Transformers…more than meets the eye…
Screaming through the sky, I unleash a barrage of missiles that whip towards
my large mechanical prey, ruining it, smashing it to pieces as it falls, a steel
fireball as big as a football field, towards its tank forces on the ground below.
I swoop in low over the ground on some infantry and light up the boosters, roasting
them all like marshmallows. I land, turn into a six-legged tank and stomp out
the remaining soldiers.
Aaah, nothing like the life of a huge, badass military secret in a far away
place where the ice-caps have melted and rival armies fight over land. In Infogrames’
Battle Engine Aquila for the Xbox, you are a huge, wicked-cool mecha-tank
that can cut a fiery swath of destruction through enemy forces on the ground…and
a mecha-jet that rains some neo-Genesis wrath on the heads of your newly unrepentant
The story seems cookie-cutter at first. You’re a punk kid, cargo-mech jockey
named Hawk, who miraculously gets conscripted by Forsetti forces to pilot their
extra secret, hush-hush battle engine. You join a squad of l33t fighter
pilots under the command of some skeptical, crotchety general type, who, naturally,
thinks you’re about as cool as stepping in gum.
Thankfully, the story starts moving and actually develops through cutscenes
between each mission. These scenes aren’t Metal
Gear quality, but they’re substantial, and it’s obvious that the developers
put a lot of time and effort into them. They didn’t have to, but they did, and
that’s what makes a game good.
On top of the briefings, should you choose to ignore them, you’ll receive
in-game transmissions from your forces telling you what you should be doing
and what’s going wrong. These transmissions are audible, too, so you don’t have
to look away from the action to receive your orders.
The missions themselves typically involve defending your base, escorting cargo, or assaulting the enemy. Your objectives are usually straightforward (kill everything, don’t let your stuff get killed), but can occasionally be frustrating. Some of your structures are highly vulnerable, your tank armies don’t seem very tough, and your friends sit there and yell at you while they’re dying (what jerks). But otherwise, each mission is sweet. Some take place in the midst of some colossal battle, while others occur on the open ocean (which is treacherous, as Aquila can’t swim).
The gameplay in Aquila is like a glass of water after a friend’s 21st
birthday party: clear, crisp, clean and refreshing. A short tutorial covers
all the control dynamics (except for changing weapons, which is sort of annoying),
which are very easy to grasp.
In tank mode, the left analog stick moves you forward, backward and strafing,
while the right stick aims and steers. One of the shoulder buttons changes weapons
while another fires. By quickly tapping the left stick left to right or back
to front, you can make your Aquila hop around, a means of avoiding enemy fire.
Regardless of the fact that there’s frequently too much enemy fire to dodge,
I still appreciate this gesture.
You can also turn into a jet at the touch of a button. As the jet you fly at a constant speed and can’t strafe, both of which would seem to be major annoyances. However, it seems as though these options were left out to streamline the controls and make everything more straightforward.
Your mech has an energy gauge within its targeting reticule; when your energy
runs out, you can’t fly anymore and therefore plummet to the ground. And sometimes
explode. Very embarrassing. However, if you pay attention to the gauge, you
can land and maybe not explode. Unless you get shot, but that’s a horse of a
Speaking of getting shot, there’s all kinds of shooting in Aquila.
Not only can you choose between mech-pilots – each of which has different advantages
and disadvantages against the enemy types (air, ground, infantry) – but you
can also choose different weapon packages for your mechs. Included in these
packages are Vulcan Cannons, a charging plasma laser, an energy beam, rockets,
grenades, micro-missiles and a few others. Except for the Vulcan Cannons, all
of the weapons are very destructive.
of this is due to the effective targeting reticule. Since most of the weapons
have some lock-on capabilities, a good targeting system is a must, and Aquila
doesn’t disappoint. The reticule is very intuitive (some enemies must be led
to be properly targeted) and can target multiple enemies. However, the ability
to choose different targeting spreads (like changing the choke on a shotgun)
for the micro-missiles would have been really nice.
Graphically, Aquila is adequate. It definitely doesn’t push the limits
of the box, but rather effectively works within the limits to the point that
it’s almost easy not to notice just how innovative this game is. For example,
faraway ships that would otherwise be a rendering nightmare are instead represented
as looming shadows. The effect is realistic and enhances the player’s perception
of distance. The explosions are also satisfying, as huge flying fortresses erupt
into fiery chaos and slowly plummet to the earth. However, there are several
textures that look very run of the mill (like the water), and none of the explosions
themselves are particularly impressive. In general, it looks like a solid PS2
game rather than an Xbox marvel.
Having said that, the framerate is sweet with nary a slowdown, despite the swarms of tanks and planes and bombers, all shooting at your base which is exploding, and you’re firing missiles at this and, yeah, it never slows down. Rock.
The virtual chaos is effectively translated into cacophonous sound, as exploding ships thunder, comrades lament the destruction of the base and grenades pummel the enemy ranks. Such an aural and visual synthesis of insanity facilitates white-knuckled gameplay, not to mention the emphatic “Phew!” at the end of each mission.
You can also challenge a friend to a skirmish or fight cooperatively through
three levels, which clearly isn’t enough. But since Battle Engine is
so accessible, friends can pick this game up in a few minutes, even if they
aren’t regular gamers.
Overall, Battle Engine Aquila for the Xbox is a surprisingly solid
game. The numerous missions are hard, but not impossible (they actually branch
if you get a high enough ranking). In a genre full of stinkers and throwaways,
the care the developers put into making this game special is notable. While
it won’t change your life, it’s a suitable distraction.