When I received Front Mission Evolved I was expecting a strategic RPG. I’ve played the Front Mission series of games on PS1/2 and was expecting the next gen polish for this outing. Booting it up I was quite surprised to find that the evolved part was in fact a genre shift to a third person perspective shooter. You know that sensation of dread you get when you accidentally send a text message to the wrong person? That’s how it felt.
The story in Front Mission Evolved isn’t exactly adventurous. If you’re looking for a lot of plot twists and cleverly intertwined character interactions, you’re not going to find it here. It revolves around factions that have grown up around the world and their involvement in border skirmishes. One group, The Sword of Damocles (whose pronunciation made me cringe every time I heard it in the voice overs) has decided it wants to create war, not for any noble reason, simply for the sake of war and goes about invading places and making a bit of a mess. This is where Dylan Ramsey steps in, a civilian seconded to the military all because he needs to rescue his father from the destruction, that and he owns a rather spiffing Wanzer too.
Considering the plot doesn’t cover a particularly large amount of ground, there are an awful lot of cutscenes in the game. Not quite as many as in the Xenosaga series, but enough to take up a good chunk of play time; the introduction that sets the scene is close to five minutes in length. Others pop-up at varying places through the action, though the transition to and from them is rough, pulling out the player at some odd points. Whilst the voice acting isn’t first class, it’s certainly better than I’ve seen in a fair number of titles of late and the visuals would arguably stand-up as an animation on its own. They can be skipped easily enough, but why cheat yourself out of that much game?
The story is just an excuse to get the player in to a Wanzer Mech vehicle and this is where you’ll spend much of the time when not watching a cutscene. The first in-cockpit experience introduces the player to how the machinery controls, explaining the various arm and shoulder mounted weapons and the ability to “skate” across the landscape, essentially the run button to speed traversing the map up. Whilst this might help novice gamers, there’s not a huge amount to take in, so it does feel like this training level runs on that little bit too long.
Once into the real levels, it’s a case of destroying any enemy mechs you come across in order to reach a waypoint. There’s nothing particularly tactical about the combat, puzzling given the game’s heritage, and even when you’re eventually joined by team mates there’s no ability to control them or give them orders. AI wingmen are essentially pretty useless and tend just to hang around like an eggy fart in a lift.
Kills in the game will earn you cash and as things progress, your technical aid will provide additional armour and weapon upgrades for you mech. It can be fun to play around with the different possibilities, but in game it doesn’t seem to alter the odds that much. Once you find a combination that works well for your style of play, it’s probably best just to stick with it.
Eventually you’ll happen upon a boss fight, but really these are just prolonged fights, requiring the player to simply knock the extended health bar to zero for the win and some easy Gamerscore. The really frustrating thing here is the bosses never die, they simply run away after being defeated, only to turn up again later in the story. There are a couple of exceptions to this, and one or two boss fights are more involved, requiring you to take out weak points before going in for the final kill. It’s just a shame there wasn’t more thought and variety to them. The nice thing is that if you do die in a boss battle (and you just might in some of the later situations), it is possible to change weapons and armour in the hope it might tip the balance, and go straight back in to the fight again.
The Mech missions are interspersed with some shoot-at-the-enemy-from-the-sky type missions, where you must destroy ground and air units with a Gatling style weapon. Some on foot exploration is also required, so for those expecting just to stomp around in great big cages all the time this might come as a disappointment. The on-foot missions feel very different from the mech stages, with just very basic weaponry to play with, and what there is of a cover system really doesn’t work very well. Although these stages don’t last that long, they could definitely have used a little more polish, it’s almost as if their inclusion is just for the sake of it and actually this produces some plot holes; mechs left far behind as you run away on foot are inexplicably back on the carrier transport at some points – jarring if you notice these sort of things.
The multiplayer side of the game provides the usual deathmatch and capture the flag modes, but only for up to eight players. This means teams games of four vs four, which is a little disappointing considering there really isn’t that much going on. If you’ve spent a lot of time in single player buying up parts and improving your mech, you’ll have to start from scratch again in MP. Any money earned or equipment purchased in the single player story isn’t transferable to MP and vice versa. There’s really nothing to shout about here, it’s just the standard obligatory MP material that it seems has to accompany any shooter.
It was a brave move to step away from Front Mission’s core SRPG audience, and it’s difficult to see why that hardcore bunch would purchase this game – from that viewpoint it’s disappointing because there’s little to join this title up to the long running series. On the flip side, for those looking for a third person shooter involving thunderous mechs, the history of Front Mission will be totally superfluous, so nothing is being missed here by the tenuous linkage. Front Mission manages to step just above the average mark and if you like tinkering with your Mech designs and load-outs, even if they don’t have a massive impact on play, there’s a fair chance you’ll enjoy the experience. If Wanzers don’t appeal to you, then you might want to get your third person shooter fix elsewhere.