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Front Mission 4

Platform(s): Arcade, Game Boy Advance, GameCube, Nintendo DS, PC, PSOne, PSP, PlayStation 2, PlayStation 3, Wii, Xbox, Xbox 360
Genre: Action


PS2 Preview - 'Front Mission 4'

by Thomas Wilde on June 3, 2004 @ 12:57 a.m. PDT

Genre: Strategy
Publisher: Square Enix
Developer: Square Enix
Release Date: June 15, 2004

Pre-order 'FRONT MISSION 4': PlayStation 2

On one side of the world, a sudden attack on a military base in Sachsen-Anhalt, Germany, is the cause for an investigation by the Armor Tactics Research Corps. The group they send includes Elsa, a young Frenchwoman on her first mission in a new mech.

On the other, the UCS Army is fighting to take back Venezuela, after its corrupt governor declares its independence. Darril, and his partners Renges and Chaeffer, are soldiers in that army, but when they find a shipment of gold that isn’t supposed to exist, they take matters into their own hands.

These two disparate threads will eventually meet, and form the plotline of Front Mission 4, the latest installment of Square’s mech-combat turn-based strategy series, although it’s only the second to be brought to North America. Set in the late twenty-first century, the Front Mission series is about wars fought in “wanzers,” one- and two-man mechanized combat units. Like all good strategy games, it’s surprisingly addictive. Unless you’re tactically careful, it’s also shockingly difficult.

The name of the game here is customization. While your character lineup is generally fixed, and dependent upon the story, the mechs those characters are piloting aren’t. Given access to a repair bay and sufficient funds, you can change your army however you see fit. You can change your mech’s weaponry out for new equipment, including sidearms that allow an instant counterattack in retaliation for incoming fire, or simply put a pilot into a brand-new robot.

Available mechs include melee-combat models, snipers, long-range missile launchers, and machine-gunners, each of which can be equipped with specialized backpacks to further specialize or generalize its capabilities. A backpack can contain items, provide a turbo boost with enormous jet engines, or act as a long-range repair unit to restore functionality to friendly mechs.

The real problem is, of course, that most of those weapons are equally available to your enemies. You spend a lot of time being outnumbered and outgunned in Front Mission 4, or so the E3 demo would have you believe. Winning is a matter of using the terrain, your mechs’ specialized capabilities (snipers own all), and your maneuverability to counteract your opponents’ raw strength and greater numbers. It’s not the hardest strategy game I’ve played on PS2, but it definitely takes some intelligence and skill to win.

Darril’s mission is something of a heist caper, as you punch through all obstacles that the governor places in your way, while Elsa’s investigation seems to constantly involve her having to bitchslap a mechanized cavalry detachment that outnumbers her group two to one or more.

In either case, your battles are set in city streets, amidst buildings, at such a range that everything around you looks like an unconvincing playset. That’s not a comment on graphical fallibility, but rather, on the subject matter; the only thing missing, and unaccountably so, is the ability to uproot a small building and use it as a missile weapon. When a mech gets blown apart, the grinding of ruined metal is painfully audible, and with a decent subwoofer, you’ll genuinely feel the pound of artillery fire in your teeth.

Front Mission 4 is due out in two weeks. If it’s anything like its predecessor, it’ll be enough, by itself, to pull you through the traditional summer gaming draught.

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