Several years ago, in the PSX and Xbox era of gaming, Mecha games were some of the most fun and involved games out there. Armored core, Front Mission, MechWarrior, Xenogears (to an extent). Games where you piloted giant armored robots and laid waste to other giant armored robots. They were games with an absolute metric ton of customization that garnered a strong and loyal fanbase that lasts even to this day. But as time went on, this genre of games slowly faded in to the shadows and became less and less a major draw for a lot of companies. Assault Gunners HD attempts to recreate this bygone era of gaming by bringing customizable robot battles back to the forefront. However, the overall final product is a bit hit or miss.
Assault Gunners HD
Developer: SHADE Inc.
Platform: PlayStation 4 (Reviewed), Nintendo Switch, Steam
Release Date: March 20th, 2018
Players: 1 Player
Originally launched in 2012 on the PlayStation Vita, Assault Gunners desperately attempts to recreate the era of the older mecha games on the PlayStation 1 and Xbox. And for the most part, the game succeeds in this fairly well. You take on the role of members of DAT, a special ops team of Mech pilots located on Mars. In the semi-near future, humanity has traveled the stars and begun to terraform and settle Mars. And of course, since this is an action game and not a life/farming sim game, things go south almost immediately once the game starts. The autonomous robots used in the terraforming attempt, called ANTs, have begun to run amuck, attacking cities and installations around the planet. And of course, your team must head out and put down the insurgence and find the reason for the rash behavior.
There are 20 missions in the main game and once you finish those, several more alternate paths from previous maps open up and offer up more in terms of the story. If you pick up the DLC expansion to the game, 15 new mission maps open up. Honestly, the story in the game isn’t that great.
Even taking in to account the extra missions after the main game and the DLC expansion missions, the story is very very basic. Then there’s the issue of the localization, or the lack there of. At the beginning and end of each mission, you’re given a cut scene in English that explains the story and what you’re to do and what you’ve done.
However, during each map and sortie, the characters in the game will interact with each other over voiced lines. Unfortunately, these lines are all in Japanese with no English option. So English speaking players will have no idea what is going on between the characters and what they are saying, severely taking away from extra story elements and driving forces behind exactly why the characters are doing what they’re doing.
This is especially important for “Ghost”, the main antagonist during the main game. She has a lot of speaking parts during the missions, but you can’t understand what she is saying and what the other characters are telling her, so all you get in reference to the events of the game are the before and after cinematics after the missions. I understand that this is a budget remaster port of a 6 year old game, but it would have added so much more to the understanding of the story and why things are happening the way they are.
Speaking of being a 6 year old game, the game honestly looks much more like the games it is trying to emulate, namely, the old Armored Core games and such back on the PSX. Not that this is necessarily a bad thing, but for the most part, you will either be fighting in brown colored open air arenas or blue/gray colored underground arenas.
The game does a fairly decent job of emulating the aesthetics of the older games, but even back then, this would have still been fairly lackluster in the graphics department. The bright side is the mech designs themselves. Nothing overly flashy, but there is just enough here to make a few decent mech units that aren’t too similar in terms of looks.
Unfortunately, again, there is an over all lack of options here and later parts are generally just that much better than the ones you start with, even if you upgrade each part to their max. You will still more likely than not focus on later parts unlocked, ignoring the earlier parts.
Mechanically, if you ignore the DLC parts, the game is fairly solid until the last missions of the main story. The mechanics are pretty basic actually. You have a dash, which also acts as a jump and hover and your 4 different weapon attacks. That’s it as far as the combat goes.
This simplicity is one of the better aspects of the game as it allows you to focus more on the goings on on the battlefield. Which you will need to do since there will be times where the enemies blend in with the backgrounds and you will need to focus a bit to make sure you’re not blind sided by an enemy you literally couldn’t see because of the design decisions.
Without the help of the DLC weapons and parts, the last 2 missions of the base game are a massive difficulty spike which will cause more than a few headaches and result in a few people seeking out membership in the Hair Club for Men.
Speaking of set ups and mech designs, you are given 4 weapon slots that you can customize for each mech in your squad: Main, sub, shoulder and fist. There are 8 different classes for your main and sub weapon, 5 classes of weapon for shoulder and 2 for fist.
Normally this would give you quite a bit of customization options for your squad, but there is one weapon class that just drastically overshadows the rest and that is the laser gun. This weapon one shot kills all basic enemies and deals incredible damage to the large mecha and Ghost. The one downside is its fairly low magazine size, but that is easily overcome with other parts you can put on your custom mech.
The DLC for the game is well thought out and does add quite a bit to the overall game and extra missions, but the downside here is that the game gives you the DLC weapons and add ons right at the start of the base game.
These parts will be of a much greater power level than what you really should have at the start, making most of the early/mid sections of the game a cake walk, completely removing any sort of difficulty, even on hard.
The same holds true for the extra missions once you complete the game the first time. However, those same parts make the extreme spike in difficulty in the last few missions much more bearable and you will need them for the DLC missions. But honestly, those parts should have been spaced out a bit more throughout the game so as not to disrupt the tenuous difficulty balance presented here.
There are some great ideas and aspects presented here in Assault Gunners and it really does bring back the feeling of the PSX era of mech gaming, for the most part. But even being 6 years old and originally launching on the Vita don’t excuse some of the glaring faults that have been left in the game. Even 6 years ago, some of this wouldn’t have flown as good design.
The maps and enemies are muddy and blend together much too easily. We are presented with wild shifts in difficulty that make an otherwise enjoyable, yet basic, game at times a bit tedious to wade through. I would have gladly paid 20 to 25 dollars for this if they had just fixed up some of the graphical issues and added in at least a text translation of the Japanese voices during battle.
There is a good game here and it is enjoyable the price point it is being sold at. Besides all that, it is always enjoyable when a game previously unreleased in the west finally comes out so that we can all enjoy it.
I just wish that more had been done to fully realize the potential presented here. Several more mech parts, creating a more robust category of mechs available, smoothing out the weapon spread and evening out the the difficulty spikes found in a few of the missions.
By all means, Assault Gunners HD is a fun mech title that is in short supply in today’s gaming environment and for 10 dollars (12 if you opt for the DLC), it is well worth a pick up if you’re itching for a mostly enjoyable jaunt or have a few extra bucks laying about. Just don’t expect some of the flesh and flash found in games that it models itself after.
Assault Gunners HD was reviewed on PlayStation 4 Pro using a review copy obtained by Niche Gamer. You can find additional information about Niche Gamer’s review/ethics policy here.