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Front Mission Evolved (Xbox 360) artwork

Front Mission Evolved (Xbox 360) review

"With Front Mission Evolved, Square-Enix and Double Helix take virtually all of the strategy out of the title and leave us with a clunky third-person shooter with an uninspired terrorism plot featuring shallow, one-dimensional characters."

Back in the era of the original PlayStation, I'd played Front Mission 3 and found it to be a pretty enjoyable turn-based strategy game taking place in a future full of intrigue and conspiracy. My characters piloted giant mechs known as wanzers that evolved as the game progressed and I gained access to more powerful bodies and weapons for them. I took down all sorts of villains over a ton of maps and then had the option to do it all again taking a completely different route through the main story. A fun game with lots of strategy and replay value -- just the sort of thing I like waiting for me when I get home from a dull day at the office.

With Front Mission Evolved, Square-Enix and Double Helix take virtually all of the strategy out of the title and leave us with a clunky third-person shooter with an uninspired terrorism plot featuring shallow, one-dimensional characters. Dylan Ramsey is a simple engineer destined to save the world and win the love of the female lead. His nemesis, Cornelius, wages acts of terrorism just because he likes war and conflict. Minor characters come and go and tend to be so barely written into the story that their existence is meaningless. If, as the name suggests, this is the evolution of this series, buy me a ticket back to the stone age of the PlayStation!

Other than customizing your wanzer with a variety of parts, there isn't much strategy involved in playing this game. You simply clank-clank-clank from one checkpoint to the next, blasting everything in your way and, if you're so inclined, walking into various vehicles to watch them explode upon contact with your really big mech. Occasionally, you leave your wanzer and operate on the ground. I'll talk more about that later.

To me, it seems like the primary challenge facing designers when creating an action game revolving around giant mechanical warriors would be to make the action as non-robotic as possible. In a world loaded with third-person action titles featuring nimble heroes boasting a multitude of attacks, it's hard to imagine a game consisting of large, awkward mechs being a hit. Unfortunately, "awkward" was a word I found myself using often when controlling my wanzer (along with "clumsy" and many, many profanities).

The basic speed of your wanzer can be described as "plodding". Fortunately, you can move at a far faster rate for brief periods of time, which is very handy for dodging enemy attacks. You have an energy gauge which decreases as you sprint or hover in mid-air. Having a heavier wanzer seems to make the gauge deplete faster; however, they also allow you to hold more damage-dealing weaponry.

While traveling through the levels, I found myself dying a good number of times, but rarely getting stuck on one fight for more than a death or two. The awkward play control was a big part of that. Enemies would appear, I'd get riddled with fire while awkwardly attempting to improve my position and I'd die. The next time through, I'd know what to expect and would, more often than not, get the drop on the opposition and emerge victorious. Also, as in the strategy games, your wanzer is divided into arms, legs and a torso. Your torso's health is gradually restored while you play, but if it gets completely depleted, you're dead. You need to grab health items to help your arms and legs recover, but you're not punished so much by them being out-of-commission. There were fights where it seems like the enemy had me killed in an instant because a crapload of attacks all slammed into my torso immediately...and then I'd do the same battle again and win because it seemed they'd whittle away at my arms and legs, but barely touch the body part that actually mattered.

Going through the wanzer-riding stages could get tedious, but not annoying to the same degree as the game's boss fights. Most of these are essentially generic wanzers who can take a massive amount of damage. Periodically, weapon and health refills will appear in their area, so you'll basically spend the entire fight chipping away at at least one super-durable enemy and occasionally making a dash to replenish life or weapons. A good bit into the game, I entered my second fight with Cornelius. For some reason, the game was forcing me to use a very heavy, slow wanzer. Cornelius, on the other hand, was in a far quicker mech and he also seemed to have unlimited use of the E.D.G.E. system (one of those slow-motion "bullet time" things that's so popular in action games). At times, it felt like I was controlling Bluto against Popeye after the sailor man had put down about 10 pounds of spinach. I'd put 12 missiles into the dude and take away a scant fraction of his life. Then, he'd E.D.G.E.-dash up to me and immediately put me on death's door with a couple of melee blows my slow machine couldn't avoid. I'd then drop the whole "fight the evil guy" act to sprint for a health refill, but because heavy wanzers can't move fast for long, I'd burn through my energy and have to watch myself s-l-o-w-l-y hobble towards the power-up knowing I'd be taken down long before I got there.

Adding to the frustration were the few times I got to escape my lumbering mech for some good ol' fashioned man-to-man gunfights. Sadly, Dylan controls more like a wanzer than a human. His animations are awkward and these levels wound up feeling more like generic filler than anything meaningful. It's like the designers knew that elements of the plot would require you to be on foot, but just didn't care about anything not revolving around mechs, so they tossed in a few levels where you essentially do the exact same stuff, but outside of your wanzer.

Front Mission Evolved had a lot of potential, but shot itself in the foot with its clunky mechs and tedious (and occasionally frustrating) boss fights in a very linear game. You start in New York City...and follow a path. Then, you go to an island...and follow a path. Then to Antarctica and other places…where you follow more paths. That's all you get with this game -- linear walks only interrupted by awkward combat and the occasional cinematic interlude.


overdrive's avatar
Staff review by Rob Hamilton (November 04, 2011)

Rob Hamilton is the official drunken master of review writing for Honestgamers.

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SamildanachEmrys posted November 04, 2011:

It's good to read a detailed examination of this game. I'm a big fan of Front Mission 3 and have repeatedly considered buying this. Now you've convinced me it really isn't worth it.
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overdrive posted November 04, 2011:

Yeah. It's nothing like Front Mission 3. Except for how there are mechs and they fight. But all of the stuff that made it fun in FM3 is gone and replaced by clunky action.

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