Custom Mech Wars is the latest release from D3 Publisher, best known as the publishers of the Earth Defense Force series. Custom Mech Wars isn’t an EDF game proper, but it is certainly built on the series’ foundations. The game sells itself as a mecha action title, with a heavy focus on customization. My interest was piqued by Custom Mech Wars’ off-the-wall trailers, but is the game actually any good, or is this just a gag gone too far?
Four-Seven Security Service
Custom Mech Wars begins with humanity in peril. A massive comet is passing by Earth, and whilst it won’t make impact, its sheer size is set to cause worldwide seismic devastation. To ensure the future of humanity, most of the world’s population is evacuated to various shelters or safe regions. To maintain the security and stability of the ghost cities left behind, AI powered mechs are deployed, G-Mechs, to maintain infrastructure and prevent as much destruction as possible.
The player takes on the role of a new employee at Four-Seven Security Service, a company that maintains these G-Mechs and ensures the smooth continuation of security operations. Everything goes to pot though, when the AI powering the G-Mechs goes rogue. With these mechanized menaces running amok, it’s up to you to hop into a mech of your own and restore order. A fresh-faced employee with no combat experience thrust into a fight for humanity’s survival. Should sound pretty familiar to fans of the EDF series.
Custom Mech Wars’ narrative exists to provide a context for gameplay, and that’s all it really has to do. I’m not going to judge it too harshly, given that it simply isn’t the game’s focus. I will say though, that it could have been better. The narrative closely follows the EDF story formula. There’s a lot of humor in the script, but the player experience of the script is awful. A large chunk of the story is communicated through in-battle dialogue, and the lack of an English dub makes that hard to follow given there’s so much going on in both visually and in gameplay while subtitles fly by you. It’s understandable that a smaller scale title like Custom Mech Wars wouldn’t get a full package localization, but it’s really disappointing when compared to recent EDF games that have some of the greatest English dubs of all-time (I’m not kidding, this is a real opinion I have and will defend).
Like I said though, the story isn’t the focus of Custom Mech Wars. The focus is the mechs, and customization thereof. The ‘Omega Customization System’ provides the player with an incredible level of creative freedom, and it almost single-handedly holds Custom Mech Wars together as a gameplay experience. It’s a real “if you can dream it you can do it” situation. There are a huge variety of parts available, and you can configure them according to your needs. The only real limit to your creativity is the unit weight limit, governed by your mecha’s main legs.
The most fun I had in Custom Mech Wars was messing around in the customization system. It’s fun to dive in and try to put together something unique, but also useful, and the game gives you so much room to try out weird and wonderful ideas. Some of the more out-there parts available, like commuter trains and sedans for legs, also provide fun jump-off points for creative mech design. Some of these parts really serve as problems for you to solve. The train, for example, is pretty difficult to use. Its mobility is catastrophically bad, only really able to move in straight lines, and it’s fun to play with that limitation.
I still don’t feel that I’ve fully explored the possibilities offered by the customization system. I’m sure there is a point of diminishing returns, but in thirty hours of play I don’t feel I’m close to reaching it. There’s always something new to try, some new part to integrate, or some nonsense idea to work with. If you love customization and creative freedom in games, this will be a highlight for you.
The actual mechanical implementation of the ‘Omega Customization System’ in Custom Mech Wars is mostly solid. Though there are some snags. Parts are divided into heads, chests, legs, arms, accessories, and armaments. You are effectively free to place as many of these from each of these categories as you like, in whatever configuration you desire. Parts also come in different sizes, small, medium, or large, but you can mix and match these if you like.
Your weapons are divided into groups, primary fire, secondary fire, automatic weapons, melee weapons, and your critical attack. The critical attack is a neat feature that allows you to assign a primary weapon as a critical move, which provides utility for weapons with high damage, but low ammo. Putting all of this together might sound complicated, and it is. The assembling of parts isn’t exactly intuitive, and as a result of the sheer number of options available it’s easy to get overwhelmed or lost trying to find certain parts or attach them in a functional (and cosmetically appealing) way.
I do think that the degree of freedom offered by Custom Mech Wars forgives some of the finickiness of the actual construction. You can make liberal use of accessories to construct a cosmetic shell around your base parts, and you can color every single part individually. Part acquisition is a bit of a pain in the arse though. You acquire new parts by picking up crates dropped by enemies in missions, and then you get a drop from a random pool of equipment tied to the mission and difficulty. This can be frustrating when you’re in need of specific parts. It took me hours of play at the highest difficulty to get a single large right arm to drop. I had just about every other part I could imagine in large, just no right arms. It was annoying. This issue is somewhat alleviated with the R&D system that allows you to purchase additional parts after you’ve acquired them once with resources that you get for finishing missions.
It All Comes Tumbling Down
So, the customization is fantastic, packed with options and offering a huge amount of player freedom, with just a little bit of mechanical jank attached. What about everything that comes after customization? How does it feel to actually put your creations to use? Well, not good. Combat is like driving a souped-up Vauxhall Corsa at 140mph directly into the central reservation. So much work to create the dumbest machine known to man, only to end up pancaked on the highway. Is this metaphor working?
Well, regardless, it definitely works better than Custom Mech Wars’ gameplay loop. There are quite a few issues I have with combat, and we’ll get to them, but let’s start with the basics. Missions are slow, repetitive, and unchallenging. Your attacks have minimal impact, and there’s a severe lack of feedback to anything you do. Melee weapons are unforgivably useless, and frankly amateurish. Melee is just a rudimentary animation (which I actually appreciate in so far as it’s funny how bad they look, very campy) with a vague area of damage in front of your unit.
