VIDEO GAME REVIEW 'Mission' requires thought, study



For gamers who like quick action, this game might be a little slow.
By BILL HUTCHENS
TACOMA NEWS TRIBUNE
If there's room in the universe for yet another giant-robot battle game, that game is "Front Mission 4" from Square Enix.
Think chess with gargantuan walking battle tanks, and you'll begin to understand the basic premise behind this new tactical strategy game from two of the world's best role-playing game makers.
Square and Enix merged a while back, and this is the first game in the Front Mission series to feature touches from both companies.
"Wanzers" or "mechs" rule combat in 2096, and skilled pilots patrol the planet in the heavily armored robots. You'll follow Elsa, a rookie in a European Community research/investigation squad, and Darril, a South American soldier. In separate story lines, the two main characters unravel a global conspiracy and encounter a previously unknown group of wanzer terrorists.
Like chessboards
The game plays out on expansive battlefields that work like huge chessboards. Players start each mission by placing their wanzers on the field, and then the fun starts as enemy machines approach for a fight.
Combat is turn-based (you go, then they go, etc.) and you'll have to analyze the weaknesses of the enemy to get the most out of your mechs and win each battle.
Fine-tuning mechs between fight scenes is the key to success. You'll have to spend resources earned in battles to upgrade the arms, legs and torsos of your mechs with the latest armor and weaponry. Budget your money as well as the weight of added munitions to optimize your wanzers' power and speed.
You'll research and acquire new technology as you go along, and your wanzer pilots can learn "Link System" moves that allow them to coordinate for devastating combos.
"Front Mission 4" is heavy on story and even heavier on tutorials. You'll spend a lot of time watching and listening as scenes move the plot along between battles. And you're going to have to read and read and read some more as the game explains the hundreds of upgrade possibilities and the intricate details of the wanzer.
It's a micromanager's dream, but it might not appeal to those who need more quick action in their games.
'Chessmaster'
If giant walking battle-tank games aren't your preferred method for honing tactical thinking skills, maybe you prefer something a little more subtle.
Ubisoft (www.ubi.com/US) recently released "Chessmaster 10th Edition "for PC, and it's a doozy. Did I say subtle? Maybe "subtle" isn't the right word for a chess game that comes complete with a set of 3-D glasses.
More than 5 million copies of games in the Chessmaster series have been sold, and it's easy to see why with this latest version.
For $40, you'll get just about all the chess you can handle, from the easiest novice matches to brutal battles against famous masters of the game.
Josh Waitzkin and Larry Christiansen will even teach you as you go along.
Here's what I like best: the Blunder Alert mode that tells you if you're walking into a trap -- or creating one for yourself.
There are plenty of bells and whistles to the 10th Edition, including a setting that gives you animated pieces on special theme boards. And those 3-D glasses come in handy on the 3-D boards.
Even if you're new to the game, take a few lessons and then go online to challenge opponents at your skill level. Then climb the ladder to ranked games and master status.
XFront Mission 4," by Square Enix for PlayStation 2, is rated T for teens.

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