Title: Gundam Evolution
Developer: Bandai Namco
Release Date: 09/21/22
Reviewed On: PC
Publisher: Bandai Namco
Genre: FPS, Multiplayer, eSports
In my preview for Gundam Evolution, I had a lot to say about its similarities to Overwatch, an obvious titan of the hero shooter genre. In the time since, we’ve learned much about the soon-to-arrive sequel, only drawing more comparisons to Evolution as that game also embraces a free-to-play model.
In this review, I will do my best to hold off on further comparisons, as that would otherwise end up dominating this piece, but it is notable that the two ended up being even more similar than previously thought.
Gundam Evolution is a free hero shooter that takes the familiar six-vs-six multiplayer gameplay format and combines it with the world’s most popular giant robot franchise, with each character being a Gundam from a particular property. Many of these robots are unlocked from the start. However, about a third of the current roster is paid downloadable content, each costing around $10 USD.
While the pricing seems a bit steep at first, especially given that this only unlocks the character and not any of their skins or collectibles (which come in loot boxes, typically bought or earned through the battle pass), the game itself being free helps mitigate this. Still, my most obvious criticism is that these characters can’t really be used at all without paying, so you have no way of knowing whether you’ll like them before purchasing.
The easiest way to fix this would be to make all suits playable in the practice mode so that a player can get a feel for a character before they commit to spending money on it. As it is, it’s a bit of a gamble, but I suppose that’s appropriate for a title with loot boxes.
Players can compete in casual matches as soon as they download the game but must either reach a player level of 20 or purchase the battle pass to access ranked matches and the competitive scene. Unfortunately, in the time I’ve played so far, it doesn’t quite seem like any skill-based matchmaking baked into casual mode has kicked in, as every match I’ve played has been totally one-sided for one team or the other. Given my experience with the network test, though, I have no doubt that once the game has its players figured out, it’ll be able to sort people into more even battles.
The game feels about as good as one can expect from a free-to-play shooter not named Call of Duty: Warzone, though combat can get a little chaotic, and some of the maps are not particularly conducive to matching up with less than a full team. In the new Harbor City map, for example, a defending team can easily strategize to cover the entire open-air first section and entirely stop the attacking team from getting far from spawn.
I don’t want this to sound like the game isn’t a blast to play; I’ve happily sunk about twenty hours into it between the network tests and this final version. Getting used to each character can take anywhere between a few matches and dozens, but their individual quirks and sheer nostalgic value add a lot to the standard genre format.
The battle pass involves completing daily and weekly challenges, typically using specific characters to accomplish a task (like “do 20,000 damage” or “revive three teammates”) to advance along a track similar to other titles of the same genre. The pass refreshes every sixty days with exclusive rewards, and of course, you can pay about $20 on top of the $10 pass to jump forward through about a third of it immediately.
The level of polish on display is impressive, and the premium skins available through the battle pass and limited-time purchases are cool enough to potentially be worth the asking price (especially since if you purchase a premium skin for a premium suit, you get the suit for free). It is a little disappointing that weapon skins are decoupled from the matching suit skin, but again, elements like this are common in loot box gachapons.
The commonality of it all is ultimately the only real disappointment of Gundam Evolution. It plays exactly how you’d expect if you’ve played any other game in its genre, and all of its monetization – and let’s be clear, there is a lot of it – could have been softened with a few fundamental changes. It would be cool if the premium suits were also unlockable through the battle pass, for example (though the premium track will give you some currency back). I was left wishing that the loot boxes were given a bit more frequently or were slightly more generous with rare items.
There’s a good game here to sink your time into, and I look forward to doing so. I just wish Bandai Namco had poured a little bit more special sauce onto it to differentiate it from the pack. There’s a ton of potential with a property as massive as Gundam, and I can’t help yearning for a game that did little more than just meeting my expectations.
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