In North America, the Front Mission series is best known for being strategy RPGs revolving around mechs (known as Wanzers) and the people who pilot them. The games weren't huge hits here, but it had enough of a following that fans picked up every version they could get their hands on. In Japan, however, the games were huge hits, so more variations of the game were released, including a few that strayed from the strategy RPG roots. To most people's surprise, the latest game, Front Mission Evolved, is not only going multiplatform but also ditching strategy in favor of action. While we didn't get an opportunity to try out the game ourselves due to prior E3 commitments, we saw a demo being played by developer Double Helix, and what we saw looked pretty good.
There were two areas of the game that the producer wanted to show us, and the first was Wanzer customization. Each Wanzer can hold up to four weapons, ranging from your standard guns to shoulder-mounted rocket launchers to melee weapons. Customization is also available for body parts, ranging from superficial changes like color type to deeper changes like body part strength. For this section, the two most important stats were power and weight, which not only dictate how much energy you have for the mission but also how fast you can move without the use of jet skates. As expected, the heavier Wanzers usually have better defensive capabilities while the lighter ones are somewhat fragile. There is no word on the final count of customizable pieces for the game, though. For the demo, the producer went with a middle-of-the-road, pre-built Wanzer for the mission.
The other area of focus was combat. As the producer began to take down Wanzer after enemy Wanzer, we noticed that the game was trying to go for faster mech movements as opposed to slower ones. For comparison's sake, the movement speed is more along the lines of Armored Core or a slightly faster version of MechAssault than something like Chromehounds. The faster walking speed can be augmented with jet skates, which let your Wanzer dart to the desired direction — useful for getting to or away from an enemy.
During the battle, the producer highlighted another feature taken from other mech games but made friendlier here: limb damage. Most other games let you focus on targeting mech limbs to disable any of their abilities or slow them down. Once a limb is gone, it is gone for good. In Front Mission Evolved, limb damage on a Wanzer is different simply because it is never completely lost. Having fully damaged legs will ensure that you can barely move, but you will still be able to traverse through the land, albeit slowly. Likewise, arm damage doesn't mean that you completely lose your arm and subsequent weapon, but it does mean that it becomes less effective. Full damage to your machine gun-holding arm won't mean that you can no longer use the gun, but it will mean that firing the gun makes it less precise and more like a severely underpowered shotgun. Depending on your stance on limb damage, this is either a welcome change or one that can completely turn you off from the game.
Though we did not get to see it on the show floor or in the demo, we were told that a multiplayer component is also going to be featured in the game. There are going to be four eight-player multiplayer modes in the game, including regular and team deathmatch. One mode that stood out from his list was Domination, where players try to control as many areas as possible before the time limit expires. It is a territories-type match, but each territory happens to have a set of guns that automatically fire when enemy players get in the vicinity. That addition alone makes the mode different than those offered by other games, and if the performance holds up, it will be interesting to see if players gravitate toward the game just to play that mode.
Due to some issues with the sound system in the room, we couldn't hear the sound in the game at all. We also couldn't judge the voice acting, which was a shame since the demo provided a good amount of radio chatter during battles and cut scenes. From what we saw, though, the game looked good and was locked in at a solid 30fps. The particle effects were nice, especially the sparks coming from disabled limbs and smoke from launched missiles which, we were told by the producer, looked great in 3-D. Speaking of that, only the PC version is currently supporting 3-D, with no word on whether the PS3 or X360 iterations will do the same at launch or sometime later.
So far, Front Mission Evolved looks like it could be a very good mech game. The Wanzers move at a brisk pace, and the combat system looks less punishing than the Armored Core series. There also seems to be a better sense of story, and the graphics look very good. It leans a bit more on the arcade side than a simulation side, though, so that is something to keep in mind if you're looking forward to the title. Here's hoping that Square Enix will release a demo so people can try out the mech goodness before the game's September release.
More articles about Front Mission Evolved