Developer/Publisher – Double Helix/Square Enix
Released – 2010
Genre – Third-Person Shooter
Formats – 360, PS3(tested)
Players – 1 (2-8 online)
Front Mission Evolved © Square Enix
Review copy courtesy of Square Enix
Starting out as a turned-based strategy series way back on the SNES, yet with a few games managing to deploy in the West, Front Mission has enjoyed far more coverage in its native Japan than elsewhere over the years. Hoping to break pass western taste defences, Square Enix has released Evolved, a third-person shooter set in the Front Mission universe. Front Mission has deviated from its roots before, but is this evolution a successful strain, or destined for extinction?
It’s 2171, and some of the satellites above Earth are how connected via orbital lifts. The Unified Continental States/U.C.S. – basically the 22nd Century U.S.A. – city of New York is attacked by wanzer’s – the Front Mission series’ name for mechs – of Oceania Cooperative Union (O.C.U.) design, after the event leaves a large portion of the city in ruins, the U.C.S. announces it counterattack, in spite of the O.C.U. stating that, in spite of the apparent evidence, it had no part in the attack. Caught in the middle of this is Dylan Ramsey, a wanzer researcher who was testing the latest prototype when the attack took place. Rushing to rescue his father, a leading figure of wanzer technology, Dylan runs into the army and finds himself with no other option but join up with them to find out the meaning behind the unprovoked attack.
The story in Evolved is terrible, B-Movie level tripe that seems content on going for every possible cliché in the book, from who is the real enemy to the backgrounds of the various characters; you’re work out what’s going on long before the characters do. Poor acting, both in terms of animation and voice work do not help matters in this regard, nor do underdeveloped, uninteresting characters and bizarre elements that stretch the believability and player interest to breaking point.
The main campaign is split up into five main chapters, with three missions each; each mission isn’t all that long and the game is very short with a competent player able to see it all in ten hours; with only collectables – and achievements/trophies – offering the meagre incentive to return to previously completed missions. Before the majority of the missions you’ll have the opportunity to customise your walking death machine, outfitting it with a variety of guns, missile launchers and melee weapons; a few missions will force you to use specific loads, in particular hover legs that enable you to glide over water and quads which don’t seem to add any benefits outside of letting you carry more, and slow you down significantly. All upgrades cost money, which you gain by defeating enemies and finding cash lying around, which does beg the question on why the army is forcing its troops to pay up for their own weaponry rather than provide the best available material for them. Another consideration is the power to weight ratio, basically the power of the engine and strength of the legs of a wanzer can only cope with so much, so rather than load up the machine with the best money can buy, you’ll be making sure that your weight doesn’t outnumber what your wanzer can move.
The regular enemies might as well be piñatas for all the threat they possess, which is generally due to their numbers more than anything; although the cramped corridors and the relatively slow turning circle of the mech can provide them with chances to sneak up on your back. In turn your allies will rarely destroy anything, leaving you to mop up the majority of the foes, and you’ll want to make sure that you get the killer blow as you don’t earn money on downed enemies unless it was your bullet that killed them. The difficulty is further reduced by the constantly re-spawning ammo and health packs, which can make the majority of the game seem like padding for its own sake.
Weapons are allocated to the shoulder buttons, which while acceptable, sometimes requires you to hold the pad in a way that allows you to press all the shoulder buttons if you want to let loose with your entire compliment of hardware on an unfortunate foe; which can potentially lead to cramped fingers. In addition to your standard armaments, is the ability to enter E.D.G.E. a time slowing mechanic that makes you resistant to damage while making your hits more damaging. Against the normal enemies it becomes a hot knife through butter amour but is almost essentially to get through the boss battles; the problem is that it requires kills to fill and takes forever to do so, yet nevertheless drains at an alarming rate when used.
Several sections of the game put you on foot, armed with a grenade launcher, machine gun, and some fragmentation grenades. Cover system is limited to just crouching and hiding behind scenery, popping up to blast the mindlessly dumb enemies who generally stay in one place, popping their heads out, sometimes without firing a single shot even if your standing right in front of them. Occasionally you’ll be confronted by a wanzer, which on foot should be a much more dangerous enemy, but they can be taken down with three blasts from your grenade launcher, making you wonder just how these things are suppose to be the threat the game’s story is trying to tell you that they are. You’re also occasionally man the gatling guns on your drop-ship, talking out helicopters and tanks on the ground, while these are not much more than a easy light gun game, they makeup the most fun set-pieces the game has to offer.
During the game I managed to get myself completely stuck after jumping down into a section that my mech couldn’t get back out of, forcing me to restart the checkpoint. On the second run of the area I found that my jumping down there apparently caused the game to fail a trigger event, meaning that I wouldn’t have been able to make progress even if I had managed to climb back up. Waypoint markers in general are unclear at times, leaving you with a vague notion of where you are suppose to go, this isn’t helped by the uniform nature of the terrain, a lot of the areas you’ll be covering looks alike, making it easy to lose your bearing, or wonder around trying to find the one hole in the wall that you need to go down to proceed.
Then there’s the bosses, while you can plough through the regular enemies with little to no resistance, the overpowered bosses can take an age to topple, and can level you with little effort in return. These two aspects of the bosses force you to run around the arena you find yourself trapped in, blasting away at your relentless foes to whittle away their HP while you collect and recollect the re-spawning ammo and health packs until they eventually blow up. Battles can go on for half-a-hour or more, and if you’re killed you’ll have to fight the boss entirely from scratch. The game the tedium by sending multiple bosses at you on some levels, which does nothing but exacerbate the situation and threaten to tear your patience apart. This sheer extent that Front Mission Evolved utilises this kind of artificial lengthening make work for RPGs, but here it becomes absolutely ridiculous and makes the boss encounters challenging for all the wrong reasons.
While the mechs themselves are passable enough, the game just doesn’t feel like a 2010 release. Textures are repeated, lacklustre and blurry, polygon counts are fairly low overall and levels are barren and architecturally bland. The same walls appear in multiple places making it hard to find your bearings in places. Human character models are uniformly ugly, with poorly judged expressions and look like something from a Playstation2 game rather than a product from this generation; the enemy humans you face, wearing full body armour have the right idea. Meanwhile, whilst the head’s up display shows clearly how much ammo you have left; your health meter’s position and size can make it difficult to gauge the condition of your torso and limps in the heat of battle, which can leave to some untimely deaths.
The dialogue during missions, especially the one-liners from bosses, is repetitive beyond a joke and will grate on the nerves after just a short time. Music fits the theme of the game, but is otherwise forgettable action fluff that you’ll likely won’t remember after turning the console off and the sound effect are bog standard explosions and gunfire noises.
In trying to appeal to an overcrowded market with such a sub par, frustrating and cliché ridden offering, Double Helix Games may have isolated both long term fans of the franchise and new comers looking to find a decent action blast. A badly written and performed story coupled with outdated visuals, pathetic A.I., and cheep bosses which by design are complete slogs to fight means that the result just isn’t worth the hassle. In videogames, quality is the deciding factor on whether a series should survive, but this evolution is a dead end and will likely go extinct. Hopefully the series will return to it strategy roots for a future installment, until then there’s always the remake of the first game on DS to hunt for.
Originally published in 2010, on gamingtilldisconnected.