By Ian Boone. This is LOAD FILE, where we play the games your need for a soulless salary doesn’t leave you time for. This week, Ian looks at Airmech Arena for Playstation 4.
Do you like real-time strategy? How about twin-stick shooters? Yeah? Have any room left for player versus player? I still see some tower defense; you’re just pushing it around on your plate. Well, you can’t have your pudding until you finish your Airmech Arena… and after seeing all there is to offer in this game, that pudding is doomed. Throw it in the fridge, it’ll get warm waiting.
Bringing together many disparate elements from different genres and impossibly throwing it all together in a multiplayer online battle arena should only work so well, and yet I’m having a terrible time moving on from it. I’ve got a bad fixation, and it looks like it might last a while.
TWIN-STICK TO IT!
Humanity has warred itself into near-extinction again. What little has survived is fought over by cybernetic armies of infantry and drone vehicles. Leading and supporting these forces are the Airmechs, towering mecha that transform into flying vehicles. These workhorse warriors can vary by player build, but all have the capability to fight, transport troops, and issue construction orders.
Each round starts with a small prep period where player flight space is restricted to their team’s headquarters. Pay for troops, upgrades, or defenses to begin; once the timer runs down a heated land war ensues. Every base you hold dispenses basic infantry in waves that mill towards a capturable base in an attempt to take it, but unless they see some backup they’ll be going home in bags. Fortunate thing that they have your Airmech to look after them.
In air or ground form, the Airmech’s primary weapon is a rapid-fire gun system. Move your ‘mech with the left joystick and spray the pain with the right. Targets typically have to be attacked at their altitude, so adaptability to new threats is key. In addition to the default barrage you’re packing, each Airmech also has two upgradable special moves that can deal damage or lend supporting abilities.
Directly engaging the enemy is only half of the role you play. Airmech pilots also control the construction of new units, which have to be manually scooped up from any held base and plopped somewhere in the field. Commands can only be issued to units close to your Airmech as well, so expect a lot of hopping around to ferry and coordinate forces.
The action stays twitchy thanks to the dual-stick shooting, but the maintenance of the greater war machine can get to be a handful. Your Airmech, the archetypal Hero character you play in this MOBA, gets double-duty as your essential cursor for directing and moving troops. It helps to think that the time spent away from fighting is what in other MOBA’s is spent at item shops and such. But it stinks leaving a pitched duel when the build queue is full and some jerk tanks need to be bussed around.
The freemium model on Airmech Arena is saintly generous. Anything in this game that matters is unlockable through time investment. Completing challenges and winning rounds earns Kudos, which are spent on new types of units, new pilots, Airmechs, and parts to customize said Airmechs. Nothing is a straight, across the board upgrade, as new equipment boosts attributes while hurting others. Choose that Achilles’ Heel wisely.
There’s a purchasable currency that can be used to buy “improved” versions of the items Kudos earn, but this stuff isn’t usable in ranked matches. Competitive players seeking glory on whatever kind of pro scene this might develop don’t have to worry about paying for competitive edge.
If one does seek to go hard on Airmech Arena, the VIP premium seems reasonable. At a modest $19.99, it unlocks many items from the store right away. Other perks include experience boosts and unique post-game loot like mascots or skins. It’s a decent price to kick back for a game that’s brimming with content, but it isn’t a forced investment.
THE NEXT BIG E-SPORT?
Airmech Arena offers a hectic but entertaining blend of action and strategy. There can come times when one element is needed more than the other, and this can feel frustrating. But adaptability and responsiveness are the keys to victory. Base after base, teams will either conquer or crumble. Coming back from early losses can be difficult as the enemy front looms in, but keeping the guns hot and the troops moving can turn the game around.
It’s also a great spectator game, with a built-in browser for observing all kinds of other players at work. Learn their filthy tricks, or cheer for your homeboys as they survive another assault.
There’s some slight revampment needed in the control scheme, but otherwise Airmech Arena deserves a large chunk of your waking hours if you’ve been craving some MOBA action on console. Round up the posse and get on the mics — Honeypot’s down in five.