First up, let's dispense with the inevitable schoolboy snorting and sniggering surrounding the word ‘wanzer’, shall we? Whilst it might conjure up silly infantile images in those Brit brains of ours, it has been used to considerable success in Square Enix's long-standing Japanese console-based tactical RPG series, Front Mission. Plus, the name is a derivative of the German word for walking tanks, or Wanderpanzer, so there.
Starting out life in 1995 on the Super Famicom, the Front Mission series has always been loved by its native Japanese gamers, but, aside from a small die-hard subset of western Mecha game fans, it's fallen fairly flat anywhere else on the planet.
More than a decade after the series started and with nearly ten games behind it, it’s now fallen to Double Helix to try and take the franchise in a new, more twitch-gamer focused direction. Sqeenix and Double Helix have teamed up to bring a little third-person shooter lovin' to what has traditionally been a slow, tactical and very methodical series. The duo have succeeded on some fronts, but they've also blown one too many whirring Mecha cogs to make Front Mission Evolved anything special enough to write home about.
My wanzer is the biggest wanzer
There's two distinct parts to this puzzle; the ludicrously half-baked story mode, and then the more interesting and engaging four-versus-four online more. Front Mission Evolved is most certainly a straight port from its console brethren, and as is more often the case than not these days, the game's options are fairly limited for a modern day PC title. There’s the option to tinker with anisotropic filtering and shader quality, but that’s about it.
As you’d expect of a console port, a gamepad is really required to get the most out of Front Mission Evolved too. The offline story mode especially is made more palatable and a whole lot less frustrating if you’ve decided to forego the keyboard - and it's there that most players will get their size 50 metallic stumps wet and learn the ropes.
Sadly, to say that the game's plotline is laughably forgettable is an understatement as nearly as big as the wanzers themselves. It's like someone watched as much piss-poor robot anime as they possibly could, drank a crate of something illegal and then vomited their own story into a computer. Sounds grim, right? Well, it is. The voice work is some of the most stilted we've heard for quite some time, and honestly, when we weren't crying with laughter at the planet-sized plot holes we were genuinely sobbing at the tedium of another near unendurable cutscene.
On-foot sections aren't as fun as being a giant, stompy robot
Somewhere towards the end of the game, we realised we had no idea what we were supposed to be doing, the story having been so dull as to inspire us to mute the volume a few missions earlier. We'd simply resigned ourselves to enjoying the not-half-bad implementation of wanzer combat, fun customization and crazy look-and-feel tweaks. If you too can block out the invasively insipid plot then you’ll see there’s actually a decent game underneath.
Front Mission Evolved is divided into acts, each of which sees you build up more and more cash with which to trick out your wanzer's build, payload and weaponry. There’s a balancing act to upgrading though, as the more big shiny guns you bolt onto your appendages, the more cumbersome your wanzer becomes. Heh.
You can get extremely granular if you want too, opting to custom-build and paint your mech, but it comes at a premium price. You may well find yourself replaying some of the easier missions just in order to cover the cost of that new sniper rifle you've been eyeballing. In an interesting move, Front Mission Evolved also gives you a chance to stretch your legs outside of the mecha vehicles with numerous chapters seeing you run around on foot with a bazooka, machine gun, and an apparently inhuman ability to sprint indefinitely.