I’m no expert on mech games — or indeed the mecha “genre” in general — but Daemon x Machina had me intrigued from the moment Nintendo announced it.
And it’s certainly a game that is worthy of your attention, regardless of whether or not you have an interest in giant robots blowing things up; the sheer amount of pedigree attached to the project makes it immensely intriguing.
With that in mind, then, I decided to give the Prototype Missions demo that launched on Valentine’s Day a go. Read on for some impressions!
Many people are likening Daemon x Machina to the Armored Core series, and indeed it’s not hard to see why — particularly with longstanding series producer Kenichiro Tsukuda at the helm. In both the Armored Core series and the new game, you play the part of a silent protagonist who acts as a mercenary; in both, you are able to fully customise your mech (referred to as an “Arsenal” in Daemon x Machina) with various parts either purchased or looted; in both, mission rewards are dependent on you completing objectives and minimising the amount of damage you take, which is deducted from your reward as “expenses”.
But I’ve never played an Armored Core game, so I’m coming to Daemon x Machina pretty fresh; without expectation, without prejudice, without any feelings of what this game “should” be. This is a position I very much enjoy being in when it comes to a new IP like this; it allows you to absolutely judge the new work on its own merits rather than bemoaning how it’s not enough like/too much like the thing it’s inspired by.
Daemon x Machina begins with the opportunity to create and customise your character. Although the major options such as face shape and hairstyles are fairly limited in the Prototype Missions demo (hereafter referred to as “the demo” for simplicity’s sake) you still have a fair amount of flexibility through colour choice. For your character’s hair, eyes, makeup (where applicable) and outfit, you can customise colours either by making use of a series of presets, or by taking much finer control using a full palette system. And yes, you can have heterochromatia (odd-coloured eyes) if you so desire.
After this, you’re taken to the hangar, where your initial loaner Arsenal awaits, and invited to sign on for a basic training mission. This is a simple affair where you simply have to destroy all the enemies in a small area before time expires; as you’re told before the mission starts, “very few people fail”, and indeed it seems quite difficult to mess things up. From thereon, though, you’re into more challenging situations.
Controlling your Arsenal is done through a fairly conventional third-person shooter dual-stick setup. Left stick moves forward and backwards as well as strafing left and right; right stick allows you to move the angle in which you are facing in both the X and Y axes. On the ground, relatively small movements will see your Arsenal walking; moving over a longer distance will see it engaging some thrusters and “surf” over the ground.
Fast movement can be achieved by tapping the Boost button; this initially does a dash in the direction you push, but holding it down allows you to continue moving at high speed for as long as you hold the button and as long as your Arsenal’s “stamina” rating holds out. Making effective use of Boost is essential to dodging enemy attacks, from what I can determine so far.
Tapping the B button causes your Arsenal to leap gracefully into the air; tapping it again while in the air switches into flight mode, marked by the boosters which flung you into the air changing colour from red to blue. Once airborne, you can move around using the dual stick controls, with the pitch angle at which you push “forward” now also determining whether you climb, dive or maintain your altitude. Pressing the B button while flying allows you to rise up and gain altitude on the spot; clicking the left stick causes you to do a “fast fall” landing that quickly returns you to the ground, but has a short recovery period.
Depending on how your Arsenal is equipped, you can have up to four weapons to play with at a time — one per arm (mapped to the ZL and ZR triggers by default), a special weapon (L by default) and an auxiliary weapon (R by default). Aiming any of these does not require precision; a large targeting reticle in the middle of the screen shows your lock-on radius, and getting an enemy within this reticle and within range causes your weapons to automatically aim at them, with the enemy closest to the centre of the reticle taking the highest priority where multiple targets are in range.
You begin with an assault rifle that is fairly feeble in power, a large metal shield and a missile pod. Throughout the missions of the demo, you can complement or replace these with an automatically firing variant of the assault rifle, submachine guns, a sword, a bazooka, grenades and a “down booster” that allows you to descend quickly without necessarily having to do the full “fast landing” sequence. Two pylons on your Arsenal’s back allow you to carry a weapon in reserve for each arm, or simply swap them out when the situation demands it. Since ammunition is limited for every weapon, however, it’s worth making sure you carry some spare, alternative means of attacking whenever possible.
