Custom Mech Wars is a mech-based designer/shooter from D3 Publisher that came out of nowhere but immediately intrigued thanks to it being from some of the people that made some of the EDF games while also showing off a frankly ridiculous trailer that looked like it might just capture some of that EDF magic. Does it? Well, you’ll need to read on.
The story behind Custom Mech Wars is that humanity are hiding out in bunkers thanks to a potentially devastating comet that’s headed right for Earth. In order to stop people looting homes and businesses, a force of AI-controlled mechs, known as G-Mechs, have been deployed to maintain and protect the cities of the Earth. And that was fine until the AI malfunctioned and the mechs started destroying everything.
Thankfully, not all the G-Mechs are AI-controlled and this is where you step in as a “newbie” mech pilot, tasked with taking out this new AI threat using your own manually-controlled G-Mech with help from your colleagues at Four-Seven Security. As with EDF, this plot goes from dramatic to ridiculous and back pretty quickly with plenty of bizarre Japanese humour but it’s only there to frame the action and you’ll miss a lot of what’s going on thanks to the lack of any English dub so while the Japanese voice actors are babbling away during gameplay, you’ll miss all of it as you’ll likely be looking at the battlefield and not the incessant sub-titles.
This is an immediate mark against the game unfortunately. I mean, sure, EDF was full of absolute babble too but the lines, as daft as they were, were iconic and delivered with a straightness that sort of sold the drama. Here it’s just, frankly annoying Japanese voices, slowly driving you mad without the jokey pay offs that EDF had. And it gets worse when each of the game’s forty missions ends with a period of boring, unskippable nonsense when really you just want to crack on with the customising and shooting.
The game’s forty levels mostly play out the same each time. You start somewhere in the middle of an area (again, an EDF-esque city, countryside, desert or industrial area) and before long a bunch of G-Mechs will show up. You’ll shoot them with either your primary or sub weapons and eventually clear that wave. More will come, you’ll kill them. And then, after however many waves, the level ends. Now, the initial levels are very sparse with not much in the way of memorable scenery, tactical cover or enemies. But, hey, that’s the tutorial. Things will surely get better, right?
Wrong. Each level feels like this. Wave after wave of mechs either dropping or teleporting in with no real sense of any meaningful level design or tactical challenge. They appear, you blast them. That’s it. And the wave-based nature of it means that you don’t even get any EDF craziness as their numbers are limited usually to under twenty from what we could tell and usually a lot less.
But “no-one said this was like EDF” people will say. And yes, that’s true. But it’s easy to make the comparison as this has the same stiff lack of auto-aim, the same earnest but daft dialogue and the same sort of environments. There are even five difficulty levels for each mission that work in a similar way to EDF‘s so there’s going to be inevitable comparisons and, unfortunately, Custom Mech Wars comes off second best whenever they come up.
It’s really in the combat where the game disappoints the most. There’s no dynamics to it. Sure, the buildings crumble in a sort-of-EDF kind of way and things explode but it all feels so flat and underwhelming. There you are, armed to the robotic teeth and yet combat feels weak as if you’re firing pea-shooters at each other. There’s no friction, no inertia, no heft to anything. From the way you glide along the surface of the battlefield to the way that enemies never take a step back when shot, they never fall over. Even though every unit in the game is a large mech, everything feels small like this is a kid playing with their Transformers on their table.
And it’s tedious, we’re sorry to say. The levels go from feeling underwhelming to dull and, before long, actually tedious. The longer they go on for (and they do get longer as you up the difficulty or advance through the campaign) the less enjoyable things get. There’s no real challenge (short of running out of ammo early in the game or figuring out how to beat any boss-type characters such as the big mech on level 20), so really there’s no point. EDF did require you to work out some actual strategies for some levels but that’s not the case here.
But with all that said, the story and the gameplay are in the backseat here almost by design. The headline act in Custom Mech Wars is indeed the customisation and it’s the game’s only real saving grace. The game gives you a lot of scope in this area with basic mech designs to purchase and then go wild on. The mech chassis can support arms, legs and heads but you can put them almost anywhere with each mech having plenty of attach points. Our main mech for a while had four pairs of arms up top and then an extra one coming off of its knee. That one was for holding a sword just in case we ran out of ammo. But really you can do so much more with all manner of parts getting unlocked as you go along.
It’s all quite impressive but the downside is that it’s not very well-explained and it doesn’t really shape the gameplay. Sure, equipping as many guns as you can within the weight limit is a solid strategy but there’s no sense of seeing an enemy mech in play and thinking ‘ooh, I like its chest armour, that’d look great on my mech’ or anything like that. There’s no sense of looting enemies or finding that one part you really want. And it’s all just presented in big, tedious lists that don’t really tell you much.
The only other thing that would sell this part of the gameplay is if the graphics were good. Seeing your creations towering in glorious ray-traced 4K would maybe make everything better but the graphics on offer in this game are shockingly average. As we said, there’s no sense of size, but there’s also no sense of damage, wear and tear or anything else. There’s no eye candy, no shine, no beauty to it. The feeling we got playing the game was that this is what it was like playing on a DS in the PS2 era. This game looks significantly less impressive than, say, EDF 2017 on the Vita. That’s the word really: unimpressive. A mech game shouldn’t look this anaemic.
So, yeah. We just didn’t like Custom Mech Wars. We really wanted to. In our heads an EDF-like mech game is exactly what we want to play and if they’d delivered that with a customisation engine that had more of a sense of reward to it, then this idea could have really had legs but at this point, and at this price, we’re really struggling to find the positives in it.
+ No technical issues
- Very repetitive
- Customisation isn't very intuitive
- No sense of reward to picking up new parts
- Weak visuals
- Lack of an English dub hurts the story