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PS3 Review – Front Mission Evolved

October 11, 2010Written by Allen Tyson

Front Mission Evolved is an ambitious project for Double Helix. It’s not just that they are taking the turn-based strategy RPG series Front Mission in a whole new direction, or that the new direction is an action-based mech style game. The truly ambitious piece for Double Helix is understanding and in interpreting someone else’s vision: Square Enix’s.  It’s hard to say if that’s one of the many factors that lead FME to be less than it could have been. If I had to sum up the game in a few words, I would say that it’s not a great game or a bad game…it just is. Therein lays the problem.

FME does a variety of things extremely well; it’s just that all these elements don’t come together in a cohesive fashion that results in a stellar game.  FME does a good job at pulling you into the story right away. From the opening trailer, to the outstanding cut scenes that show the tragedy of an incident that puts our game in motion, you do—albeit for a short time—feel a desire to hold those responsible accountable. It’s at that point, your investment begins to end. While there are certain story elements surrounding some bleeding edge E.D.G.E. tech you want to get the answers to, the investment in the characters, specifically Dylan Ramsey and Adela Seawell is lost; more on this when we talk about game intangibles.

Gameplay primarily is action-oriented mech combat that takes place in the weapon of the future: A Wanzer (pronounced Wahn-zer).  Wanzers are the new weapon of choice,are  extremely customizable, and incredibly powerful weapons of war. Players have the option of customizing nearly every phase of their Wanzer from body type, to armor, to choosing ten different types of weapons available for loading out on your mech (which stays true to the series tradition). If that doesn’t appeal to you (or you simply want to jump in) you can decide to go with a pre-built Wanzer and start combat. Combat focuses on engaging other Wanzer’s, tanks, airplanes and destroying them over and over again….and again. This starts out as fun, however, after a while, thing’s become extremely repetitive. I found myself using the A.G.I.L.I.T.Y backpack (equivalent to a “boost” that allows for avoidance and skating), to evade enemies, shoot, destroy and repeat.

Not to say that the Wanzer implementation is poor, it’s just that given the framework of the game, there isn’t much variety in combat. Boss battles are large, and the stage is dramatic which is excellent—killing bosses however just isn’t fun. Typically, bosses have one hit point . Once it’s found, it’s simply a matter of timing and positioning and the boss is dead. That’s, it’s, dead. Not to belabor the point but there isn’t a high-level of skill required within the simple combat system Double Helix gives you to work with. This may appeal to some gamers, but for me, this was a problem for one big reason: this is Front Mission. The FM series is known for not just being an RPG, but being a tactical game that required strategy. I expected more elements of this in the game, and quite frankly, there weren’t any. As the game is part of a legacy, this one main element simply isn’t present and it should be. Of everything in the game’s mechanics, Wanzers are the most well thought out and implemented; adding more strategy elements would have only enhanced this.  Regardless, Double Helix has designed mech’s that even the most casual of fans will enjoy playing.

The other area of combat involves on foot third-person style shooting. In various stages, it becomes necessary to secure a Wanzer, or depart from your Wanzer for a short time to achieve some objective. The third-person shooting elements just gave me a sense of deflation as soon as they started. Not only were they just average but they didn’t have any personality at all. If “imitation is the sincerest form of flattery” then Double Helix isn’t in the flattering business. It would have been much better to borrow some elements from the current generation’s excellent crop of third-person shooters and implement a better system. While the missions are few and far between, they certainly weren’t as fleshed out as the Wanzer combat in the game. I can best describe it in this way: it felt like an add-on to the game done after the fact. To its credit, the third-person elements are crucial to the script the game follows; removing those elements would have fundamentally changed a few key story elements. From that standpoint they were executed well. While we are on the subject of execution, don’t expect much from your AI. There are times where your AI teammates—including enemies as the story unfolds—come to your aid and get you out of the proverbial jam. The majority of the time they will yell “Watch your armor” as you fall to the ground an heaped mass…only to show up minutes later and step over your body or Wanzer as they continue to fight. Thanks AI.

