Front Mission Evolved Review (PC)

The long time turn-based strategy series Front Mission takes a break from its past as Square Enix decide to get up close and personal with its mech-like combat suits known as the wanzer, pitting them against one another in a third-person action shooter. Before now these armoured suits were merely pawns on the battlefield but now we can see what they’re really made of.

Front Mission Evolved comes with a full singleplayer campaign as well as multiplayer, and each stars fully customisable wanzers in both weaponry and appearance for fans of the series. This gives Evolved a light RPG element alongside all the running and gunning. Well actually the wanzers don’t run so much as walk, jog or boost around the battlefield. Firing up the campaign begins a quick introduction to the world of Front Mission and why the balance of superpowers is so delicate. Essentially mankind has now vertically extended its nations into orbit around the Earth and constructed orbital elevators giving easy access to their strategic holdings.

Every piece of gear you choose must balance power and weight

Naturally a bit of ruckus kicks off and poor old futuristic New York gets ten ton of steel and glass kicked out of it but not before we’ve handily gone through a quick tutorial session with our wanzer that’s sporting a new prototype system on board, oh and an AI called Wizard who hacks networks – oh you rascal Wiz. We play as Dylan Ramsey who’s just an engineer that soon gets dragged into the whole sordid mess and whose father happens to be a bigwig researcher for the U.C.S. – which is basically the USA but with a few more bits in the Union. This all takes place 50 years after the events in Front Mission 5 so fans of the series likely have no trouble keeping up.

Evolved is developed by California-based Double Helix Games and you can clearly see the departure from the traditional Japanese style of the franchise, not to mention ditching the whole tactical role-playing formula. This is yet another example of a Japanese publishing house wanting to appeal to the western market by embracing a more Hollywood style approach to the game’s foundations. It’s certainly got the action down as both left and right triggers, as well as both left and right bumpers on the controller are used solely for weapons. Wanzers are feared battle units for a reason and it’s mostly because they come packing 4 armaments.

Exactly what your wanzer can bring to bear against the enemy is the player’s choice as between missions or from the game’s main menu you can customise your personal destruction mech however you please. You can swap in and out chassis parts for the body, legs and both arms. Then you can choose what weaponry will fit your left and rights arms and shoulders. Backpacks are also a factor as they can give you powerful bonuses to certain functions like damage or boosting. All of these must be weighed against how much power your wanzer can generate as otherwise you can’t equip items. Each thing you want also costs money and some armaments need both hands. Some items come with slots that you can fill with perks like doing double damage, but they aren’t constant as they each carry a percentage that they’ll fire – another RPG staple.

It’s not all running and gunning in wanzers, it’s on foot sometimes

The other area of customisation is the paint work and any decals you want plastered on your mobile mayhem machine. These choices are purely cosmetic so feel free to boost down New York or through some island jungle with a bright and shiny pink – we won’t judge you and neither will the game. As you progress through missions you unlock more stuff to equip and you’ll of course be earning cash for each kill you land to help fund your wanzer’s rise to super sci-fi butt kicker. While Front Mission is certainly keeping the wanzers in the spotlight that’s not the only way you’ll be battling this conspiracy menace threatening to destabilise global peace – you’ll be walking.

While riding a mech-suit laden with deadly sharp things is most defiantly cool, Double Helix keep things mixed up with some on foot action as Dylan blasts away enemies as just his human fleshy self. Oddly the wanzers you can take down while on foot are notably wussier than when you’re facing them in your own mech beast. There are some turret sequences too as you rain down destruction in an on-rails arcade fashion. Riddled throughout the levels are ammo packs and armour repair power-ups which are always spaced not too far apart. You’ll come across beacons and emblems to collect as well for the avid completionist and it’s likely you will return to past acts to sweep these up. Most of the game itself isn’t all that hard thanks to the wanzers abilities to boost, which lets you glide across the ground fast letting you close the distance between an enemy, or escape them.

You also get a function called EDGE, which needs to charge up and then when activated it basically slows down time letting you absolutely rip through bad guys. You regain EDGE by damaging or destroying hostiles – yes it’s essentially Front Mission’s very own bullet time if you will. If you find gearing up your own wanzer a little too confusing then there are always prebuilt load outs to choose from. Online matches suffer some in game balance because of all the combinations of weaponry and other gear. New players are thrown against the more experienced wanzer warriors who are likely packing much more serious heat than you are. You earn experience and so get to rank up, although some matches tend to go on and on too much like the Domination mode. Tackling real players though is definitely more thrilling than the AI, which tends to favour popping in and out.

Evolved’s narrative can make sci-fi B-movies blush a deep crimson

Some missions require specific load outs for the wanzer which can then limit you in other areas. While this does ensure the gameplay gets mixed up a little and keeping you from getting complacent with gear, it can also be quite annoying to have to leave behind your trusty jumbo rifle of choice. Admittedly being forced to use certain kinds of manoeuvres does help ‘train’ you better for any online action you might want to jump in to. You’re also spared the unbelievably cheesy B-movie narrative in multiplayer, as the campaign is littered with wooden dialogue and some real cringe worthy scenes. It doesn’t help that character models look like they’re the cutting edge for last generations consoles – the wanzers were given all the love in the details department which is probably for the best.

Front Mission Evolved can sit well with mech game fans especially with its multiplayer. However as a third-person action shooter not very much stands out unless you quite enjoy boss battles with lots and lots of strafing, reloading, repairing and firing volley after volley of missiles, rockets and bullets. This you rinse and repeat whilst figuring out the best way to minimise you wanzer getting a face load of ouch, and mentally juggling spawn timers for more ammo and armour repair. There’s hope yet for more direct action in the Front Mission franchise, but Evolved feels more like an early transition with growing pains, while Square Enix figures out how they want and need to land it as a shooter.

Top Game Moment: Squeezing all four of those triggers and letting the wanzer stream a volley of pure and unnecessary hurt at anything in front of you. It’s mindless even to a 5 year-old but damn does it look and feel cool. Geneva Convention THIS!

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By V4ndall (SI Veteran Member) on Oct 08, 2010
A general design fail IMHO. FM series were great exactly because of turn based aproach to mech game. In terms of direct mech control it was highly doubtful they'd be able to beat the classics like MW etc... A shame really.
By K3Spice (SI Core) on Dec 14, 2010
The videos make the gameplay look like its not smooth. I think they need to work on those if it is smooth in the game.