A review of Damascus Gear: Operation Tokyo, A Mech action game that isn’t quite firing on all cylinders.
Am I the only person on earth who remembers the Armored Core games? From Software released fifteen of these damn things worldwide so I can’t have been the only one buying them. I only ask because it was a mech series I grew up with and one I have a lot of nostalgia for despite its numerous flaws, and I never hear anyone else talk about them. Upon discovering Damascus Gear: Operation Tokyo, I was immediately reminded of the series. In fact, it seemed to be a game that would be right up my alley, putting together two things I really love: the in-depth customization of the Armored Core games as well as the sort of top-down shooter gameplay I’d discovered my love for in recent years. Keeping in mind that Damascus Gear is a budget title, I cautiously but optimistically purchased it, only to find it to be a bit of a let down.
The story is about as generic and non existent as a story can get, focusing on a ‘post-apocalyptic’ Tokyo where humans are being wiped out by A.I. Mechs called ‘Rage’. Your first few missions act as your tutorial, as well as your entrance exam, to become a member of a military group that fights these enemies. Aside from meeting a few characters that are barely developed enough to even fill the usual archetypes (your operator, your veteran teammates and what can only loosely be called your ‘Rival’). There is no character development whatsoever and the story never moves beyond “Oh no! Rogue robos! Go kill them!” The characters do spend the game talking about how awesome you are, so if you need a confidence boost this game could be for you. Seriously, it’s infectious; I was feeling rather smug by the end of it. As a bit of an aside, there was one particular moment in the game where I defeated a boss without taking any damage, and yet the following story segment was treated as if I had nearly been killed. This removed me even more from what little story there was, and actually made me laugh out loud. It wouldn’t have been hard for them to add a short explosion animation or an attack from the enemy to make this scene make sense no matter how I had performed, but this is just a perfect example of how the story was not the developer’s priority. To be fair, the DLC you can purchase does expand on the story, offering up the very beginning of what could have been an interesting tale…. before immediately bludgeoning it back into the void. In case you hadn’t guessed by now, story is not this game’s strong point, but it doesn’t need to be; chances are if you are buying this game, it’s for the heart-racing, metal on metal, mech obliterating action.
That action is decent at best and a monotonous slog at worst. What starts as a decently enjoyable hack n’ slash/run n’ gun game quickly turns into a test of patience as your enemies become bigger bullet sponges and your kill count becomes increasingly massive (up to 300 on some stages). Combat controls are functional but not ideal, letting you move with the left analog stick and attack with weapons mapped to three of the four face buttons; your heal button is mapped to L and your boost is fixed to R. This setup could have easily been improved by making it function more like a twin stick shooter, allowing for movement and strafing while you attack instead of having to come to a stand still for all but a handful of weapons that allow for that ability (namely, the machine guns allow for auto strafing). You can only ever attack with one weapon at a time anyway, so having a weapon toggle with the face buttons instead of having each weapon mapped would have been equally as effective. Then again, this limiting of movement may have been intentional because the enemy A.I. isn’t exactly stellar, and the game was more than easy enough in its current form. There were multiple occasions where enemies would stand completely still and refuse to fire at all, and in fact, this happened to me on the game’s final boss. The game never allows you to get strategic because of the limited controls and the bad A.I.. In fact, the ideal strategy becomes standing completely still and firing off your most powerful weapons while you spam the healing item button, since you can stock 99 of them at a time and get so much money throughout the game that you will never run out. The only times I ever died were from the endgame enemies who had one hit kill weapons and when I got careless from the repetition of it all, which arguably is a difficulty in itself. To this game’s credit, it does have a system put in place to stop you from spamming one attack over and over again. You have unlimited ammo, but each weapon has a charge meter that needs to refill before you can fire it off again, making it so you do need to switch between your three equipped weapons, which is an aspect I really liked. Sadly, the only difference this really made was changing one spammed weapon attack into two alternating ones.
