We got to try out the Gundam Evolution network test- a huge step for the Gundam franchise as it goes from niche mecha games to a free to play 6v6 hero shooter featuring everyone’s favorite walking “war is bad” metaphors.
It was honestly long overdue- while the Gundam franchise has some amazing games in their roster, they’re hard recommends for anyone not already in the series since a lot of them choose to honor their source material by being just as obsessed with the technical intricacies of future space magic as their anime counterparts.
With Gundam Evolution, Bandai Namco Online could very well have created a breakout hit- though it’s not without its flaws.
Gameplay With The Coolness Of A Walking Fighter Jet
Moment-to-moment, Gundam Evolution is actually a pretty decent FPS. It’s no secret the game takes its cues from Overwatch- from its UI to its skills and ult system, you’re very clearly playing a similar type of game, just with a coat of paint based on one of the most beloved mecha franchises of all time.
You even have your own ult- called G-Manouvers. These are a little bit of a mixed bag because from a gameplay angle, they actually do a lot of interesting things like disabling mobile suits or launching funnels to provide supporting fire. The problem is you don’t gain Ult meter all too quickly, and I’ve found myself usually having only about 2 ults per round if I’m not getting curbstomped.
I really enjoy the game’s mobility options- instead of sprinting you have a multi-directional dash. It’s arguably the most Gundam-feeling part of the game, as you dash to the side to avoid incoming fire or to chase down a low-health target.
On top of that some mobile suits will sport shields- allowing them to tank damage from the front to continue pressing their advantage. It feels a lot better than just excessive HP bloat, and makes for some engaging interactions between characters.
On the other hand, there’s other decisions that just baffle me. Some of them are minor nitpicks- for one, the game doesn’t have any kind of automatic reload when you’re out of ammo, so you have to be mindful about hitting the reload key or you’ll end up in a gunfight with your mechanized pants down. There’s also no universal melee- something that a hectic scrap like this game would absolutely need considering how many classes are easily countered if you cornered them.
One more gripe would be about that same dash from earlier- despite the game having some vertical control to it via a hover, you’re not actually allowed to dash in the air. It feels weird because the game has almost set up this perfect slam dunk for a high-action shooter but just kind of doesn’t stick the landing, and I honestly think it would shake up the game drastically if they let the giant robots move like giant robots.
Pretty Decent Monetization
Right off the bat, I’m actually a pretty big fan of how Gundam Evolution is handling its monetization. Some mobile suits will be locked behind a currency- while we weren’t shown if you can buy this currency or what the price conversion is, it’s not too unreasonable a request given how many MOBAs do similar things. Outside of that, there doesn’t seem to be much else behind a paywall- there’s lootboxes, yes, but most of what you get are things like skins and cosmetics, and with Gundam the original designs are so iconic you don’t really care if your Sazabi doesn’t have desert camo or the like.
Considering how easy it would have been to add something like Power Cards or weapons to the gacha, I’m actually really pleased with how this system was implemented. The Network test had you able to buy two mobile suits, the Marasai and Gundam Exia, so as long as the whole roster can be bought this way we should be in for a good time on this front.
The Esports Angle
Now, it’s no surprise Bandai Namco Online was going for an esports angle with Gundam Evolution- they’ve said as much before in the past. My one gripe is just how much this bites into what would be an otherwise great game.
The biggest effect is the game’s actual length- matches are played Best of 3, meaning each harmless session drags out into 30 minute slugs. This is fine for an esports tournament, but honestly with the advent of titles like Overwatch I think it’s not great for a game trying to hit mass appeal. Most players can pretty much suss out the quality of their teammates pretty quickly, so being stuck with them for a whole half hour is a good way to leave some pretty negative associations.
To be fair there is a counterpoint- the game could very well be launching with a single-round casual mode, with the network test only focusing on ranked. Bandai Namco Online haven’t confirmed or denied this, but the fact of the matter is that most casual audiences won’t want to play by tournament rules- they’ll just want their next hit of fun robot action.
This also affects the game’s progression- you have two things to grind for, a battle pass as well as your own pilot level. You need about 7 games to level up, and each one lasting half an hour just makes anyone trying to get the next level’s rewards just feel like they’re slogging through it.
A Lack Of Gundam Flavor
I’ll start this off by saying this is totally a nitpick- but like I said, Gundam games are known for their fanservice. Evolution is kind of lacking in this respect, almost seemingly hiding the fact it comes from such a storied anime franchise. Each mobile suit is piloted by these generic pilots with generic voicelines, and it honestly does kill the buzz of a hero shooter, let alone a Gundam one.
I totally get that you can’t always get the voice of Char in, and that’s fine. But even having the dialogue be more Gundam flavored would have been a great addition to the game- some sort of mention of Space Colonies, or anything, Instead it’s just this kind of bland “They won’t be so lucky next time” dialogue that somehow sucks the joy out of piloting the same mobile suit used to commit massive war crimes.
While I may have some serious nitpicks I honestly had fun with Gundam Evolution. The game’s clearly got the hardest parts down- that is, making a game where hitting the buttons is fun. Considering it doesn’t even have a release date yet, a lot of my gripes might even be fixed at launch.
If you see the game as something that’s more for new people to get into Gundam, I could see the merit there- a tight-controlled FPS with cool mecha designs is a great magnet, even if the old fogey who watched the anime didn’t get his random anime voicelines in.
Combine that with the power of being free to play, and like I said earlier- Bandai Namco Online could be on to something special. It just maybe could use a couple of passes first.