Front Mission Evolved Impressions Of Wanzer Draggin'

Square Enix is spinning off its Front Mission franchise, best known for its turn-based tactical strategy RPG play, into something more dynamic. Front Mission Evolved is its first venture into third-person shooting, not unlike Armored Core and Chromehounds.

We sat in on a hands-off demonstration of Front Mission Evolved at Gamescom this week, one guided by Double Helix Games' David Verfaillie and Jeremy Lee, lead designer and development director, respectively. Also present was Shinji Hashimoto, producer on the Square Enix side. We watched as the Double Helix guys piloted one of the game's familiar Wanzers (read: mech), destroying everything in its path. And, for a third-person shooter, it appears to be about as fast paced as a turn-based tactical strategy RPG.

Not surprisingly, piloting a giant mech is a little (okay, incredibly) slow, which seems to be the norm for the genre. Front Mission Evolved is more plodding than it is blistering, more lumbering than it is graceful. You are driving hulking metal armored suits.

Those suits, the Wanzers, will be customizable in Front Mission Evolved, as mechs tend to be. Players will be able to build Wanzers based off stock torsos, arms and legs, adding up to four weapons—guns, missile launchers, et al.—on the mech's arms and shoulders plus an ability granting backpack. The Wanzer being played by Verfaillie was decked out with a semi-automatic gun and loaded out with unlimited missiles. His AI controlled partner Godwin, piloting a Grapple Wanzer, was set up with a shotgun and, amusingly, brass knuckles.

Players will also be able to customizable their weapons with "battle skills," with Double Helix offering up corrosive shots and EMP shots as examples of special ammunition types.

Front Mission Evolved will also take players out of the Wanzer occasionally, letting them play as the comparatively wee human piloting the things. We didn't get a chance to see any of those on-foot segments, but did witness Verfaillie terminate a few humans armed with bazookas.

With the game essentially in god mode and the Wanzer shown decked out with infinite ammo, the dozens of enemy Wanzers that the Double Helix guys went up against presented little threat. It was simply aim, unload, eliminate and watch the dull explosions on repeat.

Verfaillie did mix it up a bit, going into the bullet time-esque "edge" mode, which slows things down even further, highlighting enemies in red and causing your Wanzer's damage dealing capabilities to increase. Players not in god mode will have to be mindful of the damage your Wanzer will take, as damage to its legs will slow it down and damage to the arms will decrease its accuracy.

The whole thing was rather dull to watch, but I'd honestly feel the same way about almost anything in the Armored Core series or Chromehounds. There's an audience for this kind of sluggish combat combined with deep levels of customization, but I'm not it. If you're that audience, however, Front Mission Evolved looks to offer exactly that, with Double Helix and Square Enix promising a more story driven single player campaign than its competitors, with a level of customization and Wanzer variety that borrows from the long running series.

Front Mission Evolved is still somewhat early—which is about the nicest way to say it didn't look all that good—and the game hasn't been officially dated by Square Enix yet. The publisher is planning to release the game on the PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 and PC.