Front Mission is one of those series that keeps mech fans happy. The Square-Enix franchise has been going strong since 1995 and it has become a favorite of import and domestic mech-lovers alike. The last time we saw the series here in the States it was with the fourth iteration. Though the fifth has yet to reach our shores, the spin-off, Front Mission: Evolved has just been released.
Front Mission: Evolved takes its namesake somewhat seriously as it dips its toes into the waters of the action genre. Rather than focus on strategic, tactical battles with menu-heavy customization and things gear-heads love, Evolved keeps things simple. It’s an arcade-style shooter which puts players in direct control of a mecha (known as Wanzer in this franchise) and drops them in the middle of a battlefield. The result is a game that feels entirely different from what Front Mission fans are used to. Instead, it feels more like Armored Core or Mech Assault, for better or worse.
The story takes players to a futuristic world where humanity has reached a point where we have elevators into space and flying Wanzer suits. Naturally, there are warring factions, nations are locked in conflict, and at the beginning of the game there is a surprise attack on the NYC elevator. Evolved puts players into role of Dylan Ramsey, an engineer for a private Wanzer firm who happens to be testing out a new suit when the attack hits. Dylan rushes into the city to save his father, but he’s too late. Along the way, he teams up with the military and makes some enemies on the other side.
Existing only as a way to give Evolved a sense of purpose and meaning, the plot here isn’t as strong as one might hope; it’s lightweight at best and the characters outside of Dylan are weak by comparison. The story and cut scenes basically feel like precursors to the action. Sure, that’s not necessarily a bad thing I suppose, but any players hoping for an engaging storyline or memorable experience may be left wanting.
As mentioned above, the gameplay in Evolved is totally different from what Front Mission fans are used to. Things are taken to the third person perspective as Dylan pilots his Wanzer and the results are entirely hit or miss. There are moments where players will feel the rush of controlling a massive piece of machinery capable of great destruction, but then there are points where the action dips, the pace slows, and gamers will be left extremely underwhelmed.
The control mechanics are simple enough — the left analog stick moves the Wanzer while the right controls the camera. Weapons are designated to the shoulder buttons of the controller while the face buttons are utilized for accelerating on skates, using jetpacks, and activating special techniques. It’s straightforward enough and easy to get into. In terms of response, the controls are adequate but there are points where the Wanzer doesn’t feel as weighty as it ought. Instead, it seems to just float through stages and that takes some getting used to. The initial sensitivity of the control scheme also make it difficult to aim on the fly, so I’d suggest turning that down a bit before getting into combat.
As one would expect, there are plenty of enemies standing in Dylan’s way. From tanks to helicopters and enemy Wanzers, there are all kinds of people looking to put him six feet under. Bosses are plentiful as well, though basic strategy for these encounters involves constant strafing and launching missiles. That might not sound bad, but after doing that for about 10 minutes straight, and one will feel differently. One particular encounter leaves Dylan to face off against two boss types. Players will be very comfortable with the skate feature by the time all is said and done.
Missions are structured in a way that forces players to go from point A to B and basically destroy everything in between. Enemies come in waves and the types vary, getting progressively harder further into the game. Missions in the game last about 20 minutes and there are multiple missions in each act, with five acts in total. Evolved also shakes things up by adding on-foot missions with players in control of Dylan. These pieces control roughly the same way, but they are nowhere near as good. Movement is sluggish and the gunplay is spotty at best. Evolved would have been much better off had it focused entirely on the Wanzer action.
Players are given the ability to customize their Wanzer in between acts. Visuals can be tweaked with new paint and decals and parts of the body can be replaced as well. Improving armor and overall power are key to surviving in the game, but so is finding the right gun. Thankfully, there are plenty of those and the game allows players to equip a total of four (two arm and two shoulder). The possibilities give a nice range of customization and by the end of the game players are bound to find a set up that works well for their playing style.