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Nelson Schneider's Video Game Reviews (416)

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I Am Setsuna 2.5/5
Assassin's Creed Origins 4/5
Boot Hill Heroes 3.5/5
The Bard's Tale IV: Bar... 4.5/5
The Bard's Tale Trilogy 1.5/5
The Bard's Tale III: Th... 1.5/5
The Bard's Tale II: The... 0.5/5
The Bard's Tale: Tales ... 0.5/5
The Technomancer 2.5/5
Tyranny 3.5/5
Pine 2/5
Victor Vran 3/5
Front Mission Evolved 2/5
Greedfall 4.5/5
The Deep Paths: Labyrin... 3/5
The Vagrant 4/5
Avadon: The Black Fortr... 2/5
Mass Effect 3 3.5/5
Mass Effect 2 3.5/5
Mass Effect 2.5/5
Knightin'+ 3.5/5
Indivisible 3/5
Final Fantasy XIV Onlin... 2/5
A Total War Saga: Troy 3/5
Stardew Valley 3/5

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Front Mission Evolved   PC (Steam) 

Evolution Does Not Imply Improvement    2/5 stars

‘Front Mission’ is a long-running series of Tactical Role-Playing Games developed by Squaresoft starting back in 1995. Since that time, only a handful of ‘Front Mission’ titles received official localizations outside of Japan. Moreover, Squaresoft demonstrated a disturbing preoccupation with adding Action to a turn-based franchise, starting with 1996’s “Front Mission: Gun Hazard.”

“Front Mission Evolved” (“FME”), the topic of this review, is only the third ‘Front Mission’ game to officially make it States-side, in 2010. And, of course, with 2010 being smack in the middle of the 7th Generation’s Shooter Domination epidemic, it is not a TRPG like most of the franchise, but is an example of Squaresoft’s (now Square-Enix’s) other fixation: Becoming a Western game developer. Thus “FME” is Western-style Third-Person Shooter, and very much a relic of its time.

Developed at Square-Enix’s behest by Double-Helix Games, a two-bit developer known for a handful of licensed and generally crap titles released between 2008 and the company’s dissolution into Amazon Game Studios in 2014, “FME” embodies everything negative about the 7th Generation in one cumbersome package.

Presentation
11 years after release, “FME” holds up pretty well visually. Double-Helix actually did a pretty good job given what they had to work with, as the character models for human characters look clean, but still stylistically distinct (though the main character looks disturbingly like Zachary Levi), while the series’ signature mechs look consistent with the way they always have. There are some major issues with the visuals though, that need to be called out. First, lip synch, while technically good, is off by a fraction of a second, giving all of the cutscenes a retro ‘Godzilla’ feel. More damningly, though, and actually detrimental to gameplay is the fact that the game’s third-person camera hugs the player’s character/mech so closely that it fills most of the screen and makes situational awareness difficult. This camera distance should be adjustable via a slider called ‘field of view’ or FOV, but no such option exists either within the game’s menus or via manually editing an .ini file.

Audiowise, “FME” is bare-bones. While the game is fully voiced, the performances are not of consistent quality. Some lines are have the delivery of a dead fish being plopped on a plate at a fine dining restaurant, while at the same time, some of the major characters’ voices just aren’t a good match, such as the grizzled general who sounds like a college kid. Musically, “FME” just flatlines. As the first ‘Front Mission’ title to have a non-Japanese composer, it really shows, as the soundtrack is painfully bland and mercifully forgettable.

Technically, “FME” flops the hardest, especially on PC. While I must give Double Helix credit for remembering to put in native Xinput support when they ported the game to PC from the PS3 and Xbox 360, I must also point out that they never bothered to finish the process, leaving controller users with no Xinput button prompts in the GUI, which always shows keyboard keys. Next in the list of technical grievances, “FME” has a LOT of DLC. A small amount of it is included with the purchase of the base game, while a similar small amount never made it to the PC version at all. There is, of course, no ‘complete’ bundle option to buy all this DLC at a discount, but, really, it’s just not worth it, as it consists entirely of weapon packs, mech packs, and a few PvP stages for the game’s ill-conceived multi-player mode. Lastly, the PC version, at least, of “FME” appears to have had zero QA testing. It crashes CONSTANTLY and erratically, most often in the on-foot missions. I was eventually able to get the crashing to (almost) stop by disabling the game’s v-sync and using Nvidia’s version instead, and by running the game in compatibility mode for Windows Vista Service Pack 2, but the game’s overall instability really put a bad taste in my mouth. This bad taste was made worse by the fact that the mid-mission checkpoints that allow players to continue if they die don’t work if the game itself dies and crashes to the desktop, so I got to replay a number of missions from the beginning. Repeatedly.

Story
“FME’s” story might make more sense if we in the West had received all of the games in the series and were able to keep up with the continuity. But then, it might not.

