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Gundam Evolution hands-on preview

Gundam Evolution

The Gundam franchise has spawned a near countless number of games over the decades, and Gundam Evolution is Bandai Namco’s latest video game adaptation of the legendary series. Following the trend of many other relatively recent Gundam games, like the Battle Operation franchise, Gundam Evolution is a team-based competitive online multiplayer title, with lots of live service hooks to keep you playing the game as part of your daily routine.

Earlier this month, Gundam Evolution had a closed beta network test on Steam. Though it was a “closed beta,” it wasn’t particularly hard to get into, and I managed to grab a key almost immediately after hitting the “request access” button on the Steam page. I put a chunk of time into the network test, and if I’m completely honest with you, dear reader, I had way more fun than I thought I would.

Gundam Evolution

Gundam Evolution is, for all intents and purposes, Overwatch with mobile suits. It’s a 6v6 hero shooter with a heavy focus on objective play and coordination between the various special abilities of each mobile suit.

The core mechanics, control scheme, UI, objectives, and overall feel will be extremely familiar if you’ve ever played Overwatch or Paladins before. Each individual mobile suit is a loadout with their own set of weapons, special skills, hitbox sizes, health and armor pools, and a “class” that determines the role you will play on your team.

There are a few key differences between Overwatch and Gundam Evolution‘s core mechanics that differentiate them, however. Since everyone is in a mobile suit, and mobile suits tend to be fairly maneuverable on account of all those thrusters on them, everyone has a dash gauge.

This gauge is divided into multiple chunks that are exhausted to perform a dodge move in any direction. So, the way the game differentiates how fast a mobile suit is comes down to not only their actual movement speed, but how many dashes they can make before running on empty.

Gundam Evolution

Likewise, mobile suits can perform high jumps and expend their boost gauge to slowly hover around, giving you a good degree of control over where you land when jumping from taller parts of the map. There are also several mobile suits, like the Methuss and Asshimar, that can transform and fly around for a time, further emphasizing the maneuverability and verticality elements of the game.

Just like in most hero shooters, the mobile suits in Gundam Evolution tend to have a main weapon, a variety of cooldown-based skills, the occasional alternate fire mode, and an ultimate attack called a G-Maneuver that you gradually build up energy to use. To use an example, the original Gundam carries its signature beam rifle as its main weapon. You can zoom in slightly with the right mouse button, allowing you to take more accurate, aimed shots at distant foes.

The Gundam’s E skill allows you to raise your shield, which has an armor gauge that depletes as you take hits, while the F skill lets you throw your Hyper Hammer, knocking down and breaking the guard of any enemies it connects with. The Gundam’s G-Maneuver is Super Napalm, a large area denial grenade that causes damages over time to enemies stuck in its radius.

Gundam Evolution

Gundam Evolution‘s mobile suit roster thus far includes a decent mix of iconic and obscure mobile suits from throughout Gundam‘s long history. Each mobile suit feels quite different from each other, and they all do an admirable job of replicating the many weapons and abilities they have from their respective anime or manga.

Sadly, not every mobile suit is created equal, with some very clear balance issues that need to be addressed before release. Anyone who played the network test likely still finds themselves waking up in a cold sweat with traumatizing memories of Gundam Barbatos mains.

Given how many countless thousands of mobile suits exist across the hundreds of anime, manga, games, mechanics manuals, art books, and model kits from Gundam‘s 40-year history, Bandai Namco certainly isn’t lacking material for future “characters.” If the game catches on and they release new content in a timely manner, I can see Gundam Evolution‘s roster explode very rapidly as time goes on.

The game modes in Gundam Evolution are pretty standard hero shooter fare. One involves teams taking turns attacking or defending a series of zones, while another has both teams fight over maintaining control of zones that the map cycles between every few minutes.

Gundam Evolution

As I said earlier, I had way more fun playing Gundam Evolution than I thought I would. At first glance it may look like a fairly cheap Overwatch clone, but Gundam Evolution has a fair number of subtle differences to mix things up.

Gundam Evolution also feels extremely slick and smooth for something still in development. I had basically no performance issues at all during my time with the network test, nor did I encounter any server issues or lag. In this regard, Gundam Evolution is already pretty well polished and bug-free.

I do have one major complaint though, and that is the fact that Gundam Evolution does not feature any way for people to join mid-match. If someone leaves early then other players can opt to leave without penalty.

However, if you do then you will be unable to matchmake again until the match is over. How someone could make a competitive team-based FPS in 2022 without this feature is truly baffling. Apparently the Japanese lack basic online multiplayer functionality from the late ’90s.

The network stress test also gave us a sneak peek at Gundam Evolution‘s monetization scheme, and it’s pretty much what you’d expect from a hero shooter. This means loot boxes and battle passes that allow you to unlock new cosmetics, and many of the categories are straight out of the Overwatch playbook. These include player profile pics, emotes, sprays, skins, and key chains for your guns.

Gundam Evolution

The skins are obviously the most desirable cosmetic, with many of the legendary skins being inspired by iconic variants of classic mobile suits. For example, the Gundam’s legendary skin is the grey colored G-3 variant, while the Zaku II’s legendary skin is none other than the Red Comet himself. Sadly, it doesn’t seem to make you three times faster.

What all of these loot boxes and battle passes will cost is still to be determined.

I really hope that the network test only had a fraction of the full game’s cosmetics implemented, because what is offered is extremely barren. There are maybe a few dozen sprays, key chains, and player icons altogether, and each mobile suit only has like two or three skins, emotes, and MVP splash screens.

Perhaps the most disappointing exclusion is the lack of character specific voice overs. Customization for your pilot’s voice overs is limited to about a dozen generic, nameless soldiers that say a handful of forgettable lines. It seems like a gigantic missed opportunity to not have voice packs as one of the major cosmetics you can unlock.

Gives us a Char voice pack to go with the legendary Zaku II skin. There are so many famous characters from throughout Gundam history, each with a long list of iconic lines and sayings – I really can’t believe that they didn’t think of doing this. Hell, they could literally just rip the voice overs directly from the series instead of having the actors come in to record new lines.

Gundam Evolution

Minor complaints aside, I actually had a fair amount of fun with Gundam Evolution‘s network stress test. I went in expecting a cheap Overwatch clone, and to a degree that’s exactly what Gundam Evolution is shaping up to be.

Even still, the gameplay in Gundam Evolution is pretty polished so far, and by implementing some balance tweaks and quality of life updates before release, I think its possible that Bandai Namco might be onto something with this one.

Maybe it’s just personal bias from someone who has been into Gundam for over 20 years, but I find myself kind of excited to see what Gundam Evolution is like when it gets a full release.

Gundam Evolution is coming in 2022 for Windows PC (via Steam), PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X|S.

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Niche Gamer’s resident indie expert. Digs through the Steam new releases so you don’t have to. Massive fan of miniature and board games as well.