For a game that has Evolved proudly emblazoned in the title, the latest opus of Front Mission does very, very little to differentiate itself from the swathe of less than average mecha-shooters. It’s conventional to the point of being terribly disheartening, and has all the colour palette of that rusty spoon you may consider stabbing yourself with once you’ve figured out the intricacies of the utterly abysmal plot.
However, Front Mission: Evolved is a perfectly generic shooter about giant robots, which guarantees it a certain level of awesomeness and sales – because just like every nerd in the world, giant robots make my heart flutter and my knees wobble. If there is one thing FME does well, it’s stroke every gamer’s giant robot fetish.
At their best, mecha are the perfect combination of martial values, and high-tech warfare – hybrids of a ronin and a eurofighter, of panzers and knights of old. They’re vast, epic, customisable beasts, and FME makes a valiant attempt at reflecting that.
Each robot can carry two weapons, as well as a further two shoulder turrets, and skates around the battlefield on rocket powered skates like some futuristic mecha-ninja. At its peak, the combat reflects that: frantic madness, with explosions and giant swords swinging left, right and center. In battles against FME’s grunt robots, this really comes through, as you tear through tens of giant humanoids like a hot knife through butter, scattering their mechanical entrails to the wind, and crushing entire armies of smaller helicopters and tanks with missile volleys.
Sadly, that sort of battle becomes ever rarer as you progress through the storyline, the game instead assailing you with a deluge of ever more numerous boss villains, which take a frankly insulting amount of damage before going down. Tactically, they’re about as unoriginal as it gets, simply firing at you without an ounce of forethought, and at any difficulty level past easy, you’ll be pounding on each enemy for a good five minutes before you actually have a shot at destroying them – a tactic that’s only viable because of the ever present respawning health pickups that appear entirely predictably at predetermined locations throughout the battlefield.
The final battles quickly become utterly ridiculous, with you fighting off the exact same boss opponents as you did in the game’s opening, except you’re now facing an extra four quasi-clones, with different weapon combinations but the same character model, and just as ludicrous amounts of health. Instead of the epic battle I’d hoped for, it degenerated into a tired routine of firing a volley, picking up health, and repeating until done. Desperately unoriginal, and a bit sad.
Even when you do eventually manage to defeat these inane monstrosities, you won’t even be given the satisfaction of seeing them fall. The game’s shockingly predictable story will, without fail, wrestle control of you at the end of nearly every single boss battle in the game, either to allow them to escape, or to soundly kick your mechanised ass while you stare helplessly at the screen. You’ll see this literally tens of times throughout the story: boring battle, boring cutscene, return to square one. This becomes all the more ridiculous when you start really grasping the mechanics of combat, dispatching bosses with ease, only to watch them crush you in a custscene. It’s an utterly pathetic way of forcing a a storyline down your throat, and serves only to further alienate you from the protagonist who somehow manages to always get himself defeated, despite you doing all the hard work.
In fact, the game has an eery knack for stealing control from under your nose just when you feel you’re getting to grips with it. Even the customisation, that dependable and omnipresent optimisation fest that’s present in every mecha-game ever, will suddenly and inexplicable decide to outlaw certain components, or force you to fight along certain lines. For no apparent tactical reason, it’ll refuse specific combinations, massively unbalancing the mech you’ll spend an age trying to perfect. I’d chosen to go with an agile melee specialist, but this became completely redundant when I was forced into using a four-legged machine for the closing stages of the game.
Thankfully, when the game does stop trying to be ridiculous and just give you peons to crush, it is quite satisfying: guns feel heavy, mechas feel big, and blowing things up is just as smile inducing as ever. It’s just all so unbelievably average, so utterly uninspired and dull, that you can’t help but feel you’ve seen it all before, and oh so much better. Even when it lets you out of your mech to fight battles on foot in third person, your tactics will barely alter. Combined with abysmal design and a story so obnoxious it’s infuriating, I find it hard to recommend this to anybody. Infuriating isn’t even the right word: the story is so dreadfully predictable, so completely lacking in vision or originality and full of a bewildering and archaic sense of chauvinistic, testosterone filled entitlement that it’s offensive. Female characters are there only to be rescued and cry a bit, your murdered father serves only as a faceless catalyst to battle more, and your enemies are so completely one-dimensional and unbelievable it’s hard not to be slightly sick at the complete lack of effort Double Helix seems to have put into their creation.
Front Mission is a Saturday morning cartoon with all the fun taken out of it, leaving only a stale husk, hints of possible entertainment value obscured by pathetic design decisions. It’s never particularly bad, but it’s consistently boring, predictable, and often downright offensive. Unless you’re in severe mecha-withdrawal, I’d suggest getting your fix elsewhere.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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