Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Giant Robots and Video Games: Two Great Tastes That Taste Great Together

Giant Robot Week rolls on here at A Capital Wasteland, and true to the mission statement of the blog, I'm about to analyze some games.  Whether it was discussing the immersiveness of intricate controls, gushing over the style of an entire franchise, or praising a game with good music, I've already gone into detail about some of my favorite giant robot-related video games.  There was also that time I criticized a certain mechanical design.  This is then going to be somewhat of a whirlwind trip through some other favorites of mine of varying degrees of popularity.

Of all the mecha game franchises, I have lived with Armored Core the longest.  It was an infatuation that began with a demo disc.  For those not in the know, Armored Core  places players in the role of a mercenary that pilots a highly customizable robot.  You want hover legs?  AC's got it.  You want flamethrowers? AC's got it.  You want all the missiles?  AC's got it.  Basically any machine you can think of can become real and then be used to either take on a vast array of missions or climb up the ranks of one-on-one combat.  Its focus on deep stat management might have hindered mainstream success, but it's a series that was beloved enough to get a recurring feature in the back of Tips & Tricks back when magazines were still a thing.

Trying to find the right screenshot was infuriating, so please to enjoy Armored Core 2's intro

Even if I find enjoyment in all of the entries, there are still peaks and valleys.  Armored Core 3 and its expansion Silent Line are definitely my favorites, as they correct some of the flaws with the previous releases while adding in welcomed new features.  Unfortunately, the latest games have been my least favorite, as they streamlined much of the build process (taking out the radiators eliminated a chunk of stat management and strategy), added unwelcome features (a constant energy shield is not necessary), and completely changed the play style.  Where once there was a wide range of speeds and armor types now everything is way too fast and can fly virtually forever.  It's not the worst thing ever, but I tend to play with a slower, much more heavily armored mech with a methodical playstyle that became less viable in Armored Core 4.  I'd still recommend the franchise as a whole if you're looking to get in the cockpit of a mech of your own design.

Next time I play Armored Core I'm holding my controller this way
Speaking of deep customization, Front Mission is without a doubt one of deepest tactical role-playing games you can find.  If there was a spectrum for the level of tactics in a tactical RPG, Super Robot Wars would be on one side and Front Mission would be entrenched in defensible and flanking positions at the other end.  It's a thinking man's robot game.  There's less actual mech tweaking than AC but there's pilot and formational customization. If you don't know what you're doing it all might as well be gibberish, and your squad will end up more toast than a group of panicked rookies in XCOM.  When a plan comes together though, your unit operates like a well oiled machine.

Unfortunately, much like Armored Core, the latest entry in the Front Mission has been a letdown. Front Mission Evolved  is a stinking turd of a game.  What was once a deep tactical game has devolved into a terrible third person shooter with a bare minimum of robot customization.  There's not a part of the game that isn't awful from gameplay to story.  Probably the most egregious thing in the entire game is the cockpit design. They are huge boxy rooms with giant NOS tanks in them.  Whoever designed them either didn't care or has a terrible aesthetic taste.  This is a grim reminder of what happens when you try to turn a cult classic game into something it isn't to please mainstream fans who won't play it anyway.

This picture doesn't do them the injustice that they deserve.  I'd tell you to play the game to see for yourself, but I don't want you to hate me any more than you already do.
Lest you believe that this post is all about customization and recent failings, let's take a gander at something mired in licensing and rights drama.  Or maybe just mention the whole Macross/Robotech debate in passing as Robotech: Battlecry takes the stage.  Regardless of the source material debate, the fact remains that in Battlecry you take control of an F-14 that can transform into a giant robot in order to fight aliens.  It's a game that's incredibly true to its Robotech/Macross roots so much so that every time a missile is fired you aren't just treated to a singular homing attack but a goddamn Itano Circus.  It's a great game in that it executes a fun concept with incredible competence.  Maybe pick it up for the Xbox, Gamecube, or PS2; copies are easy to find at secondhand game shops.

The game also utilized cel shading to more effectively imitate the show
Robots are also great for fighting games. If you like fighting games and robots, which everyone should, perhaps Capcom's Cyberbots and Tech Romancer are games that already dwell within your heart.  Seek them out and challenge your friends to see who is the top ace.

Some Cyberbots action

Of course, I didn't give every giant robot game a moment in the sun--these were just a couple that were at the forefront of my mind.  Yes, I know Steel Battalion is awesome, but that's a story for another time when I can actually set up that glorious contraption for a replay.  Metal Wolf Chaos is something that I've never played since Microsoft feels the need to region lock its systems and felt it was unnecessary to publish a first-party game about the greatest president ever in right here in America.  Feel free to call me out and start discussions about other, better(?) games.

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