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Front Mission: Evolved

front-mission-evolved

Review: Front Mission: Evolved

System: PC (also available on Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3)

Release Date: September 28th, 2010 on all systems

Format: DVD, Steam Digital Download, Blu-ray

If you are a fan of Square’s venerable Front Mission series and were holding out hope for what is the first PC Front Mission title ever, then you’ll not want to read this review. Or maybe you might, to spare yourself the purchase and disappointment of the actual game.

Front Mission: Evolved is an attempt to bring the Front Mission series into the real-time shooter plane of existence which seems to be all the rage currently in game development. What they’ve done with the game technology itself is nothing especially praiseworthy or especially damning– it’s about average shooter material, with some destructible objects, sparkly particle effects, neat gun noises, and well represented big robots. Good stuff for any other shooter, but disappointing here, for reasons I’ll cover in a bit.

A couple things about Front Mission: Evolved that are good:

The Graphics– they’re not terrible, and more often than not, the way the explosions and cutscenes play out, you’ll be quite satisfied with how they look. Speculars are a little dull, but they exist at least. Also, the facial animation engine is one of the more flexible ones I’ve seen in recent games, giving this game some characters that show pretty lifelike expressions– moreso in fact than Mass Effect. Yeah, I just said that. The art style is good for the subject matter at hand, with wanzers giving off a healthy expression of weight and menace, like the walking tanks they are meant to be.

Customization– There are plenty of parts to choose from, all affecting your wanzer build in different ways, all of them looking awesome, continuing the strong tradition of Square’s mean art style. Cost limitations mean you can’t endlessly modify your wanzer; you have to beat missions to earn money, and only then can you upgrade your wanzer. Until the new MechWarrior game comes out, this is about the best mech customization you’ll get on the PC now.

So there, the best points about the game. Now… the not-so-good…

Story– It’s not much of a story here. While not out of place at all for a Front Mission scenario, it squanders its potential with some half-assed storytelling and characters that are at best averagely designed and not well-fleshed out at all. Also missing are some of the bits of the universe you could get out of talking to random people. Instead, all the narrative is shoehorned into in-game rendered cutscenes which, while not hard on the eyes, are completely linear and sometimes not convincingly animated or voice acted– wanzers might humanoid, but there are certain behaviors you expect to not see from a humanoid machine.

Sound– While the guns, missiles, crushing punches and clanking footsteps of the wanzers sounds all fine enough, the voice acting for characters besides the ones most focused on can be inconsistent for their roles. The soundtrack is pretty YouTube-able and follows the tradition of Front Mission soundtracks well, but there’s no scenarios that fit the music properly, so that’s a shame. Just be ready to hate the main menu theme since it’s all that plays during the ending credits.

Gameplay Mechanics– Here is possibly the worst offense the game makes with the Front Mission license. Originally a turn-based isometric tactics game, Front Mission made you think about a variety of factors in your battle plan: your pilots’ specialties and abilities, how their wanzer builds would suit them,  placement of the wanzers during battle while factoring in things like elevation, cover, weapon types, and so on. So you thought about it, but there was a degree of leeway, there was always more than one best solution to the problem of how to turn your enemy’s wanzers to scrap.

Evolved takes all of this, chucks it out the window and gives you completely linear mission progression, completely linear battlefields, allies that are only ever mission-specific and thus typically only one best solution to the problem. Sometimes you’ll find out early or sometimes you’ll find out quite later into the mission that there is a certain wanzer build you need to have in order to have a fighting chance and not die like a bitch in the first round of fire exchanges. Worse, some missions actually require you to equip certain parts, taking away a degree of freedom from the typically very open customization system. This is a rather inexplicable move on the part of the  developer– why not allow the player to experiment with different builds in order to see what works most effectively for their own playstyle?

This isn’t even mentioning yet the tepid, hastily tacked on missions where you abandon your wanzer to go on foot. Totally linear, no variety, just either blast people with a submachine gun or a shotgun, crouch behind cover (there’s no real cover system, just the crouch button), avoid getting shot for long enough and your health regenerates. Very tedious, no opportunity for customization at all.

Dampening it even more is that you cannot pick, customize or command your allies. Granted, they cannot die, but they don’t really do much to help you, either, instead leaving all the heavy lifting to you, especially in some irritatingly tough boss battles. It makes the experience quite frustratingly narrow with these useless AI buddies.

Also an egregious offender here is the inclusion of the “E.D.G.E.” system, which, after filling a gauge enough by damaging or destroying enemies, allows you to activate a bullet-time mode that also makes your weapons more powerful depending on how far you’ve filled the gauge on activating. This is about the only tactics you’ll get here: when to activate the system and wipe the floor. There’s one particularly irritating boss battle that relies entirely on this concept.

Overall, Front Mission: Evolved is a shadow of what made Front Mission great, only ever retaining the combination possibilities in the wanzer and having a story with wasted potential and painfully average shooter gameplay, losing all the deep tactical combat that used to be the hallmark of the series. If you’re absolutely new to the Front Mission series, the disappointment won’t be nearly as big for you as for hardcore fans of the series. This is not an evolution, it is definitely a regression.

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