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Old 10-16-2010, 10:11 PM   #1
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Please Rate this Review: Front Mission Evolved

A Mechassault By Any Other Name

HIGH A boss battle against four super-mechs at the same time... and winning.

LOW Why exactly do I need the slow, load-bearing legs for a SPEED mission, hmm?

WTF Stop. Pronouncing. "Dah-moh-clees." As. "De-MAH-clees." Please.

Well, I suppose I could wait until I've finished "Lords of Shadow" to know for sure, but it seems safe to say that 2010 is The Year of New Entries In Beloved Franchises That Piss Fanboys Off For Being Different From The Old Ones.

First we had "Tatsunoko Vs. Capcom," which had the egregious crime of being both genuinely accessible to newcomers and being on the Wii, followed by "Splinter Cell Conviction," a fast and stripped-down reassessment of stealth game tropes that angered fans of the slow-- er, 'deliberate'-- pacing of the originals, and then we had "Metroid: Other M," which most people rightly hate for being incredibly boring despite the combined efforts of two talented companies.

Which brings us to "Front Mission Evolved."

A long-running series of SRPGs by Square Enix that play out a little bit like if Tom Clancy wrote the "Mobile Suit Gundam" mythos, the "Front Mission" games have had a loyal cult following in the US, but since J-SRPGs have never really caught on in the States in a big way (with the "Disgaea" series being the debatable exception), this didn't stop SE from trying to reboot it as a third-person mech shooter and handing the reins over to California-based Double Helix Games (responsible for a handful of really good games like "MDK" and "Earthworm Jim," along with considerably more awful licensed games) in an attempt to make it more popular.

Naturally, hardcore series fans have taken this news about as well as the "XCOM" fandom did when their new entry got announced as a "Bioshock/Fallout" hybrid with series elements superfically attached. And while I sympathize with them, the fact that I both have never really gotten into SRPGs-- along with really enjoying "Front Mission Evolved"-- may negatively affect how genuine said sympathy ends up being.

I'll say it right off the bat: "Front Mission Evolved" is alot of fun, even moreso because I went in not expecting much. It may not be the smartest game around (and it's certainly not the prettiest), but there's an extremely well-made mech shooter here, tied to a rather old-school sensibility that makes it equal parts punishing and satisfying.

Now I should note that when I say 'old-school,' that I do not mean that it's 'archaic.' "Evolved" embraces the modern, but it's also got classic concepts tied into the framework-- power-ups, ability management, scoremongering, health packs, memorable boss encounters, vicious difficulty, and most importantly that hook that makes you go for 'just one more.'

Speaking of the difficulty, even on Normal it's clear that "Front Mission Evolved" is not messing around-- the AI on display here is some of the smartest and most brutal I've seen in a long time. Enemies will adapt quickly to your tactics, flanking and decoying and luring you into ambushes, turning you into scrap the second your ego starts to get the better of you.

And if you haven't genuinely gone 'holy shit' at the sight of a particular enemy class in a while, don't worry, the lightning-fast and utterly relentless Brawler will very quickly rise to the top of your Priority Targets list after a few times of sneaking in through your blind spot and pounding you into submission.

The best way to survive is ultimately to not just be adaptable but to be fast, and it's genuinely thrilling when you find yourself dodging missiles, mixing up your attacks and making the risky dash out of a safe position for some much-needed ammo or health. And the boss battles are also pretty nicely varied, ranging from regular-size enemy mechs to massive walking fortresses.

The mech sections are broken up a little with the occasional gunship rampage and a few on-foot segments, but these are generally pretty short. And while the human sections aren't nearly as good as the mech combat, there is something to be said for taking down a gigantic walking tank with a few well-placed RPG-shots.

Another nice touch is that with a few exceptions, you can customize your mech however you want (provided you've got the cash), in order to best suit your personal play style-- armed to the teeth, range/melee balanced, shielded with shoulder cannons, up close and personal-- if (like me) the sheer head-crushing depth of customization in the "Armored Core" games put you off them, "FME" offers a more restricted but still satisfying system-- you can even tailor your mech's visual scheme to your whims (which I instantly abused by coloring it neon-pink and flourescent-blue).

Normally I'll have at least mentioned the story by now, but there's really not much to say about "Evolved's" narrative besides 'reference Any Gundam Series That's Not "G-Gundam" for details.' In fact, while the game itself isn't made by Squeenix this time, the story will probably make fans feel right at home: Young, inexperienced guy has Super Special Awesome Giant Robot, winds up with Good Guys, fights Bad Guys Doing Something, Big Contradictory Anti-War Message and blah de blah de blah. "Evolved's" not exactly breaking new ground in this department, but the voice acting is generally pretty strong (even if the models are visibly dated) and by the end I'd gotten rather attached to a few of the characters along with getting invested enough to see it through to the end, so that's something at least. It's not the game's focus, but it's not using that as an excuse to have an awful campaign narrative.

Still, there are some drawbacks to "Front Mission Evolved"-- while the brutal AI is part of the challenge I can see it being a major brick wall for plenty of people, and there aren't alot of opportunities to customize your mech. You can only do it if you either die or at certain points in the story, so if you happen to pick a loadout that might not be as suitable for a situation as another, you're kinda stuck with it unless you decide to take a missile shower. This is also the case for multiplayer, in that you cannot switch classes once a game starts for some inexplicable reason. It's also rather short, clocking in at around maybe 10 hours or so, and while it's quality from start to stop I can't see many people putting down sixty bucks for a campaign that short with such 'ehh' multiplayer.

And while the story isn't bad, it does take some eyebrow-quirkingly stupid turns; the nadier of the whole thing for me came when a character you have been lead to believe is dead at the hand of another character turns out to be alive, and you stage a daring rescue mission to bring back Character A... only for them to be conveniently killed anyway at the very end of the same mission by Character B, of all people. Um, oops?

"Front Mission Evolved" is a surprisingly good game, but I think it's actually hindered a bit by carrying around the name "Front Mission." Plenty of people are going to hate it on the virtue of being so different from the originals, which is a shame since if it had a different title more would be at least inclined to give it a chance. But at the same time, the name recognition is also possibly the only way it would have gotten out otherwise, so it's treading rather touchy ground to begin with.

Definitely give it a try, or at least pick it up once the price inevitably drops from no one buying it.

Disclosures: This game was obtained at Gamestop and reviewed on the Playstation 3. Approximately 10 hours of play were devoted to the Single-Player Campaign (completed once), with an additional 2 hours spent in Competitive Multiplayer modes.

Parents: This game is rated T for Teen by the ESRB for violence, involving humans (there is gun combat and death but no blood) and robots (which explode when defeated). There is the occasional use of mild profanity.

Deaf and Hard of Hearing: all in-game and cutscene dialogue have optional subtitles, including during tutorials (which are accompanied by text).
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