Battle Engine Aquila is a futuristic shooter taking place on a series of war-torn islands on the Earth-like planet of Allium. Two factions, the Forseti and Muspell, battle for control over the world's most limited resource: land. Controlling a monstrous machine called the Aquila, the most powerful weapon in the galaxy, players fight alongside thousands of Forseti troops, aircraft, sea vessels, and tanks as they defend their territory from invading Muspell looking to claim the islands as their own.
Played from a first-person perspective inside the machine's cockpit, players must shoot down all manner of threats, using radar to track enemy units and to assist friendly troops on the 3D battlefields. The insect-like Aquila offers two distinct modes of transport: Walker Mode and Jet Mode. As the name suggests, Walker Mode has players guiding the weapon along the ground using the vessel's four legs and powerful shield generator, which absorbs many types of attacks. Jet Mode diverts power from the shields to allow the Aquila to quickly fly toward its intended destination.
The game is divided into a branching series of 43 missions with optional side objectives for enhanced play. By completing all secondary mission objectives, players can unlock evolved variants of missions designed to offer a greater challenge. Players also receive a letter ranking at the end of each mission. As players make their way across the battlefield, the Aquila will display warning messages such as incoming missiles, incoming warheads, ammunition depleted, and so forth. To help fight these threats, players can outfit their Aquila with pulse cannons, missile launchers, lasers, grenade launchers, torpedoes, spread bombs, rail guns, and more.
Two-player support via split-screen is also featured in three different modes: Skirmish, Versus, and Cooperative. Skirmish has each player taking both sides of the conflict as they try to control specific islands by eliminating as much of the opposing force as possible. Versus is simply a one-on-one battle against two Battle Engines set within a tournament arena. Cooperative unites both players in a quest to defeat the Muspell army, but they can only do so for as long as they both have lives. Additional multiplayer levels are available as unlockable bonuses while playing through the single-player mode.
Battle Engine Aquila is a fast-paced 3D action game with tons of gunfire, explosions, battle noise, and challenge. It doesn't push the PC to the limits of its capabilities, but it does provide an entertaining old-style contest that at times will have you at the edge of your seat.
As with many games of its ilk, the story is there, but it's mostly peripheral to the gameplay. The computer-animated cutscenes before each level progressively fill out the characters and storyline. It takes place in another solar system, with two main races -- the Forceti and the Muspell -- renewing their long-running feud for land. You start off as Hawk Winter, who's billed as a blue-collar Forceti guy working on the docks. With a new mech-like unit called (you guessed it) Battle Engine Aquila, you're recruited into the combat.
Aquila is a versatile vehicle that splits time as a walker and as a jet fighter. Its weapons cache also varies and is selectable (with a press to the right mouse button): Ground battle offers an energy-pulse cannon and a rapid-fire Vulcan cannon, while air combat provides bursts of small homing missiles and the Vulcan cannon. As you progress, you unlock new weapons -- with weapon use during a level often bringing about an augmented improvement -- as well as other vehicles and combatants that can be chosen before entering each level.
The levels are offered in a progressive tree, with each completed level opening up access to the next. Grading of your performance in each level is given at the end, based on the completion of primary and secondary objectives as well as other criteria, such as whether you allowed Forceti casualties or unit loss. Once you've completed a level, however, you can go back at any time and replay it in hopes of a better grade. Still other levels have a second variation called "Evo," which provides the same level format, though with increased difficulty and opposition.
Battle Engine Aquila also dishes up a "goodies" tree, with tons of unlockables, such as concept art (including items in the game as well as others that didn't make the cut), 3D models of the various craft in the game, profiles of the main characters, and the game's many cutscenes. Perhaps serving as proof that the PC take is a direct port from the earlier console versions, much of the concept art awkwardly displays logos for Lost Toys and Infogrames -- the publisher's corporate name before the Atari moniker was revived and what it was called during the game's development.
The gameplay is loud and busy, with combat taking place on the ground and in the air by all sizes of enemy vehicles. It can be difficult to know what to do first or next, though the radio chatter does offer some hints. Particularly in the Evo levels, the instinct is to take on the first thing you come across, though that decision may end up leading to a mission failure (or two or three...) because you devoted your attention to the wrong battle.
The single-player game is visually and aurally attractive and offers a solid test of your skills, though it's basic -- there's nothing in Battle Engine Aquila that's out of the ordinary and the game doesn't break new ground. Where the PC version could have perked up the experience would be through the addition of broad multiplayer gameplay, and the Battle Engine Aquila world offers lots of opportunity for the normal slate of modes: deathmatch, capture the flag, etc. Unfortunately, the only multiplayer is a few different modes of split-screen gameplay, with two players sharing the keyboard. Again, perhaps it's just a result of Encore's interest in porting the game for quick release, but it could have been a lot more -- and maybe a Battle Engine Aquila 2 will bring just that.
If you're looking for state-of-the-art and bleeding-edge gaming, you'll probably want to pass up Battle Engine Aquila and wait for Half-Life 2 or any number of other killer games on the horizon. Suffice it to say, though, if you're an action game fan and you want something that you can pretty much jump into and play without having to pore over a manual -- and you need something to occupy your time while you're waiting for those other, bigger games to come out -- Battle Engine Aquila is a good candidate for your time.
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