Originally Published: 20 October 2010
Broadly speaking, evolution is defined as “a gradual process in which something changes into a different and usually more complex or better form.” Front Mission Evolved has taken a massive leap into a third-person shooter territory – a far cry from the tactical, turn-based, strategy gameplay to be found in the much-loved Front Mission 3 – but is it really Evolved? I let my opposable thumbs find out.
The game starts with you clambering into the cockpit of a new Wanzer at a test facility close to New York, and being taken through a series of “tests” to display the performance of your new machine. The test mission is, of course, a thinly veiled tutorial to help you get to grips with the controls. You’ll be a test in before you realise that you don’t quite have the control you’d want over a huge, lumbering death machine. The skate move (or, S.K.A.T.E as the game likes to refer to it – an acronym which is not explained but handily spells out the word “skate”. There is also E.D.G.E, which gives you an edge in battle) test asks you to skate through a series of gates without stopping – which is where you’ll realise that the controls don’t let you swing the mech around with as much gay abandon as the test would like you to. The more you use the skate move, the better you’ll get at it, but predominantly you’ll use it to move in more or less a straight line and not the twisty shape the tutorial asks you for.
The second failing of the controls comes a little later, when you’re finally given access to your weapons systems. One of the main tactics found in Front Mission 3 is the ability to specifically target a mech’s limbs to gain an advantage – take out the arms and the accuracy goes for a burton, nobble the legs and mobility is reduced. In a turn-based tactical environment it’s a great idea – in a third-person shooter it’s potentially still a good idea if you’re given a decent chance to use it.
The aiming controls are incredibly sensitive. Even a quick trip to the options menu and a tweak of the sensitivity will do little to improve the precision aiming. Should you manage, however, to damage a limb or two in the course of your battles you’ll be hard-pressed to notice any discernible difference and, for the most part, the limb targeting is more of a novelty as you’re often much better just blasting away at the mech as it will go down reasonably easily.
There are also areas of the game where you’re without your trusty mech – often places where you’re advised the mech would be too inaccurate and may hit civilians, only for you to get in there and realise that the mech wouldn’t actually fit. The on-foot sections are a bit of a come-down after the intense firefights and explosions you’ll have encountered before, requiring a more tactical approach with cover being very important. Unfortunately it’s here that you find another of the game’s flaws – the damage indicators are rubbish. You’ll find yourself being shot at from all angles and, where other games would give you a clear indication as to the direction of the damage, this feels a little wishy-washy here with the arrows barely staying on screen long enough for you to acknowledge, let alone get a decent idea of where your assailant lies.
Customisation geeks will be happy to know that you’re able to tweak your mech with new limbs, torsos and weapons as well as fiddle about with the colours. Front Mission geeks will recognise the names of the different bits of kit. It’s all there, it’s just not implimented as well as it could be. New kit doesn’t feel like it makes that much of a difference – you won’t really notice a difference between one machine gun’s power and the next – possibly because, without HP points popping up all over the place – it doesn’t really matter.
Your eyes won’t be massively astounded with what they’re treated to – the landscapes you battle in are a little bit bland to say the least. Cities are empty and lifeless, made up of grey buildings and few concessions to making it feel like a living, breathing place bar the odd car (destructible), tree (destructible) or bus shelter (oddly indestructible – take that vandals). Military bases are much the same but with less buildings and more grass, or snow. Everything’s really quite blocky. Which would be great for a retro-PS1 strategy game, but not so much for a current gen console.
Your ears, much like your eyes, will feel a bit betrayed. The voice acting is, at times, cringe worthy and the mechs tend to make the noises that all robots post-Transformers (the film rather than the cartoon) make. I’m not saying it’s a bad thing, I’m just saying that it’s a wasted opportunity, as with the visuals, to really show that this series has actually evolved.
I should also point out that the AI is a little bit iffy as well, particularly that of your team-mates. They’ll often merrily walk in front of you as you’re blasting away, and then have the gall to tell you off for shooting them. In fact, in one of the early missions my lone team-mate abandoned me in the middle of a battle to climb through the scenery and spend her time inside one of the low, blocky buildings just jumping up and down. I don’t know how she got in the building, but the fact that the next cut scene had her taking some of the credit for surviving the skirmish grated a little.
Front Mission Evolved isn’t the best game out there. It’s hovering, quite comfortably, around the mediocre mark. It’s not an evolutionary leap by any stretch of the word and a lot of the gameplay (the precision aiming, the customisation) hints that it wants to be as good as Front Mission 3. It’s not, and it’s a massive shame that a series that, in Europe at least, was loved for has been reduced to this – turning it into a third-person shooter almost feels like a bit of a sell-out.