In an attempt to bring the Front Mission brand to the masses, Square Enix hired Double Helix to make a third person mecha shooter with Wanzers. While Front Mission Evolved is set in the same universe, this game barely takes advantage of the series’ mythology. The war sparked by an orbital elevator attack on USN soil is just a cursory pretext to blow stuff up.
Speaking of explosions, water makes Wanzers spontaneously explode. I didn’t expect my Wanzer to swim when I accidentally skated (Front Mission Evolved’s term for boosting) off a cliff, but as soon as it touched the water it blew up. Baffled by this phenomenon, I tried walking out of bounds in other areas to see what would happen and when invisible walls didn’t stop me, a self destructing Wanzer did. Trees explode into a falling leaves when a Wanzer walks on them, but buildings for some reason are indestructible. This makes levels more like mazes where you’re skating from one cover point to the next.
Double Helix tried to include the idea of targeting different Wanzer parts in Front Mission Evolved. You can aim for an enemy Wanzer’s legs and slow the machine down if you damage that particular part. However, when a brawler Wanzer (the kind of Wanzer that dashes to you carrying a giant pipe) is speeding towards you why would you target its arms to lower accuracy when you can shoot the core and simply destroy it? Tactics aren’t necessary when shooting homing rockets while skating towards an enemy to land an iron knuckle punch to the torso is an effective strategy. Skating increases the amount of damage melee attacks do, kind of like a charge punch. Using skating melee attacks after activating E.D.G.E., a defensive system that slows time for everyone except Dylan, is a great way to take out a group of Wanzers. The E.D.G.E. meter fills up when Dylan destroys enemy units. Later on, I found the double shoulder rocket launcher plus a bazooka a better combination since ammo packs are so plentiful. Holding L1 + R1 to lock on and skating in a circle to avoid damage worked for most missions.
One encounter with Apollo’s Chariot, a mercenary group that blew up the building Dylan’s father was in, pits you versus two heavily armed Wanzers. Marcus fires volleys of missiles while Gloria charges at the player smacking specific parts with a rod to debilitate your combat performance. Every attack, homing rockets, machine gun fire, even a punch to the face barely scratches the enemies. I thought, at first, this was one of those Square Enix story fights that I had to lose to move the story forward. Expecting Captain Russell to dash in and save me, I stood still and let the mercenaries beat up my Wanzer until a screen popped up asking me to retry the mission.
I resorted to my homing missile / figure eight skating technique in round two. The rockets didn’t do any more damage than before. There were no weak points to discover or a more effective technique. I won because I sat through the fight, chipping away at each Wanzer and grabbing respawning health packs to repair damage. The boss fight was like a marathon… that doesn’t allow running. Eventually, you get to the finish line, but it takes a mind-numbingly long time.
Boss battles are also when players will realize how useless battle skills are. Special attacks like Shrapnel Shot, an attack that makes rockets deal extra damage, and the EMP blast which disables nearby enemies activate at random. Sure, you can spend time selecting the best skills, but since you can’t count skills when you need them the most they’re useless. Customization feels shallow too. Once you decide how you’re going to fight all you need to do is keep upgrading parts. Double Helix also included pre-built Wanzers such that are just as effective.
Dylan has to fight on foot in some missions. In these scenes Front Mission Evolved turns into your basic cover shooter. You go into battle armed with a type of gun, grenades, and a rocket launcher. There are some man versus machine (helicopters and Wanzers) fights, but most of these areas just have Dylan shooting his way through plain old troops. Since on foot missions aren’t the main focus, Double Helix didn’t do much to develop this part of Front Mission Evolved so players have to march through bland corridors. The other break from Wanzer on Wanzer combat are on-rails sections where you sit in a plane firing two chainguns.
The story takes around ten hours to skate through. After that, you can return to levels in search of microscopic beacons to shoot and online play. Front Mission Evolved has four modes: deathmatch, team deathmatch, domination (defend an area with the on-rails turrets), and supremacy (the most interesting of the bunch where you fight to control a random spot on the map). Front Mission Evolved, perhaps inspired by the Call of Duty games, has a system where players earn experience. The more you play, the more parts and weapons you get access to. For people really into the multiplayer mode, Front Mission Evolved has a reincarnation option where you can reset your online rank after level 70 and keep all of your weapons. Do this and your reward is… a special emblem. With only a few maps to play with, over and over again, I wonder how long of a marathon that task will be compared to the boss fights.