Our hero is Zachary Levi Dylan Ramsay, the son of a high-tech researcher and a test pilot for prototype wanzers (the in-game portmanteau of ‘walking’ and ‘panzer,’ referring to the two-story humanoid mechs that have come to dominate the game world’s military strategy). After a day of routine testing alongside his smokin’ hot (but tragically underutilized and underdeveloped) co-worker, Dylan learns that unknown military forces have attacked a local space elevator and that his dad’s lab is in the hot zone. “Borrowing” an experimental wanzer equipped with a cutting-edge AI co-pilot named Wizard, Dylan rushes off to save his dad, only to become embroiled in a worldwide fiasco in which a suspiciously well-armed terrorist organization seeks to attack all of the world’s remaining governments simply for the sake of war.

Eh. Not terribly interesting. As an Action game instead of a cutscene-heavy TRPG, “FME” doesn’t really have a lot of room to dump backstory and lore on the player, so it doesn’t. It throws out acronyms and proper place-names with no regard for player’s lack of familiarity. The plot trundles along before jerkily jumping to another story thread, while frequently dumping ‘big reveals’ that fall flat due to a lack of build-up and coherency.

Incredibly, “FME” is also breathtakingly short. While many people who played it on consoles at release complained that it was a mere 7-hour game, I found that it took me about 12 hours to get through it… largely due to having to replay entire missions every time the damned thing crashed, like some spastic variation of ‘Dark Souls.’

Gameplay
I largely was interested in “FME” due to it being a mech game with customizable robots to pilot. This part of the as-advertised gameplay actually holds true, and is the single redeeming quality in the game’s mechanics. The player can freely customize a wanzer with a variety of torsos, legs, and arms (the latter of which are separate, and can be of two different types), along with hand weapons and shoulder-mounted weapons. While it’s no ‘Armored Core,’ the system works well, and with a constant trickle of new parts becoming available over the course of the campaign, there’s always something to tinker with. Of course, for those shooter fans who hate thinking and tinkering with mechs, the game includes pre-builts that the player can just select-and-go. Instead of buying and selling mech parts, the player simply earns money by playing the campaign. Killing enemy vehicles, finding money drops within each mission, and completing sub-objectives all award cash, which accumulates in a single pool which determines the total maximum value of parts the player’s mech can contain. It’s a fairly intuitive system, and actually rewards tinkering more than old-school buy/sell systems, since the player can never actually lose money by swapping parts around.

But that’s where my praise ends. “FME” features a small number of linear missions that involve stomping along, destroying enemy vehicles, sometimes fighting a poorly-balanced bullet-sponge of a boss, and occasionally disembarking to run around on-foot inside buildings. However, in spite of the fact that these missions are straight-forward, linear shooting galleries, they are filled with late-‘90s era collect-a-thon nonsense. Each mission contains, at minimum, 20 ‘sensors’ to find and destroy (apparently some sort of surveillance…things… that are bad) and three ‘emblems’ to collect. On-foot missions include even more groups of annoying things to destroy and/or collect, including datakeys (that don’t unlock anything) and other kinds of surveillance things… that are bad. What’s worse, with the game’s claustrophobic FOV settings, it can be very hard to spot these small, hidden collectables, and having to stop and scour every inch of every stage gets tedious and boring in a hurry.

Of course, since collecting/destroying all the ‘things’ awards extra cash, engaging with the collect-a-thon systems to some degree is required in order to have enough funds to build a competent end-game mech, since the final two boss battles are the bullet-spongiest of them all, soaking up unbelievable amounts of ordinance while also possessing the ability to easily one-shot even the most potent player wanzer builts. Hmmm…maybe that’s where all the DLC wanzers come into play…

Mech-based wanzer combat feels somewhat enjoyable. The player can go nuts, firing all their wanzer’s weapons simultaneously, though they will overheat and need to cool down after extended use. Wanzers also feature maneuverability boosters that allow them to ‘skate’ along the ground at high speeds. Unfortunately, wanzer maneuverability is highly reliant on a special backpack part simply called ‘Agility.’ It’s the first piece available for that equipment slot at the start of the game, and while other customization options become available, I found it impossible to dispense with Agility, simply because the ability to strafe while skating is essential, and Agility is the only way to do that. This is just one of many annoying limitations placed on the customization system that give the player the illusion of choice when they really have one viable option. Other such hindrances include missions that require the player to equip specific leg parts or weapons on their wanzer, which, in turn, force changes to the entire loadout due to weight restrictions.

The on-foot sections of the game are perhaps the worst aspect of gameplay. Not only do they feature the same linearity and semi-mandatory collect-a-thon-ing as the mech sections, the gameplay changes from heavily-armed and maneuverable wanzers to bland, by-the-books cover-based shooting, with a whopping three weapon choices (machinegun, shotgun, and rocket) and some generally suspect hit detection.

Overall
While the word ‘evolution’ has, in modern parlance, gained connotations of ‘improvement,’ that’s not actually what it means. It is adaptation to an environment via selective pressure. By the true definition of ‘evolution,’ ‘Front Mission’ has indeed ‘evolved,’ by mutating from a unique TRPG into a bland Third-Person Shooter in a 2010 environment already overpopulated by that species. Between the tooth-grinding technical issues, the lifeless story, and poorly-realized gameplay, “FME” doesn’t offer anything to anyone.

Presentation: 2.5/5
Story: 2/5
Gameplay: 2.5/5
Overall (not an average): 2/5

 

 


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