Over the course of the game, you will play through 50 missions (60 if you purchase the DLC) covering 5 mission types: destroy ‘x’ many Rage, survive ‘x’ amount of time, deliver ‘x’ to this location, farm ‘x’ item from enemies and destroy boxes on the map (this one only used once for some reason). The only difference as time goes on is that ‘x’ becomes bigger and the enemies deal more damage and take more hits themselves. While this doesn’t seem bad on the surface, it becomes gut-wrenching when you realize the entire game takes place on one small map that’s broken into only five sections, and to put the size of the game’s world into perspective, I can get from one end to the other in under 5 minutes. Regarding the mission types themselves, they all equate to the same thing really, kill everything that moves and get to your destination. Even the dreaded escort missions are no cause for alarm as the A.I. of both the enemies’ and your teammates’ are so ineffective that they will neither be a benefit or a hindrance. In the end, my favorite part of the game was the credits, which sounds hilariously insulting, but they had an extremely creative credits sequence where each of the games creators became their own mech and you got to fight them all.
The real goal of these missions, however, is to collect mech parts that enemies drop on an extremely regular basis; so often in fact that your inventory will be flooded with useless items and you will likely have to rebuild your mech from scratch after every single mission. It begins to take the fun out of it because after every mission you have to go through 50 or so new parts, most of which will just be sold to create your never ending pit of money. There is a shop to buy parts, at but it’s completely useless because nothing you can buy will be as good as the items you pick up on the field, thus your money becomes a fountain of immortality instead, buying you unlimited healing items.
The customization in itself is easily the game’s best feature, allowing you to build your robot from the ground up including the head, core, arms, legs, shoulder armor, and three weapons (one in each hand and one mounted on your back). The armor customization starts off fun, but the rate at which you get new parts quickly turns it into an automated process where you just move up to the next best piece. There are several different stats that each part affects, but there is very little trade-off between pieces. The only exception to this rule for me was when it came to leg parts, which potentially force you to choose between movement speed and armor. In my case, I always sacrificed the armor because movement speed was much more rare and useful in my eyes. As far as weapon types go, there is quite a bit more variety and the potential to cater more to your own play style. Everything from melee weapons like swords, drills, and a piercing impact fist to your ranged weapons which include your shotguns, rifles, machine guns, flamethrowers, and so on are available to you. These weapon types offer up a multitude of strategies, if only the game had any reason to let your creativity roam free.
In terms of presentation, I appreciate the amount of detail that went into the design of the mechs. Of course, it is nothing you haven’t seen before in any number of mech media in the past, but I still enjoyed seeing all the differences when it came to equipping my own giant robot. Unfortunately when you are actually on the missions, the pulled-back camera and similarity in all the robot designs really makes the point moot. The problems become even more apparent when the screen becomes flooded with enemies, often obscuring your view completely and sometimes even causing frame rate drops and slow down, though the latter was not a common occurrence. The sound design was equally lackluster, providing the sort of generic techno you can expect from the genre. The sound effects behind the weapons, however, provide a bit more impact and were good for the most part, at least until there was too much going on at once and the game decided to go mute for a short time instead. The game was obviously poorly optimized in this way. There is no voice acting to speak of, but I’d guess that most players would skip the dialogue anyway, making it an unimportant addition. A particularly annoying aspect of the game’s presentation is a poor choice in font. While this may sound nitpicky and I admittedly don’t have the best eyesight, the spacing between letters is terrible, making it extremely hard to tell when one word ends and another begins. Also, be prepared for the illegible text boxes to pop up about three seconds into every mission after you’ve already had your mission briefing… and every time a boss gets to half health or lower, really breaking up the pace and potentially getting you killed.
Honestly, Damascus Gear: Operation Tokyo left me feeling more disappointed than anything, which is a bit depressing because my expectations weren’t very high to begin with. For the first hour or so I was genuinely enjoying myself and excited to see what would come next, but the game never evolved, and the longer I played the more I just wanted to get the game over with. I loved the concept of an isometric action game with Armored Core-style customization, and was willing to forgive a lot of flaws to enjoy that sort of experience, but this game just couldn’t quite pull it off. I’d love to see Arc System Works give it another go and I’d gladly shell out the money to be the guinea pig for it, but I just don’t see a sequel happening.