Failed Mission Extreme – this is how to kill a franchise
Oh, dear. In an age of quick sequels, and reinventing older franchises, a great shame comes with those that fall by the wayside. Lara has struggled to maintain her former sheen (although Guardian of Light has improved matters a lot), Sonic is as good as gone, Duke disappeared in a financing mess, and everywhere you look, former towering franchises are taking a fall as modern studios try to reinvent the unbroken wheel. Unfortunately, FME falls squarely into this category – the original titles were turn based, RPG style “big robot” games (called “Wanzers” here – please donīt giggle), involving careful planning and thought to work your way across maps laden with danger and tension, earning quite a cult following worldwide.
So, we come to the next gen Front Mission, which has undergone some pretty big changes. The “Wanzers” are still in, but Double Helix has gone for some huge changes. Turns and strategy go out the window for a start: FME is a straight out 3rd person shooter, involving very light RPG elements – you can change a few components and weapons on your mech and change the paint job. Missions generally involve traversing tight sections of cities and islands, fighting other mech units and the occasional boss fight. I can already hear the series fans tearing out their hair at the changes.
Visually, FME isnīt great either: mechs and terrains are bland and repetitive, and nothing stands up to close scrutiny thanks to the low resolution textures employed throughout the title. This game would have possibly been good at the next gen launch five years ago, but today looks as insipid as your average PS2 bargain title. Sound follows suit, with poor voice acting and bland sounds playing over forgettable j-rock music. The voices donīt even sync up with the characters lips – a failing left behind years ago by most developers.
Actual gameplay is pretty poor too: your mech is equipped with E.D.G.E., a supposedly-revolutionary technology designed to add to your skills on the battlefield. In reality, it slows everything down for a couple of seconds and makes your enemies glow red – I soon stopped using it as it was more distracting than useful. Shooting is OK, but homing weapons take out much of the skill, and most of the rifles are repetitive. Couple this with a poorly explained (and yet again bland) storyline, and FME soon fails to really spark much excitement in anyone.
Battle can become engaging at times: when taking on several mechs at once, you need to choose your strategy and tactics a little to prevent getting trashed by a group of mixed bad guys. However, even this is stifled by regenerating health (when is this idea going to be replaced?) and poor level design, making the game become a series of peeking round corners picking off enemies one by one, and being glad that the dumb AI cannot detect you shooting the mech next to it repeatedly in the head. The minute you can buy a sniper rifle, it gets even easier: most mechs become one hit kills, and I started beating levels without so much as breaking a sweat.
Some missions are broken up with on-foot sections, which essentially exchange your rock-hard mech with a man made of glass: suddenly missions become a game of hide and seek, and repetitive death cycles learning the enemy patterns to progress. At least you get a cover system, but I actually ended up wishing for the mech sections to come back again.
This really knocks onto the multiplayer too: who really wants to stand toe to toe with their opponent, slowly knocking lumps from each other’s health with no real skill? Cover doesnīt work, everyone uses homing weapons, and it soon becomes a race to the healthpack whilst spamming the “lock-on” button – no one is going to tinker with a working formula, so why deviate from the norm? Most gamers give up way before really sinking their teeth into the system, and I canīt really blame them.
The shame is, FME feels like a cash-in: little effort applied to a poor title washed over with a loved franchise. It would be on a par with the hypothetical Lara Croft Karting, or any of Sonicīs recent failed attempts at creating a worthwhile game. Square have allowed another poor title to mar their good name, by merely rushing out a poor product with no real points of redemption. There are hundreds of better titles doing the same thing, and certainly many mediocre franchises more deserving of your money. I fail to work out who this title could ever work for – series fans will walk away from this and probably never play a Front Mission title again, and newcomers will be put off by poor design, mechanics and an impenetrable mess of a plot. I really cannot recommend this for anyone.
The Bad: Pretty much everything – combat is stale; graphics look like a PS2 launch title; story is rubbish, and makes little sense; multiplayer is dire; not really in any way a Front Mission title without the robots