I was always curious about the Front Mission series, but since I have a rather abysmal track record with tactical RPGs, I stood clear of them. No amount of giant robot action could sway my opinion when I was young. Now with Front Mission Evolved, the series has swayed from its tactical roots and been changed to a third-person mech shooter.
With other mech games I have played in the past, there is rarely any story to be seen. You are just some faceless, no named, silent protagonist placed in a machine of destruction taking on sortie after sortie. Here we have something that tries to engage the player. You assume the role of Dylan Ramsey, a wanzer (giant robots in this universe are called wanzers.) engineer in the process of testing out a prototype wanzer model. When an attack from the O.C.U. jeopardizes the life of his father, he immediately rushes into the fray to save him. He is soon given a commission in the U.C.S. Army and is immediately swirled up in a war that could change the layout of the entire world.
For controlling a giant robot, the controls are rather responsive. Wanzers here are highly maneuverable and even when they kick on the jets and skate, it rather easy to take on sharp turn and tight corners.
After that, Front Mission Evolved takes a serious nosedive in fun and playability.
For being able to customize your own wanzer, the game really takes all the fun out of it. The customization process lacks any real depth to it. For any part of the wanzer, there are only four or five real distinct pieces. After that they have the same look, but just brandish better stats. Also the entire buying process for these parts is non-existent. It's really more a loan system. You get cash throughout missions and with that cash you use it for parts and weapons. Once you buy a part, it subtracts from your cash stockpile, however if you buy a part that is weaker than a part you already have equipped it just refunds a portion of cash back to your account. If you pick the original part, you have to buy it again. This aspect just feels backwards. It would make more sense to buy the part and have it placed into some kind of inventory and be done with it. That way you could just save up for parts you really want to buy and not have to balance your bank account for certain parts at certain times.
Customization for missions at times seems to just completely go out the window. There are some missions that require you to equip parts and can seriously change your entire game-playing strategies. There were times where I had to equip hover and spider legs for my wanzer and it threw me off my entire game. Because of that, I had to equip other parts to suit my movement capabilities and had to equip other parts I didn't even like for better armor stats and weapons that I wouldn't normally use. By the time I was done building it, the wanzer I brought into battle looked like a freak of nature. It wasn't enjoyable and I just wanted these missions to be over. I envied looking at my allies' wanzers and wished I could use them, but that is really all they are good for. The ally AI is more of a hindrance than help. They would constantly get in my line of fire and I would hit them rather than the enemy.
Besides mech combat, there are also some on-foot missions and they aren't really any better. The lighting for these missions is just bad. These missions are filled with dark corridors and you can't even see where you are going and can easily get turned around.
Outside of the main story, there is a multiplayer feature where you can battle others in mech combat. However it forces you to start completely from scratch. The mech you customized to fit your style of gameplay in the story is not brought over to multiplayer. You start with very little parts and weapons and as you level up you unlock better parts and weapons to use. Matches are quite unbalanced. In free for all deathmatches, I was placed in matches where the pilots were higher levels than me and my hits wouldn't even deal out any damage to them but I was demolished within a matter of seconds.
In the end, Front Mission Evolved took the concept of third-person mech combat and took all the fun out of it. It is hard to not compare it to other games like it because the other ones got the core of it right. If Square Enix decides to take the series back to being a tactical RPG, I wouldn't blame them.