The first five Front Mission games concern themselves with grids, stats and menus; they're about thought, tactics and taking time to perfect your strategy - pretty much everything that Front Mission Evolved is not. The reincarnation of the franchise is about jumping into the fray head first, spraying missiles all over the place and watching the screen become a red and yellow mess of explosions. Developer Double Helix has taken the SRPG core of the series and chucked it out the window. With the narrative framework that's left, it's created a 3D shooter not dissimilar to the fantastic Armored Core. You might want to think of it along the same lines of Command and Conquer: Renegade - the universe and narrative are left intact, but a new genre's mechanics have been wrapped around it.
The thought of such a game has caused much distress for Front Mission fans, who are scared that their beloved franchise will be reduced to a sub-par shooter that retains none of the charm and atmosphere of its predecessors. It's a legitimate concern, especially when games like Armored Core: For Answer are doing the whole shooty-mechy thing so well. In truth though, the franchise lends itself to the third-person genre perfectly.
The plot unfolds around a young man going by the exciting name of Dylan Ramsay; an engineer that works on the development of wanzers. Walking Panzers, or wanzers as they're known, are the stars of the Front Mission series. They're the hulking great big suits of robo-armour that skate around battlefields with anti-grav mech boots whilst launching missiles from turrets peeking out of their shoulders. They're all the rage in 2171, and certainly a lot more useful than hover-cars. It's fifty years after the events of Front Mission 5 and these wanzers are the instruments of war used by two superpowers; the O.C.U and the U.C.S. After learning that his father has landed himself in a spot of war-based bother, Dylan runs off with a new wanzer his company has been working on to save the day. Unsurprisingly, one thing leads to another and Dylan soon finds himself at the centre of the conflict.
The cutscenes bearing the weight of the narrative aren't much to talk about. The cast is comprised of an ensemble of stereotypes, and the dialogue spouted from their poorly synced mouths is more than a little cringe-worthy. Still, it serves its purpose of tying one level to the next and gives fans of the series something to relate to. You don't have to know a thing about the series to enjoy Evolved, but recurring themes and organisations will please those that have stuck with the series through the years.
Missions are pretty straightforward. You move from waypoint to waypoint, blowing up any tanks, missile towers and enemy mechs that happen to stand in your way. Thankfully, Dylan is more comfortable behind the cockpit of his wanzer than he is in conversation, and so the subsequent gameplay holds up much better. In the Xbox 360 version tested your skates are initiated with a tap of the B button, and your primary weapon is exactly where it should be on the right trigger. The other button you'll be pressing a lot is the left bumper, which will lock onto enemy targets for as long as you hold it down. Once four lock-ons are acquired, you can let go and watch four missiles scream through the air towards your targets. The controls are surprisingly intuitive, and moment-to-moment gameplay is satisfying.