Battle Engine Aquila Review
With the Playstation 2 library already as well stocked as an alcoholic's liquor cabinet, it's getting harder and harder to find new, innovative titles on the platform these days. There's already so much out there, it's hard to find something that hasn't been done to death already. Apparently, Lost Toys thought they had a fairly unique idea with Battle Engine Aquila. Apparently, they were right. Battle Engine is a refreshing mech title that combines the fun of aerial combat with the goodness of earth tromping shooter mayhem, all in one neat little package. While not the most amazing game on every front, Battle Engine does a good job of delivering fresh, fun gameplay without too much effort.
Set on a planet called Allium, in the Porrum system, fierce battles wage between two races over land, an ever shrinking commodity due to rising sea levels (apparently one of the long term dangers of global warming). Since land is becoming more and more valuable as the sea overtakes it, war continues to become more intense. The two races, the Forseti and the Muspell, are both looking for something that will give them a dominant edge in the battle for land. Enter Hawk Winter, a civilian 'load racer' with a talent for danger. After being recruited by the Forseti, Winter is asked to pilot a new prototype weapon, known as Aquila- a mech weapon with both ground and air capabilities. Aquila is a fierce and powerful weapon that the Forseti look to for gaining control of the landmasses on Allium. However, under constant attack from the Muspell, Winter has little time to get used to this new weapon and turn it into the force the Forseti want.
Visually speaking, Battle Engine Aquila is above par, though not by much. All the backgrounds in the game are very nicely detailed, with rich textures, and most of the machinery is fairly well done, even if a bit generic. Most of the architecture leans towards that catch all style of 'quasi Star Wars', without any significant departure from the formula. The 'battle engine', Aquila, is very well done, with a superb and sleek design that really stands out. The HUD interface from inside Aquila is simple, yet engaging, offering loads of information without being too complex, or too cluttered. The only major drawback from a visual standpoint is the character design. All the characters in the game are just plain ugly. So ugly, it's literally painful to look at. It's not that they're low in polygon count, or lack sufficient textures, it's just the overall design that makes everyone look like an ape that can't close their mouth. I don't know if this was a purposeful design choice by Lost Toys or a lack of execution by the programmers, but either way, it's hard to look at, to say the least. However, since most action takes place on the battlefield, that isn't a key factor. How the battles look is, though, and in this regard Battle Engine is done quite well. There is a real sense of mayhem and chaos on the screen during missions, and everything from the contrails to the weapons glare looks really nice.
However, it is from a gameplay perspective that Battle Engine truly shines. With a mix of both ground based and aerial gameplay elements, BEA is always changing pace, keeping you guessing as to what may come next. All gameplay takes place in a first person mode, not too dissimilar from most modern FPS games. In fact, BEA controls almost exactly like games such as Medal of Honor- the left analog stick moves you forward and back, while the right analog stick moves you left to right and up and down. Anyone who is familiar with modern day FPS games will be able to step into Battle Engine and start kicking ass from the get go.
The gameplay in Battle Engine is mission based, and each mission has certain objectives, some primary and some secondary. While it's imperative that you complete the primary objectives, you need not complete secondary objectives in order to pass a mission. However, this is not what makes the gameplay in BEA so much fun. It is the ability to transform Aquila from a ground-walking tank into an aerial badass. At any time, provided you have the energy, you can take to the skies, cutting down enemies with the efficiency of an F-15 plowing through whatever enemy is in its way. Of course, this type of dominance comes at a price, as you will eventually run out of energy, forcing you to the ground in order to recoup. Overall, this is a nice balance as it forces you to use both fronts of attack to your advantage.
There are several different weapons at your disposal in Battle Engine. Everything from pulse cannons to Vulcan missiles are ready to go at the touch of a button. Simply pressing the L1 button allows you to switch between weapons on the fly. Each weapon actually serves a purpose, besides looking cool, as well. For instance, Vulcan missiles work much better against light armored enemies, while the uber powerful pulse cannon can take apart a huge, armored freighter in just a few blasts. Once again, there is a nice balance, as you can't abuse your more powerful weapons like the pulse cannon, as they can overheat easily. This requires you to be forward thinking when planning your attack.
I stated before that the controls in Battle Engine are very similar to most FPS games. While this is true, the controls are a bit more finicky and take some time to get used to. For instance, while in the air, your left analog stick is useless, as you will always advance forward at the same exact speed. This puts all control solely on the R3 stick, making in flight maneuvers a bit tricky. Learning to cope with such limitations takes time, but eventually, it becomes quite natural. Overall, the controls are quite solid and, for the most part, fairly intuitive.
The sound in Battle Engine Aquila is actually one of its biggest drawbacks. Most of the music is cheesy 'space disco' that is nothing if not annoying. It's overly chintzy, with few, if any, memorable tracks. Most just make you thank the powers that be for the MUTE button. The voice acting is no better; in fact, it is much, much worse. Battle Engine Aquila has some of the worst voice acting this editor has heard on a next gen console. Apparently, the world of Alluim is populated solely by Russians and Brits with terrible lisps. Worse still is just how contrived all the dialogue is; none of the speech in the game feels natural at all, giving the whole production a B movie feel that just never goes away. As for the sound effects, they are nicely done, to the point that you're not so much noticing them, but rather processing them in the background as you fight. There is nothing wrong with this, and in fact is more natural than having an array of effects that draw your attention during battle, so kudos to Lost Toys on that front.
Overall, Battle Engine Aquila is fun, yet flawed. However, most of the flaws are inconsequential at best, unless you are a videogame purist that demands nothing but the best in every way imaginable. If you're willing to settle for decent graphics, solid gameplay, and forgettable sound, then BEA is right up your alley. All in all, it's a great weekend rental, and if you're a hardcore mech fan, it might just find a way into your permanent library.
3/30/2003 Ryan Hartmann