In a time where political issues are being consistently debated, one thing we can all agree on is that piloting giant robots is awesome. Unfortunately, there haven’t been a lot of opportunities to do that in modern video games. With some notable exceptions, like MechWarrior 5, Mech games just don’t seem to be coming out much these days. The last proper Front Mission game came out in 2010, and the last Armored Core came out in 2013! That is far too long for us, as a people, to have gone without drifting or linking up with a massive metal war machine. Luckily, Daemon X Machina‘s release has helped stimulate that need, and hopefully, the world will be at peace again soon.
Daemon X Machina puts players in the role of one of many “Reclaimers.” You see, the Moon collided with Earth and has caused all AI on the planet to rebel against their human masters and causing new energy called “Femto” to be released. This ordeal leaves humanity pretty vulnerable as they now must live secluded from the AI, now calling themselves “Immortals”. It’s all a very anime setup meant to justify why you fight hundreds of enemies per map. The player is introduced to the various consortiums hiring Reclaimers to reclaim territory taken over by Immortals. We don’t really get to see the representatives of these various groups, but the player gets to meet practically every mercenary from every company during the game.
The Mercenary groups in Daemon X Machina have some extremely cheesy, Metal Gear-esque names. Bullet Works, Five Hells, Terrors, Panzer Crown, the Western VII. Just incredible stuff. Kojima should take notes when he starts concepting out new shipping companies for Death Stranding 2. The player will have the opportunity to work alongside other mercs from each company, and, as you may have guessed, they also have ridiculous names! There’s a lady named “Gun Empress,” a constantly angry fella named “Gargantua”, a kinda goth girl named “Rouge Cinderella,” and a lot more than I could possibly be asked to remember. This is probably a good thing because the actual plot is the least interesting thing about Daemon X Machina.
The game weaves a tale of betrayal and shakey alliances that don’t have a lot really going on in the first place. You’ll team up with a squadmate for one mission, then have to fight them because their mercenary company was hired to do a job to prevent you from completing your next mission. I get the feeling these moments were supposed to make the player feel conflicted about fighting an ally, but you don’t really see these characters or interact with them outside of a few cutscenes. You get a small hub world between missions to equip new armor and weapons on your mech, a lab to customize your appearance and upgrade stats, and an ice cream parlor. Yes, it seems that the only thing mech pilots eat is ice cream. While it does provide you temporary stat bonuses, I have to question the nutritional value of this dietary restriction.
Mech-ing a Mess
Playing Daemon X Machina is often delightful. You’ll loadout your Arsenal with weapons and armor that can be either obtained off enemy corpses or developed in the hub. You’ll be able to equip standard military fare like shotguns and submachine guns to mecha anime staples like Laser Swords and Back-mounted missiles. Your mech can hold up to 4 weapons at a time. Players will also have a limited amount of memory to work with and the more intense weapons will use more memory. Lighter armor and weapons confer more mobility to players. I found having lighter armaments to be my preferred playstyle as this allowed me to dodge and keep my distance from the other mercenaries’ mechs. Unfortunately, melee weapons seem to be a bit imprecise, despite the game’s generous lock-on system. On top of this, chain attacks with the Katana only seemed to work every once in a while.
Most enemies encountered are pretty easy to take down, especially when you load up with multi-targeting missiles and an Assault Rifle. Though there are some heavily armored enemies that you’ll have to get around to hit their weak points and tanks that may require a lot of hits to take down. But this all depends on your loadout. Each mission briefing will give you some idea of the enemies to expect in a given mission, though the game loves to throw you a curveball in the form of an unexpected encounter with one of the mercenary groups. Eventually you’ll get equipment that lets you just straight up have weapons for arms. While these look cool, their use is functionally inferior to the normal weapons, as you can’t switch out the arm once it’s out of ammo.
Ammo is especially tough to come by when facing off against the colossal immortals, seen below. Ammo drops from smaller enemies and there aren’t a lot of mobs added into these fights, making them drag out for a long time if you aren’t being careful. It doesn’t make these encounters any less fun to play, but it can be annoying when you’re just down to a short-range machine pistol, and you have to hit the weak spots on the bottom of a giant rampaging spider tank.
The game also has another problem: it’s wayyyy too easy. During the 16 hours or so I played, I only died one time and that was on a mission where I wasn’t in my mech. Yes, Daemon X Machina will take you out of the suit once in a while to engage in some awful stealth missions. Luckily these are very few and far between, but their inclusion is baffling. I guess they were designed as a way to give the player a bit more variety between mission types. And that certainly is a factor to consider in a game where most missions play out the same way, but this was definitely not the way to go about that.
Daemon X Machina released for Nintendo Switch back in September last year and many common critiques with the Switch version of the game centered around the hardware not being able to keep up with the action onscreen. With framerate hitches and long load times, a fast game like Daemon X Machina can feel bogged down by technical limitations. The good news for PC players: that’s not a problem anymore! To my surprise, my very mid-range PC was able to run the game at a consistent 60 fps at max settings. There would be some dips when a massive Immortal or a bunch of enemies were on the battlefield, but nothing too crazy. This game is fast and frenetic. It doesn’t exactly demand exceptional precision from players, but everything onscreen feels like it’s moving at breakneck speed.
That sense of speed feels great, though. Soaring through the air or descending to skate across the sand while engaging the thrusters feels great! Music from Tekken and Soul Calibur alum Rio Hamamoto rips through the heat of battle to create a nu-metal drenched epic combat experience that feels appropriately 90’s. Overall it has a very “arcadey” vibe that feels similar to the Rogue Squadron or Earth Defense Force series. If you like shooting a bunch of small things in one level and then shooting one big thing in another level, this might be the game for you.
Y’all Like Melodrama and Giant Robots?
Daemon X Machina is a very fun game to play. However, the story often got in the way of my enjoyment. It’s clear that a great deal of time was spent in developing the visual motifs of the various mercenary factions and certain story sequences, but the player never really has any meaningful interaction with these characters beyond exchanging chat messages with them or showing up in the background of cutscenes. Most of these scenes are skippable, but I tried to honestly engage with the story and didn’t feel like a worthwhile use of my time. That said if you are looking for some arcade shoot em’ up action that’s a bit more casual, you could do a whole lot worse.
Final Verdict: 3.5/5
Available on: PC(Reviewed), Nintendo Switch; Publisher: Xseed Games; Developer: Marvelous First Studio; Players: 1-4; Released: February 13, 2020; MSRP: $59.99
Full disclosure: This review is based on a PC review copy of Daemon X Machina given to Hey Poor Player by the publisher.