Mech games and I don't exactly share a long history. I've played a couple, but my taste in entertainment runs toward human interaction and my preferred game hero is generally fast and maneuverable. While I enjoy customizing my character with new abilities throughout the course of a game, I've generally avoided mechs because huge, lumbering shiny things don't impress me often, and they pull me into a game world even less.
Since Front Mission Evolved comes from a respectable lineage and was put together by a quality team, I thought it was time to get over my complex and give mechs a chance. What I found was over ten hours of enjoyable gameplay in the single-player campaign and a hangar full of options for multiplayer. (More on the "ten hours" in a minute.)
In this installment, you play as a scientist who's testing a mech's abilities when, all of a sudden, chaos breaks out. Matters get personal when the lab your father works in is endangered. And it doesn't get better anytime soon, because the same mercenary group that did wrong by your dad is planning to attack major cities around the world in a novel way. It seems that in this future, giant space platforms have been installed in geosynchronous orbits above New York, London, and other spots. Colossal towers act as connecting points between the earth and the space stations. The first of these towers is brought down early in the game, and that's what starts your character's revenge quest.
Front Mission Evolved is kind of an anti-Avatar in some ways. You play as a scientist turned soldier, instead of the other way around. This time, you're on the side of the military - even though you start out disobeying orders. And this time, the bad guys are just killing for the sake of killing. Oh, and you get to stay awake while you control your killing machine. (Though if the game were just a little longer . . . )
I coasted through almost the entire game and then, bam!, this SNK-level boss became the bane of my life for a couple of hours.
The story moves along at a good clip, and there is some variety in the stages to break the monotony. Sometimes, you get out of the mech, Blaster Master style, to go on smaller-scale missions. And there are two or three sections where you ride in a military aircraft and serve as a glorified turret gun, clearing the path before landing. There's enough variety and character development here to satisfy most gamers, I think.
Between acts (or whenever you get your metal ass handed to you), you'll have the chance to do some swapping in the garage: five armored body parts, two shoulder guns, two arm weapons/shields, and a backpack. The leg parts can affect your speed, hover, and slide ability. Each arm can hold a shield, a blunt weapon, or a firearm. The backpack can have any of a number of effects. You get the idea. While mixing up the bot sections, you have to keep in mind the requirements of your mission and how much power is available to carry all that equipment.
Now, remember earlier in this review, where I said Front Mission Evolved featured "ten hours of enjoyable gameplay"? Well, what if I told you the single-player campaign took me a lot more than ten hours to beat?
Some parts can use a little work. There is way too much to collect for too little in bonus money. Besides finding cash, you are expected to want to look for twenty enemy communication devices and three emblems per level - along with seven other items on some levels. These are pretty well hidden, but with everything going on, the dull graphics, and the uninspiring clunks of the mech's footsteps, it just isn't any fun. As great of a game as it otherwise was, Lost Planet: Extreme Condition had this same problem. There, it was a seach for white coins against a snowy backdrop; here it's dull polygonal shapes against, bland textures. It's all tied in to a bigger reward system, but I doubt any but the most tolerant obsessive-compulsives will care too much.
You do have to care a little, though, because you will probably need that extra loot to prepare for the last couple of battles. I coasted through almost the entire game and then, bam!, this SNK-level boss became the bane of my life for a couple of hours. I think he was put in there to force you to backtrack and find more of the hidden doodads. Justifying the collect quests with a cheap fight is a little low, but I think that's what happened here. I'm no mech lord, but the boss I'm talking about was about twenty times tougher than anything before him, and he seemed unbeatable without some of the highest level upgrades.
I love a tough boss fight, but it should fit in organically with the rest of the game. After all, I had fought the same enemy a couple of times earlier in the game, and he wasn't even a small fraction as difficult. If you're going to make the bosses cheap, distribute the cheapness more evenly among them. And if I need to have a million gold for the last fight, have it so I need 250,000 for the first boss, 500,000 for the second . . . something like that. Don't have me coasting through everything and then hit an insurmountable wall ten hours in. I'd rather grind a little throughout the game than feel like tossing the disc out the window for only one confrontation.
But I'm not going to slam the game because I lost repeatedly. (Heck, it took me a hundred attempts to beat M. Bison so many years ago.) Front Mission Evolved is a solid rental and, for mech fans, a good purchase.