Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Call Of Duty: Giant Killer Robots

A lot of people hated Front Mission: Evolved before it ever came out. Personally I thought the "Evolved" subtitle was stupid, and having played the game I have been vindicated on that point. But most of the hate came from people who hated that a Front Mission game was going to be an action game rather than a turn-based strategy RPG. That is totally unprecedented in the franchise! Except for Gun Hazard. Gun Hazard was a game we all loved, because it was a Front Mission action game. That's why we hate Evolved, because... okay, I'm saying the haters are hypocrites. That's not to say the game is undeserving of ire, it should just be properly focused ire. Don't hate it because it's an action game, hate it for its mediocrity.

I should probably start with a list of everything the game does right before I go off on its failings. First, it's a competent third-person shooter. Yes, competent. Not outstanding, but not bad either. As a shooter it is satisfactory. In fact, I'd argue its a better game than the Armored Core games or most Gundam related shooters out there. The reason being is that it's an action game about giant robots rather than a giant robot game. It's one of those design philosophy things. Games like Armored Core try to be giant robot simulators, and as a result the controls are clunky and stiff, especially for a third-person shooter. Front Mission: Evolved was designed as a shooter first and foremost, it's just that all the onscreen characters are giant robots. That works out wonderfully in my opinion.

Second, I'm rather surprised how well various concepts from the turn-based strategy games translated into a shooter. While the mech customization is obvious, they even kept in the concept of "battle skills", special abilities that randomly buff you during battle. My only complaint is that most of these battle skills are better suited for multiplayer than for the single player campaign. The ability to add damage over time to your attacks is nice, but most enemies in single player won't live long enough to make use of it. But hey, I'll take a 50% boost to melee damage when I can get it.

Lastly, I should mention that the music is pretty forgettable. The only reason I'm bothering to mention it at all is because it kept giving me flashbacks to Space: Above and Beyond. I half expected T.C. McQueen to fly in on a Hammerhead and start strafing the baddies. So the music was forgettable, but it reminded me of an awesome TV show, so it gets points by proxy.

But, of course, there is a laundry list of problems. The most glaring thing for most players is going to be the infantry sections of the game. In a game about piloting giant robots, there are sections that require you to run around on foot to shoot enemy soldiers. Why? Like most of the gameplay, these sections are not bad. They handle well and are a decent shooter experience. But why are they in this game? They feel very tacked on and the gameplay would be fine, in fact better, without them. While these sections do nothing wrong in terms of gameplay, they're so generic that if we gave the enemy soldiers Nazi uniforms then the circle of stupid would be complete. These sections don't have the depth to stand on their own, and they have no right to be in THIS game. I'm here for robot fights, dammit.

The most glaring problem for me is the customization system. For starters, there's no inventory. Whenever you buy a new part to equip you immediately sell the old part. If you decide your new load-out doesn't work and want to switch back, you have to buy your old parts back. Some missions force you to swap out parts. In short, your going to be bleeding money for most of the game. Secondly, the single player campaign forces you to go a "jack of all trades" route for your mech. In the traditional Front Mission games you commanded a team. This meant each team member could specialize for certain functions: the melee guy, the artillery guy, the sniper, etc. If you go into multiplayer with a pre-arranged team, then you can set up to fill a specific role in the team. But that's presuming the team is at all pre-arranged. And in single player there's no room to specialize like that. You need to be at least competent at everything instead of focusing on one skill set. And even then, it means that some weapon load-outs like sniper rifles are relatively useless because of the emphasis on mid- and close-range fighting. Personally, I probably would have gone with a well-rounded and adaptable load-out anyway, but that the gameplay doesn't really provide you with any real options about that annoys me.

Lastly is the story and voice acting. The acting is bad. Consistently bad, with the occasional patch of terrible. I think one character actually changed accents about three times in one sentence. As for the story, I'd like to apologize to the writers for the Gears of War games for making fun of their dialogue. I've found something much worse to complain about. Okay, actually the story needs a bit of perspective. Take your favorite story from a JRPG. Now, realize that this JRPG story is told over the course of about 40+ hours of gameplay. Now reduce that story to a series of bullet points. Then reduce it further if that bullet point list probably wouldn't fit into a 6 hour game. You just wrote the story to Front Mission: Evolved. The broad narrative isn't far removed from your standard JRPG story, but it's so rushed with time constraints that neither character nor story is ever developed. There's a romantic subplot that's crammed in without any explanation except to maybe give our hero a reason to save the girl. But if the romantic aspect were cut entirely we could easily argue he's going to save a comrade and, considering how well developed the romance is, it would actually make more sense. The villain is gleefully evil for no other reason than simply being a jerk, and I'm assuming that much because his motivations are never fully explained. Events seem to occur for no other reason than that they must, and then a half-baked explanation is stuck on as a coda. It's just awful writing. Looking at the synopsis of the story and comparing it to a good JRPG or anime it looks like it has potential, but without any development of anything it just seems like a random series of events strung together because we need a jungle level now.

I complain, but I still like this game. The acting is bad, the story is worse, and a lot of the game elements needed more polishing. But it's still fun to pilot a giant robot and shoot other giant robots. And really, aren't games supposed to be fun before all else? It's just not $60 worth of fun. Yeah, I paid full price and regretted that. If you've got an open mind about this game then it's worth a rental, Hell if you've got a GameFly account your paying the subscription fee anyway so it might as well go in your queue. If your a Front Mission fan who isn't offended that this is an action game then it's definitely worth a buy, if you see it in the bargain bin. It's a fun game, but it isn't $60 worth of fun. Maybe $30 worth of fun. And if your looking for a really good buy you should check out Mount and Blade: Warband. It's like 8 bucks on Amazon and I haven't been this manically addicted to a game since Alpha Centauri.

EDIT: Mount and Blade: WarBand was 8 bucks when I got it. I checked today and it's up to 14 something. Still worth it.

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