Game review: Daemon X Machina wants to be the ultimate mech game

The producer of Armored Core attempts to make the definitive giant mech game on the Nintendo Switch but does he have screw loose?

Back before Dark Souls made them one of the most respected developers in the world FromSoftware were largely unknown in the West. But if anyone had heard of them it was most likely for the Armored Core series and fellow mech game Chromehounds. It’s where Hidetaka Miyazaki cut his teeth, before starting work on Demon’s Souls, but the main producer was Kenichiro Tsukuda, who’s the driving force behind this new game. Rather than the dour pseudo-realism of Armored Core though, he’s tried to make piloting giant robots seem like something that’s actually fun.

Although there are many similarities in terms of gameplay, Daemon X Machina has nothing to do with FromSoftware besides its producer. Compared to Armored Core the tone is completely different, with bright, primary colours everywhere and a dopey anime style plot about superpowered mercenaries fighting against an artificial intelligence that’s trying to wipe out humanity.

We’ve often spoken about our frustration at gaming’s inability to produce a decent robot game, despite other geek favourites like cowboys, pirates, and ninjas finally starting to appear in high quality video games. But, alas, this is not the giant robot equivalent of Sea Of Thieves, Sekiro, or Red Dead Redemption. In its best moments it does feel as if it might be though, and that at least is some kind of progress.

When we described the plot as dopey what we actually meant was absurdly uninteresting and needlessly convoluted. That’s not unusual for games attempting an anime aesthetic but it seems particularly self-defeating here because the whole point of the game is that it’s meant to be more accessible and appealing than its rivals. Instead you get unlikeable characters, terrible voiceovers, and nonsensical dialogue that constantly interrupts the action and makes you more unsure of what’s going on the longer it continues.

Once you slip on your giant robot suit though things are immediately more interesting. The problem with so many mech games is that they try to act like a serious simulation, just of something that doesn’t exist. We’re actually great fans of that concept in general, and dearly miss the now extinct space combat simulator genre, but it’s not something that’s ever caught on when applied to robots and Daemon X Machina is sensible enough not to stray too far in that direction.

Instead, it plays more like a standard third person shooter, except where you’re a giant flying robot with a munition factory’s worth of armaments strapped to your metal body parts. Importantly, the basics of movement and control are extremely straightforward. Rather than the slow, clunking automaton you might expect your mech is extremely fast and nimble, with what are essentially robot roller skates and the ability to strafe and dodge like a gymnast.

Although you can use a sword as well, the majority of weapons are shooter staples ranging from machineguns to sniper rifles, albeit with the added benefit of heftier munitions such as lock-on missile launchers and railguns. Ammo is always in frustratingly short supply though and that can frequently ruin the power fantasy of you being an unstoppable agent of robot doom.

One of the game’s main attempts to add depth is through the customisation options, which rely on you salvaging equipment and weapons from downed enemies. This serves to almost turns the game into a loot shooter, as you descend upon your defeated foes like a metallic vulture, desperate to see what goodies their corpses may be hiding.

Once you get back to base this allows you to switch body parts, as well as weapons, to suit your particular style of play. There are multiple different stats that shift and change depending on your loadout, as the game encourages you to deliberate over your set-up as you would over you dream car in a driving simulator. It’s fiddlier than it needs be, thanks to some awkward menu design, but in terms of the variety of tactical options on offer it does its job.

The main problem with Daemon X Machina is not the customisation or the action though, as despite a few rough edges the latter remains excitingly over-the-top for almost the entire game. The main problem is simply the lack of variety. Since the storytelling is unable to provide any interesting context missions quickly begin to meld into one another and everything but the boss battles, which are usually very impressive, become increasingly repetitive.

Shoot a set number of enemies or defend an area is as complex as most mission design gets and that’s hugely underwhelming given what your mech can do. Especially as your ability to jump out and carry on fighting on foot as a superpowered human is never used to any interesting effect. Add in some sub-par artificial intelligence and it almost begins to feel like the game is conspiring against itself.

By the halfway mark we’d had more than enough and became increasingly frustrated at not just the repetition but the wasted potential. Mechanically, Daemon X Machina has some very solid foundations, so if you threw out the story but keep the combat and customisation a sequel could work very well. Whether that will happen though we have our doubts, as we resume the long, unhopeful, wait for the definitive giant robot game.

Daemon X Machina

Daemon X Machina review

In Short: The combat is a lot of fun and the visuals are dynamic and exciting, but repetitive missions and dire storytelling ruin what is otherwise a mechanically superior giant robot game.

Pros: The core action (no pun intended) is very good, with accessible controls and mountains of options in terms of loadouts and weapons. Great graphics and a fun anime aesthetic.

Cons: Uninspired mission design and horribly uninteresting plot and characters drain the enthusiasm from you like a leaky carburettor. Fiddly customisation menus and mediocre artificial intelligence.

Score: 6/10

Formats: Nintendo Switch
Price: £49.99
Publisher: Nintendo
Developer: Marvelous First Studio
Release Date: 13th September 2019
Age Rating: 12

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