The enemies you’ll encounter throughout the demo run the gamut from small, nimble, airborne drones to larger ground-bound tanks, rival Arsenals and even gigantic “Immortals” who act as the main bosses. The Arsenals are particularly worth keeping track of, as downing an enemy Arsenal allows you to loot its wreckage for one of its parts, and this is the primary means through which you acquire new equipment. A new weapon will be immediately equipped if you have a free hardpoint, or sent back to base for you to equip in a subsequent mission if you do not.
Your Arsenal’s overall status is tracked through a “VP” rating. Let this expire and you’ll have to eject from your mech and fight on foot — surprisingly, this isn’t necessarily a death sentence, since you can actually put up some reasonable resistance with the weaponry you have access to in this “Outer” state. It is possible to heal VP by destroying green containers in the mission area and standing in the energy field that results; however, the amount of damage your Arsenal’s components have taken is tracked separately and cannot be repaired mid-mission, so you can potentially be at full VP but have one of your critical systems operating at considerably lower efficiency.
The other main readout you can keep track of during combat is “Femto”. This isn’t explained at all in the demo, but it builds up gradually over time, faster when you enter marked “Femto Zones” on the map or collect residual Femto dropped by fallen enemies. In the demo, the only real use for this appears to be “rebooting” allied Arsenals if they take too much damage — this consumes a full Femto bar — but we can assume there will be more interesting uses for this in the full game. Armored Core veterans believe that it will either be used to power energy weapons such as lasers, or perhaps be a “special meter” of sorts, allowing you to unleash a powerful attack when it’s full.
During combat, the HUD can initially look quite cluttered and daunting, but it’s fully customisable to your liking and also quite easy to parse once you understand what you’re looking at. The radar is easy to understand; collectible ammunition for your weapons is prominently highlighted, allowing you to restock on the fly; and targets are clearly marked, giving you clear visual signals when you’re under attack. Likewise, plenty of visual feedback is given when you’re the one on the offense in the form of pop-up damage numbers; this is especially important when fighting the giant boss in the fourth mission of the demo, as hitting specific (marked) weak points results in significantly more damage than just spraying and praying.
One thing that feels like it’s missing to me is any sort of enemy health gauge, even during the boss fights. You can judge how much damage you’ve done by how many bits you’ve successfully managed to blast off, of course, and your organisation’s computer “Four” provides audible feedback at every 25% milestone in total damage, but there’s no explicit health bar giving you up-to-date feedback on how much more damage you have to do.
As an Armored Core newbie, I’m not sure if this is business as usual or indeed if there’s a possible upgrade that allows you to see remaining HP in a more explicit, clear manner, but it’s something that takes a bit of adjusting to. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, mind; after growing accustomed to its absence, I actually quite liked the feeling of being able to judge how knackered a large enemy was by the visible damage to its structure and armour — and it was very satisfying to blow off chunks of armour to reveal weak points beneath.
Although your options in the demo are fairly limited, it’s clear that customisation is going to be a huge focus in this game, with the hangar providing all the stat pornography a numbers junkie could ever wish for. You can kit out your Arsenal in a variety of ways to suit your playstyle, and they make a significant different to how it performs, whether you go for a heavyweight “tank” or a nimble kiter. Not only that, though, but you can also upgrade your character, which provides you with both benefits when you’re piloting your arsenal and when you’re on foot. Interestingly, many of the upgrades to your character involve surgical modification, and this actually has an impact on your visual appearance; the more modifications and upgrades you apply, the more like a “cyborg” your character starts to appear!
There are aspects of the demo that could use some improvement prior to the final release of the game — most notably the HUD’s usability and overall game performance in handheld mode — but this is looking very promising indeed. The striking, high-contrast, brightly-coloured cel-shaded art style of the game eschews the usual dirty industrial greys and browns that some (well, I) associate with mecha games, and there’s plenty of personality brought to the experience through named allies and enemies. Plus the plot looks like it’s going to be interesting, too, with mysteries to solve and conspiracies to thwart teased even in these four brief missions.
So, in short, I’m looking forward to this a lot. This could be the game to get me into mecha; I’m certainly keeping an open mind about it, and I’ll be keeping a close eye on it as we get closer to its eventual release later in 2019.
Thanks for reading; I hope you enjoyed this article. I’ve been writing about games in one form or another since the days of the old Atari computers, with work published in Page 6/New Atari User, PC Zone, the UK Official Nintendo Magazine, GamePro, IGN, USgamer, Glixel and more over the years, and I love what I do.
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