The arrival of free to play games to home consoles has become an intriguing trend, with a small but varied set of titles ranging from Warframe to Loadout, offering up their experiences at no direct cost to the consumer. Many of these titles however, suffer common pitfalls of free to play models of distribution with the experience on offer either requiring real cash in order to obtain an objectively better competitive load-out, or reducing progression to a crawl unless the user is willing to pay. Airmech fortunately manages to escape these concerns offering an experience that’s accessible and enjoyable both to those playing for free, and those offering up their cash for in-game progression.
Concerns of the typical free to play model aside, it’s Airmech’s gameplay and design that serves as the titles selling point. As a blend between MOBA, twin-stick shooter and real time-strategy you take control of a single vehicle, capable of transforming between ground, and aerial forms. There’s a large selection of mechs to choose from and each of these feature a diverse set of abilities in both aerial and ground based forms. For instance one of the mechs shoots a slow firing railgun, and transforms into a high-powered warplane, while another is more agile, capable of traversing the map at high speeds, especially when in the air. They’ll all easy to control and the game offers some depth in getting familiar with the strengths and weaknesses of each craft.
However these mechs are mere tools which players must use to influence a larger scale battlefield which takes place, dominantly on the ground. Aside from the relatively fast paced, mech based gameplay Airmech offers various real time strategy elements elements as players are able to create and direct units in order to capture and defend bases on the ground. This interplay’s with the ability to switch your own vehicle between ground and aerial forms, as different vehicles have distinct ground or aerial abilities allowing you to evade their fire, or engage them only by switching your vehicles form.
The selection of units you choose to build can be crucial to success as each have a distinct proficiency. Jackals are fast but weak light armoured vehicles, while goliaths are heavier-going tanks. Selecting the correct vehicles for the next push on an enemy base is crucial in ensuring success. With that said, it seems that the larger tanks are typically dominant, especially during the later stages of gameplay. Fortunately every unit seems to have a weakness, a unit counterpart that you can create in order to tactfully circumvent an enemies attack plan with your own, cautious planning. This renders sense of strategy feels lends a sense of reward to successfully executed maneuvers and gameplay.
Adding to this, is the ability to physically lift these units off the ground with your airmech. While you’re able to highlight and command large groups, lifting small sets of units and distributing them manually can be imperative to success in certain instances. For instance placing a heavier, shield-esque type vehicle at the front of your attack force can help defense your allies, ensuring they’re able to push through more long-ranged units. Similarly throwing individual healing units into a field full of tanks can make a huge difference on the efficiency of your attack force. It’s a system that allows for a lot of synergy between units and this adds to the games sense of experimentation. Every match will have you trying different combinations of units in order to test their efficacy, and it’s a great feeling when you find a combination of units and strategy that work really well together.
Sometimes it doesn’t all come together however, and always due to your own inability either. During my time playing the game there were instances where I would send units to attack the next base, only to find a number of them ignore the order, alternatively in many instances enemies simply bunch up too severely in crucial choke-points, and instead of acting as you would expect, try and force themselves down a narrow pathway. The end result is one where certain units become stuck, unable to move without manual assistance. These issues terribly inconvenient when they do occur, it’s incredibly frustrating to fail an attack because a small number of units seemingly forgot to follow the order. Fortunately these instances are typically, few and far between, and for the most part the game function as one would expect.
Of course, the purpose of all of this is ultimately, to destroy your enemies final base, pushing through the battlefield to destroy the enemies last stand. You can do this by taking every base in-between, or you can simply push through and ignore the enemies forces. There’s also an alternative win condition where holding all bases on the map will win you the round if you can hold them for thirty seconds, depending on the scenario, your approach and targeted win condition should vary. If the enemy has reinforced their base with masses of stationary turrets then it’s sometimes easier merely control the entire map, but if you have momentum then it’s often more viable to make the final push and destroy the enemy base with your forces, finishing things faster.
Combat against enemy airmechs themselves is also an enjoyable affair, and familiar too for anyone that’s played an isometric action game or twin stick shooter. You can attack them in the same way that you can attack any other unit on the field; simply move the right stick in their direction to fire your primary weapon. Alongside which your mech also has a variety of specific abilities designated by the model of mech you chose at the start of the round. These can range from heat seeking missiles to a close quarters, spinning blade attack. Crucially each airmech themselves has different efficacy in different scenarios curious of these abilities, and playing to your particular airmech’s strength is essential if you wish to dominate the battlefield. These add a lot of depth to the matches as trying out different mechs with different overall strategies gives the game plentiful replayability.
When all of these systems come together Airmech is a delightfully entertaining moba-rts hybrid that’s ideally suited to consoles courtesy of a simplistic control scheme melded with the depth granted by a diverse range of mechs, abilities and units for you chose from. Airmech is not without its flaws however, at times units seem to make rather questionable decisions, with particular regard to just how many of them can fit onto a single bridge, alongside other similarly baffling feats. Despite this, these instances are few and far between and find themselves vastly overshadowed by just how effectively Airmech blends its core mechanics together to make for what we consider the best real-time strategy experience home consoles have seen in years.