By its very name, Front Mission Evolved claims to be an evolution of Square's venerable Front Mission franchise. The turn-based strategy never enjoyed commercial success outside Japan, so Double Helix rightfully eschewed the familiar tactical trappings and attempted to shoehorn the venerable universe into an third person shooter. Despite assuring fans that they were treating the beloved franchise with respect, the resultant evolution is vestigial in almost every respect.
Anyone who's ever played a mech game will feel instantly at home. The controls are impressively tight, providing perfect manipulation of your Wanzer (walking panzer) without any twitchyness. Sliding around on the skating thrusters, engaging a slow motion system and letting rip with the streamlined weapons systems is intuitive and natural. You'll feel like a badass after effortlessly annihilating your first tank squadron. Unfortunately the level design feels like it's ripped straight out of 2001. Restrictively linear levels make your Wanzer's loadout feel arbitrary, and the lack of destructible buildings makes for a very basic shooting experience. Repetitive, sloggy boss fights and frequent rail shooting segments become a chore rather than a change of pace. The core action isn't necessarily bad, rather it just feels years behind the competition.
However, true Mech fanatics know that the real battle is to be found in the customisation menus. The epic war between weight limits, power outputs and a limited budget is as addictive as ever; with plenty of unlockable parts and a cumulative wallet with Halo Reach-style accolades. Annoyingly, certain missions restrict the parts you can use (forcing players to make do with deeply unpleasant loadouts)- and the unlocked money isn't persistent between playthroughs. These are basic errors that should have been spotted from the get-go.
The multiplayer is surprisingly solid... if you can get a game. Four modes provide an impressive amount of variety, though the ranking system showers veterans with vastly superior weapons rather than cosmetic 'side-grades'. Newbies will have serious trouble ranking up against the established hardcore.
If Double Helix had decided to leave it there, Front Mission Evolved would have been an half-decent if slightly dated arcade mech sim. Sadly, they purposefully decided to implement a series of woefully poor design decisions that cripple the game beyond all recognition. [See also: Sniper Ghost Warrior]
Every once in a while, Front Mission forces players to leave their painstakingly-customised Wanzers behind and engage in some insultingly simplistic third person shooting segments. These sections aren't technically bad; they're just boring, basic, time consuming filler material that borders on false advertising. Imagine if Microsoft Flight Simulator made players wade through an in-engine rhythm game before letting them loose on the actual aircraft. Ridiculous.
Secondly: listen up, developers. If a simulation absolutely has to tell a story, make damn sure it's worth telling! Half the fun of mech, flight or even train sims is putting yourself into the cockpit; but it's difficult to immerse yourself when poorly acted, hammy and nonsensical cutscenes sh*t the bed every few minutes. The characters are cliched and deeply unpleasant; spouting botched stock phrases and conforming to the most banal stock cutouts in the business. The ice queen? The ornery black CO? The ruggedly handsome civilian who's out to avenge his father and maybe find love along the way? Ugh. Frankly I'd prefer a weak story to be quickly glossed over- or just left out completely. Even a few lines on the back of the instruction manual would have been preferable to this drivel.
The final nail in the coffin is the sheer amount of disbelief that players will need to suspend in order to engage with the experience. Where are all the people in these major cities? Why are there treasure chests lying around military bases? Why do armies even use Wanzers when standard dropship defence turrets can kill them instantly? Why do trained soldiers spend ages chatting to their sworn enemies when they ought to shoot them on sight? The entire premise unravels if players use their brains for even a second. I appreciate that games don't need to make sense, but they do need to be cohesive.
- Tight controls and fun core combat
- Mech customisation is slick, comprehensive and satisfying
- Addictive monetary rewards for both singleplayer and multiplayer
- Continually feels last-gen; linear levels deliver nil replayability
- Terrible voice acting, story and presentation
- On-foot sections are a ridiculous insult to fans and consumers in general
The Short Version: Front Mission Evolved isn't entirely bad. In fact, the mech-on-mech action and customisation is great fun if a little basic... and I guarantee that we'd have heaped praise onto Double Helix six or seven years ago. Unfortunately several terrible conscious design decisions and an overall lack of polish stops the experience from fulfilling a fraction of its potential. It's not respectful enough to the source material to attract existing Front Mission fans, yet it isn't a strong enough sim to draw a new audience into the franchise.