Front Mission has been a title thats been around for over ten years. Its got a small cult following here in the west, but its absolutely huge overseas. Front Mission has been a turn based tactics style game and Im assuming now Square wants to broaden the mass appeal of the brand and branch out. How do they do this? They take a system thats worked for its fans for years.and then completely scratch it and break the mold to hopefully gain some popularity stateside. What makes the draw of Front Mission so appealing is the giant mecha robots piloted by humans called wanzers (from the German Wanderpanzer) that can rain a massive amount of damage upon enemies.
Double Helix Games made Front Mission Evolved (FME for short) and they are known for making Silent Hill: Homecoming and GI: Joe (the game). Both titles were generally lackluster, so you can see the trend thats about to unfold. Although the Front Mission series has a very encompassing story that spans across the entire series, Double Helix has decided to change things up with a weak story and mediocre gameplay to boot; but hey, there are tons of explosions!
FME takes place in the distant future of year 2171 (which is 50 years after the events of Front Mission 5) and humankind is now starting to race to explore space. The superpowers of the world have built orbital elevators that allow surveillance satellites to be sent to space to watch what every other nation is doing. One of the USNs (North America) orbital elevators is mysteriously destroyed and tensions from nations start to flare as accusations run wild. This starts border skirmishes whose assault is led by these wanzers and battles in the front lines ensue.
The story pivots around your character, Dylan Ramsey, who just happens to fall into this battle thats about to unfold. Truth be told, there is a story here about him trying to find his dad and a woman that dislikes him cause hes simply a civilian, but theres honestly no reason to really delve deeper into the story because its so cliché and reeks of predictable that youll see almost all the twists coming unfortunately. FME is built around controlling your wanzer, blowing stuff up, and trying to encompass it around a narrative; sadly the narrative falls flat on its face that I almost preferred to skip it all together.
What FME does do right is give you control over a completely customizable wanzer whose load-out can be any way you want. You are able to equip four weapons, one in each hand and one on each shoulder for a total of four. The trick is that your total weight cant exceed your wanzers power output, so its a fine balancing game of choosing weapons and armor that suit your style without going overboard. You can even color your wanzer and put decals on each limb to make it your own as well; my giant pink armored mech definitely stood out against all the other bland counterparts.
Most missions will have you going from checkpoint to checkpoint in a fairly linear fashion (though cleverly disguised as an open city even though you cant stray very far) blowing up enemies that get in your way. There are a few breaks from the monotonous missions that will have you shooting a turret from a plane, but these happen too infrequently.
There are a few missions where your mechs simply cant go; this means youll be on foot. These sections are the most frustrating and have the sloppiest controls in the whole game. These foot missions are slow paced and completely the opposite of the wanzer levels which throws off the pacing of the game as a whole. To make things worse, while on foot, enemies will either stand still trying to shoot you or run at you in a straight line; you also only have a limited selection of three guns and a handful of grenades. You wont enjoy the foot missions in any way and when youre buying a game based on piloting huge mechs, it may put a bad taste in your mouth about the game as a whole.
Chapters finish with your typical boss battles but the bosses in Evolved are so completely overpowered its not funny. While the enemy boss wanzer looks normal, they can somehow take a massive amount of damage before being defeated which take these fights to the point of being boring due to how long it takes. You simply need to resort to: shoot, evade, run away and repeat for most of these just to survive. Health and Ammo replenishments respawn over time and without these, you wont get very far. Youll also need to rely on your E.D.G.E. mode which is basically a meter that fills up and then can be used to slow down time to avoid attack and do more damage of your own.
If you mamage to get through the campaign and want to keep playing, there actually is a multiplayer portion of FME thats included as well. You have your standard deathmatch and team deathmatch modes along with a few others and you even have a leveling system that gives you unlocked parts and perks for your wanzer. The leveling system in place is a great idea and works well in other games, but the amount of xp you get in a decent single match is so small that youll have to devote an obscene amount of time into the online if you want to unlock any of the good items at all. Coupled with such a small community playing the game at one time, this may be near impossible to do. Also, because of this, youll regularly face people online that are very high level when youre just starting out and youll quickly become frustrated due to only having a start mech; this felt almost broken to me. If youre going to play this online, be ready to set aside very many hours just to get a few decent upgrades.
Youll notice very quickly that while the models for the wanzers looks decent, the textures for almost everything else do not. While you can customize your wanzers color and paint scheme like mentioned above, sadly the textures are very low. This goes the same for almost all the textures as the world in general youre surrounded in which can become quite noticeable at times in the slower sections.
The other biggest distraction during the campaign is the very poorly written dialogue coupled with some very mediocre voice acting. While youre on your long stint against a boss, youll also notice the same lines will be repeated over and over again which doesnt help during the absurdly long boss battles.
As I mentioned before, what FME does well is make you pilot a wanzer that feels powerful and can be customized to your liking. There are even tons of hidden collectables to find during the campaign (though they are very small and well hidden) if thats your thing as well. I have a feeling most Front Mission fans will be sorely disappointed with Evolved simply because of the deviation from what made Front Mission so great; a tactic based strategy game. Sadly, Square isnt going to gain any new fans or followers of the series with this iteration of a very mediocre third person shooter which is sad as Im sure good intentions were behind making Evolved.