Movement at least, is solid. Though it’s difficult to get too wrong. Make it fast, make it stupid. And that’s not a knock on the game. Fast and stupid should be the primary motif of Custom Mech Wars. Movement does suffer when it rubs up against the combat mechanics. The intense speed of movement feels out of sync with the imprecise, impactless shooting. Raining down missiles while blasting through the air should feel awesome, and it would if your missiles weren’t just impotent puffs of air.
Enemies Of Humanity
A significant contributing factor to Custom Mech Wars’ limp combat is the enemies you’ll be facing. The rogue G-Mechs that you’ll be contending with are cosmetically unique, with some designs that border on interesting even, but from a gameplay perspective they’re pretty indistinct. No enemy provides a challenge deeper than “shoot them and don’t get shot”. Some need to be shot more before they stop irritating you, so there is that I suppose.
Your attacks have no feeling of impact against the G-Mechs. You do have the ability to destroy individual parts of enemy mechs, which is interesting, especially on higher difficulties against larger units. Outside of part destruction though, there’s no bang. Your attacks don’t stagger enemies, they don’t hit with any weight, and the visual and audio effects attached to them are basic to the point of redundancy.
It might not be entirely fair to compare Custom Mech Wars to EDF, but I’m going to anyway. EDF had this problem with the game feel solved. Even as a footsoldier with a bog standard assault rifle, your attacks felt meaningful against the giant bugs. It’s disappointing that Custom Mech Wars couldn’t deliver that. Not to rag on the game for trying something new, but maybe just take the mech customization idea and put that into EDF.
The Decommission Fields
The mission structure of Custom Mech Wars is identical to the EDF series, with a linear series numbered missions available in five difficulties. Whilst the EDF series constructs missions with clear objectives and interesting structures, and introduces new unique enemy types and challenges as you progress, Custom Mech Wars opts to do none of that.
There are 40 missions, including a tutorial. They play out in one of three ways: kill everything, move to some static objective and kill everything, or defend a building. There is minimal progression in mission design, the only significant change is that as you get deeper into the campaign, the missions get longer and more annoying. There are very few missions that don’t contain unskippable stretches of nothing as some dialogue plays, which makes replaying them to acquire new parts for the customization (the fun bit) an exercise in tedium.
Things improve somewhat on higher difficulties, but these are locked until you’ve cleared the campaign at least once. The highest difficulty, nightmare, is where I had the most fun. It doesn’t do anything crazy, but simply by upping enemy damage output it added at least some challenge, which I appreciate. On the three base difficulties available before clearing the campaign, I can’t say I encountered any challenge whatsoever. There was just no threat, I could reliably dodge any significant incoming attacks and those that did hit did minimal damage. That lack of challenge definitely added to the feeling of impotence that plagues Custom Mech Wars’ combat.
All Together Now
I feel pretty bitter having to criticize the combat so harshly. The unrestrained, whacky customization is so appealing, it’s a tragedy that it’s attached to such dull gameplay. I think there’s a great idea here, with a lot of passion behind it, but it’s let down by a lackluster approach to the fundamentals. I think this could be a lot better, and I hope we see another outing for the ‘Omega Customization System’.
It is possible that the multiplayer element of Custom Mech Wars could salvage the experience somewhat. Teaming up with your friends and seeing their bizarre mech creations, that could be fun. There are few games that wouldn’t be improved by the presence of some friends, who you presumably enjoy the company of. I love playing EDF solo, but my best memories of the series are in the co-op play. Unfortunately, the multiplayer of Custom Mech Wars was unavailable in the review period, so I can’t offer any commentary outside of this speculation.
Custom Jank Wars
I will say I was impressed that Custom Mech Wars was a relatively bug free experience. It’s no technical powerhouse, but it is impressive that the game handles 40-50 mechs, with unique destructible parts, on-screen at a time without any slowdown or stutter. The customization system does have a layer of jank, as mentioned, but it’s acceptable jank.
The game’s visual fidelity certainly won’t blow any minds, but it won’t burn your eyes out either. There is a lot of fun design work put into the G-Mechs and the parts available for customization. Environments are pretty rough though. They’re pretty generic, and in some areas downright ugly. If it weren’t for the population of higher fidelity mechs, a PS3 could probably handle a lot of Custom Mech Wars’ maps with minimal difficulty.
Whilst combat doesn’t feel flashy or exciting, it does look that way sometimes. Missiles whirring around the air before homing in on enemies looks cool, even if the impact feels weak. Masses of missiles and bullets whizzing from your mech is quite impressive visually, especially once you unlock larger units. The gameplay looks like a lot of fun.
I’m in a bit of a tricky spot reaching a verdict on Custom Mech Wars. I like the concept, I like the tone, and the customization is a lot of fun. All of that is attached to a dull gameplay loop though. Truly dull, just thinking about it I’m getting tired. Am I going to continue playing Custom Mech Wars once this review is done? No, at least not alone. Maybe with some friends I could see myself diving back in. I’d certainly be interested in future games with the ‘Omega Customization’ idea attached.
Should you buy Custom Mech Wars? Possibly, at some point. I think that this could fill the role of a light time-waster, if you go in with appropriate expectations. If you’re really into customization and creative tools in games, then it might be worth a look just for that. If you’re a fan of EDF, then there is some potential for enjoyment here. It’s better than EDF: Iron Rain, if that counts for anything.
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A man described by critics as “pretty normal” and “memorable in the abstract”. He has committed his life to the consumption of anime and games, against the advice and wishes of his family and friends. Now writing about his passions, hopefully for your enjoyment.