Battle Engine Aquila tries to invigorate the action genre through some good new ideas fused with tried and true run-and-gun gameplay. And it succeeds, for the most part, but not without a few hiccups.
Premise: You are a Forseti pilot at the controls of a prototype shape-shifting tank/fighter hybrid assisting fellow troops in driving back the rival Muspell in a war to control various regions of land and sea throughout the world.
The Battle Engine’s transforming ability allows the player to get a bird’s-eye view of the action and rain death down on enemy forces while keeping an eye on the rest of the battle. Being down on the ground in the thick of things offers different types of firepower all designed to be nasty at short range. Weapons vary from a charge-up cannon and grenades, to a beam laser, a Vulcan cannon – and so on – and as new Battle Engines are unlocked via the campaign, new weapons arrive with them, but only in pre-set loadouts (no customization). This reviewer spent most of his time in the basic Battle Engine; it has a solid selection of armaments that work well both in the air and on the ground. Fighting on land is straightforward and simple but, on occasion, it may take a little trial and error to figure out exactly which pack of enemies need eliminating first. This is compounded further by mission objectives not being particularly clear – and a more detailed map might also have helped. But, if all else fails, blast everything as quickly as you can. If you screw up, you can retry with minimal load times.
The game’s flight mechanism draws from the same regenerative energy pool as your Engine’s shields, so if you start running low on power, don’t set down in the thick of battle. There are recovery pads in Forseti bases as well as their airships and seagoing vessels, too. Landing on one of these pads restores energy, armor, and ammo, and can be used as often as needed. However, using them too often will see the tide of battle turn against you as your forces seem lost without the assistance of the Battle Engine.
This adds a sense of urgency to your objectives but, at the same time, it also starts to feel like babysitting, as though nothing will get done unless you do it yourself. It can seem tedious, but when you remember that a cry for help always means going to blow up more stuff, it’s not so bad. Instead of being a spearhead, the Battle Engine ends up more like an advanced support vehicle – but that would be better implied if it moved a little faster. As it is, both in the air and on the ground, everything chugs along; however, it’s not choppy or due to a reduced frame rate issue. It’s just slow.
Though fighting on and above land quickly becomes familiar, missions over water can be frustrating since a few well-placed enemy shots can deplete your energy and send you spiraling into the waters below. Hopping ship to ship works fine, and pummeling an enemy warship while standing on its decks is kinda cool. However – getting back to some iffy objectives and timing – there could be a whole squad of bombers that snuck past you, meaning ?game over’ and a repeat of the same mission. You’ll probably find yourself redoing considerably more missions over water than land. Not only is managing the shield/flight energy trickier, but combining that with uber-weak friendlies and crazy-aggressive hostiles makes everything that much harder. Missions can be completed; it’s just more a question of will you want to try?
The single-player campaign requires completion to unlock multiplayer modes, maps, and other game-related goodies like concept art. The main campaign offers standard missions and EVO variants that provide slightly different and more difficult mission parameters. Also all the missions are graded, and a higher grade means?Well, I’m not sure since some of them were simply impossible to score well on. Even completing all primary and secondary mission objectives sometimes sees you score a low rating. Puzzling. Still, mission variants mixed with trying to improve ratings ensures some replayability, as does the satisfying feeling of blowing the tar out of buildings, tanks, and infantry, and watching massive airships drop from the sky in a plume of flames. These elements are executed well enough, in direct contrast to the story, which is a little shallow and meaningless. Despite some decent cut scenes and reasonable voice acting, the characters don’t really develop and each level’s narrative interaction basically boils down to figuring out what needs blowing up first. There isn’t much beyond that.
Multiplayer works pretty well, offering co-op, skirmish, and versus modes. It’s still a little slow-paced, but still works fine. Omitted from the game were a cooperative main campaign and a skirmish single-player mode, as it’s basically a jump-in-and-kill-everything foray – perfect for letting off steam after a long day. As previously stated, most of the multiplayer content is unlocked via completion of the single-player campaign, so you might as well plow through the main game in a few hours before calling any friends. You’d have to get them to come over, too, since no online modes were included, either.
Battle Engine Aquila’s visuals are adequate with some shining elements of particular polish. Sometimes enemies blend in a little too well with the scenery, and despite going all out on the sun’s flare effects, the color shading of the sky is virtually nonexistent. It’s like developers Lost Toys had to lower the resolution and color depth to keep things moving without any fog or pop-up. Notably, other studios have done this better in the past, namely Surreal and Melbourne House. The explosions and amount of progressive damage sustained by the buildings is impressive, and in a videogame where all you do is ?blow stuff up’, the developers chose wisely in making the explosions decent.
And any ka-boom is only as good as the sound accompanying it. This is another fairly capable area of the game, if not at all spectacular. There are plenty of audio samples in use at any given time, but they tend to offer more treble than bowel-shaking bass. When stuff blows up, you expect to ?feel’ it. You don’t. The voice acting on show isn’t bad, but the game’s music is instantly forgettable.
Battle Engine Aquila has a solid premise, and if Lost Toys had taken the design a few steps further, it could have been a definite spectacle. The constant nagging for help from comrades and the often inconvenient balancing act of managing flight energy can be bothersome, and the game’s rather short missions all boil down to ?kill them before they kill you’, but there’s still fun to be had. A sequel could possibly address and iron out the few lacking points, but it’s hard to say when or if that day will ever come.
Note to developers: When you attempt to produce something new and original in the development oven, cook the idea till it’s done. Don’t bring it to the table lukewarm.