Gundam Evolution is the newest entry to the franchise’s healthy roster of video game series, and it just recently launched on consoles after its debut on Steam in September. Whereas most other Gundam games typically fall into the genre of third-person brawler or action game, this one charts a new territory for the series as a free-to-play FPS. Does the franchise translate well to a genre dominated by modern shooters? In short, yes, Gundam Evolution is awesome. But let’s go over the mechanics and features that make Gundam Evolution work in this review.
I myself am not an avid watcher of Gundam. I do, however, love all things giant fighting robots, so I am familiar with the characters, and more importantly, the mecha designs. Despite my minimal knowledge of the series, I found Gundam Evolution to be incredibly welcoming, and I think it’s been smartly designed to not rely on prior knowledge to get players engaged.
"I myself am not an avid watcher of Gundam. I do, however, love all things giant fighting robots, so I am familiar with the characters, and more importantly, the mecha designs. Despite my minimal knowledge of the series, I found Gundam Evolution to be incredibly welcoming, and I think it’s been smartly designed to not rely on prior knowledge to get players engaged."
In fact, the game doesn’t really waste any time at all. I was never more than just over a minute away from jumping into a match from the PS5’s home screen. That might have something to do with the PS5’s blisteringly-fast SSD, but once you get to the game screen for Gundam Evolution, you just need a single button press to get going in a match, and that’s fantastic.
Something I found particularly interesting in playing Gundam Evolution was just how nimble each mecha was. From what I’ve seen of the series, I understand that the Mobile Suits fly and move rather smoothly. But being in the cockpit of one, I was expecting something closer to Daemon X Machina or Armored Core in terms of movement, where there is a reassuring “Ka-chunk” with every footstep to let you know that you’re piloting a 10-ton death machine.
Instead, each of the game’s 12 free characters (the ones I tried) move and attack with a swiftness that makes most of them feel like human characters. This is where the similarities to Overwatch begin, I feel. Bandai Namco took the iconic mecha from the series and made an impressive, fully-functioning hero shooter out of their differences in design and attack style.
But, did they hew a little too closely to Overwatch for comfort? The layout of the UI is chin-scratchingly similar, with the special abilities and ammo counter on the bottom right, the health bar on the bottom left, and the circular “special” meter right in between them. Things get even more suspicious when you’ve played more than a few of the mecha. The all-rounder Pale Rider plays a lot like Soldier 76, and Gundam Barbatos feels suspiciously similar to Reinhardt with each swing of its melee weapon.
The similarities are pretty overt, but they didn’t detract from the game for me after I noticed them. The game is clearly inspired, but it uses that inspiration to create an excellent experience with characters that have been beloved for decades, and it does all of this while refining the gameplay Overwatch introduced all those years ago.
"Each of the game’s 12 free characters move and attack with a swiftness that makes most of them feel like human characters. This is where the similarities to Overwatch begin, I feel. Bandai Namco took the iconic mecha from the series and made an impressive, fully-functioning hero shooter out of their differences in design and attack style."
Once you get into a match in Gundam Evolution, the action is fast and frenetic. There are three game modes: Point Capture, Domination, and Destruction. Point Capture is similar to Overwatch’s Control mode, where you fight to maintain your team’s hold on an objective. Domination is a mode where each team battles to control three points simultaneously, and Destruction is really just Search and Destroy with Gundam.
All three game modes definitely inspire competition, and you’ll probably find yourself switching between Mobile Suits several times in each match to find one that works for the current scenario. Thankfully, that shouldn’t be such a tall order considering just how varied each of these units is. There are 18 in total, but 12 of them are free to use and 6 of them are premium units that you need to purchase with one of the game’s currencies (more on that later).
I’ve already mentioned Pale Rider and Gundam Barbatos, but there are also standouts like the dual-wielding, transforming Methuss, and the beam rifle-toting, overhead throwing Turn A Gundam. None of the Mobile Suits feel bad to use necessarily, the only gripe I have is with Guntank, which is the only Mobile Suit on the roster that isn’t bi-pedal. It uses tank treads to get around, and for some reason, this unit is very noticeably “slippery”. There’s a tedious disconnect between the player halting motion input and the unit actually stopping, which is so different from the other units as to be frustrating. It’s balanced out with sick dual arm cannons and its special ability that sends out an exploding flying drone.
As with any competitive online, team-based game, your level of success will largely depend on the group of people that you end up with. This would be mitigated by playing with a team composed of your friends, but I was, unfortunately, unable to test this as I played the PS5 version of the game, and my friends play it on Steam. It is also available on PS4, and those players can match up with PS5 players, but there is no cross-platform matchmaking between the Sony consoles and Steam.
"All three game modes definitely inspire competition, and you’ll probably find yourself switching between Mobile Suits several times in each match to find one that works for the current scenario."
The allure of the free-to-play model as it applies to video games is that, over time, these games tend to be more profitable as they can be a continuous source of revenue for the publisher. This model has obviously been treacherous and exploitative in some games, but Gundam Evolution does it right in my opinion.
There are two currencies in the game: EVO Coins and Capital. EVO Coins can be purchased in packs ranging from $10 to $100 from the PlayStation Store, while Capital is earned by playing the game and completing objectives. It’s not a bad system, though I shudder whenever I see a $100 add-on for a free video game (which is becoming increasingly regular).
If you really want those 6 extra Mobile Suits, you’re more than welcome to purchase EVO Coins and unlock them right away, though you can get to them eventually after you earn enough Capital, which could admittedly take quite a while.
The other part of the free-to-play model is the obligatory Premium Pass system. Both free players and Premium Pass holders can play the game and earn points that go toward the Season Pass, which unlocks cosmetic goodies like weapon and unit skins, stickers, and emblems as well as other rewards including Supply Pod (loot crate) Tickets and even EVO Coins. However, the Premium Pass holders get additional rewards and other perks, such as unlocking Ranked Matches right away even though it is locked until level 20 for free players. It’s worth noting that Premium Passes can only be purchased with EVO Coins.
"At the end of the day, Gundam Evolution’s combat feels fun and well-balanced, and the way the Mobile Suit’s abilities work in the heat of battle only add to the excitement."
At the end of the day, Gundam Evolution’s combat feels fun and well-balanced, and the way the Mobile Suit’s abilities work in the heat of battle only add to the excitement. There is some eye-rolling at the game’s monetization, and Guntank’s slipperiness should be fixed, but overall, it’s a well-made, entirely free game that doesn’t force your hand to cough up any amount of money. Considering all of this, Gundam Evolution is absolutely worth your time.
This game was reviewed on the PlayStation 5.
Mecha movement feels nimble; Superb moment-to-moment gameplay; An excellent roster of mechs with unique abilities.
Some eye-rolling monetization.