallic objects and textures (coinciding with the grey of the mechs) and the game is so linear in its outset that every section of any of the levels feels like a straight path to the next open area where you’ll be meeting any number of enemy mech suits. It’s also strange to see the ‘boost’ ability (chosen within the customisable backpack) is not a default for all suits. If you don’t have it, your suit will walk so slowly throughout the level that you’ll do well not to choose it the next time, which means that all other backpack abilities (such as improved accuracy) are a waste of time. Bizarre.
The inclusion of on-foot sections doesn’t make things any more pleasurable in terms of linearity and long blasts through levels. Much weaker in its mechanics and dull graphically, we understand their inclusion but can’t say that the game is lifted higher because of them. It’s the frequent boss battles that are even worse however – nothing more than firing and firing at the enemy mech until the health bar slowly dwindles. It’s understandable that a shooter like this has little variation in boss design, but the problem is how each, especially later in the game, takes around 20 minutes of constant repetitive shooting to down. The last boss in particular is a nightmare! As if this wasn’t bad enough, it also seems that if you don’t customise your mech in the best possible way you can have a feeling of being underpowered in boss battles, where the developer replicates empowerment so well in the rest of the game.
For all its shortcomings, we still quite like Front Mission Evolved, especially as it manages to imbue a feeling of power in the player with its well made shooting mechanics better than many other shooters. While it is unlikely to be remembered for having any particularly remarkable features, it does what it does mostly very well.
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