Graphically, the FME is a dichotomy. On the one hand, the Wanzer designs, and visual effects look very good. The attention to detail, battle damage, and design elements give a sense that these are future war machines (sorry for the reference Mr. Stark). While not the most detailed designs I have ever seen, they hold up well as an extension of the original FM, and on an extremely crowded battlefield littered with debris, buildings in ruins, and fellow U.C.S. members they take center stage. Landscapes, skies , and weather changes are believable—you feel that you are in that place they are digitally recreating. One thing that impressed me is that I didn’t get that “diorama in a box” feeling that you get with some mech games. The way the title is designed, when I was in my Wanzer  I felt a sense of height and depth as I should’ve in a hulking beast. Character models on the other hand are less impressive, and don’t show the same attention to detail. In game cut scenes are just average, and when you think of Square Enix (if you’re anything like me) this won’t be what you envisioned. This goes back to that interpretation piece I talked about earlier—this just didn’t feel very Square Enix to me. Who’s to blame, Square or Double Helix?  One thing Double Helix understands is what futuristic displays should look like. The HUD that pops up through various points of narration is gorgeous and has a wow factor that doesn’t go away no matter how many times I saw it. The CGI cut scenes in the game are, in typical Square Enix fashion, a joy to watch; the problem is that there aren’t enough of them to compensate for the poorer in game variety.

Erick Ocampo, FME Sound Designer, should be praised. The shining gem of FME outside the Wanzer’s is the sound.  Wanzer sound effects, servo movements, missile launches, and explosions are clear well mastered.  There were many moments in the game moments where the clear delineation of 5.1 sounds was so apparent, I could identify and target enemies I couldn’t see based on what I could hear. Cut scenes had better mastering than some movies I’ve heard, and the low frequency extension was used almost perfectly to convey various noises throughout the game. One gripe would be that the hi-tech futuristic sounds were appropriate, but a little light in their presentation. Really, on the hi-tech sounds I am just nit-picking. In the sound department FME delivers. It’s hard not to feel you somehow ended up in a war zone if you have at least a 5.1 system.

OK, this isn’t Japan—I know that. Having said that, voice acting isn’t always as important to American developers; if it is important to some it’s not present in FME. At times the emotions of the moment comes across, but mainly It’s boring, bland an in battle scenes quite repetitive.  Taunts, power-ups, and in-game direction seems as though it was just done in one take and if it was good great, if not, oh well. I have heard worse –much worse in fact—but for a continuation of the FM legacy, I was expecting a greater attention to detail.

Multiplayer was given a good amount of thought, and is aligned with what you would expect in a current-gen title.  Your options are supremacy, domination, a team style deathwatch, and deathmatch. Something about facing off against a real person that didn’t have pre-defined movement was more enjoyable than playing through the game itself. Navigation through the multiplayer screens was just ok, but honestly, I didn’t expect much other than to get in the game and start playing. I will say that the way you’re just exited out of a game when time runs out is a little odd…it boots you out to the statistics screen which isn’t as graceful as I might have liked. Again, no point deduction here since it does what it’s supposed to which is let me play against opponents online and rain down missiles from the sky the likes of which man has not seen. Ranked matches will take some time, so be sure you have enough of it to complete them. I didn’t feel as though they dragged on except for when I tried to play one when I knew I didn’t have enough time.

This is the intangibles section.  I think games are interactive forms of entertainment that should be compared to movies, tv shows, and more notably, art. When I think of artwork, there isn’t a universal scale that measures what artwork is considered to be more beautiful than another piece of artwork–it’s left to interpretation. The determination is made based upon how you feel. I’m not ignorant to the fact that games must have a score—that’s the state of the industry—but I think a game shouldn’t be quantified simply by as set of numbers;but also how it makes you feel. FME never made me feel any connection to the characters, even when some extremely heinous events happen to them. Sure, it has some intrigue in the beginning that makes me want to punish the guilty, but that’s really where it stopped.

I finished the game just to see how it ended because I had invested so much time in it, not because it drew me in.  The geek in me wanted to see how the E.D.G.E. system turned out, but again, that was more about the tech behind it, than anything FME did to pull me into their world. I did however feel like I was in a Wanzer, and that I could stop anything that was thrown at me with—with the help of my trusty AI (which I won’t spoil for you). When I traversed the landscape, it felt real to me, and for a few minutes, I imagined myself as a legitimate member of the U.C.S.  I “get” that every game won’t cause the types of emotions I allude to, but a game that’s part of the FM legacy certainly should have.

Front Mission Evolved is a bold risk, a gamble, and a new direction for the series.  Unfortunately the negatives outweigh the positives making a purchase a tough decision when games are expensive. The good elements however aren’t good enough, there just aren’t that many of them. I know that’s overly simplistic, but from one fan to another, that’s the best way to describe it.

PlayStation LifeStyle’s Final Score

+ Mechs feel massive and powerful

– Combat is boring

– Boss battles lack fun

6 out of 10