19 January 2015

Forgotten Classics: Battle Engine Aquila (2003)


Throughout the lifecycle of an video game console, hundreds of games titles are developed and published, all taking their changes among the other games on the shelves. Some will become fondly remembered, securing a place in video game history, much like HALO, Super Mario Brothers, and Tetris. Others will merely blip the gamers' radar and be lost on dusty disconnected shelves...doomed to a forgotten existence. In 2003, British game studio Lost Toys developed an transformable mech combat shooter set on an alien world at war called Battle Engine Aquila. Hopes were high for the title by the developer and the publisher: ATARI. This game was rolled on the original Xbox, Playstation 2, and the PC on January 20th of 2003, but failed to make an impact, and the title was quickly forgotten.. For this installment of Forgotten Classics blog series, FWS will be discussing this unique title in all of its 2003 glory.

What is Battle Engine Aquila?
With their first major game, Lost Toys developed a rather unique military sci-fi video game experience. This game can be best described as a hybrid of a shooter, combat flight game, with some giant robot goodness, topped with elements of an war strategy game and all wrapped up in a military science fiction theme. As Hawk Winter (haha), you pilot an prototype advanced war machine developed by the Forseti government called an "Battle Engine", and it can transform into a combat jet with limited flight ability and a GERWALKER multi-legged tank mode for ground combat.
Both feature unique weaponry to their mode and as the game progresses, you can choose from different Battle Engines loadouts for your style in combat. As pilot of the Battle Engine, you are often fitted into major island engagements between your Forseti allies and the enemy Muspell. Hundreds of units are in combat as you are sent in to alter the tide of the battles or accomplish a difficult special mission, and the Forseti need all the help they can get. In flight mode, your armaments are limited to two types as well as is your energy, which is burned off more quickly, forcing you to land. However, in GERWALKER mode, you are a metal green-blue god-of-war, casting judgement with your weaponry over the Muspell forces. If you are wise, you can change the course of the battle, and be the winning element towards victory.

The Plot of Battle Engine Aquila?
The planet of Allium is a desperate state, global climate change has melted the polar ice caps, triggering a massive flooding of dry lands, and wasting away the major cities. By the end, only a few islands were left on the surface of Allium along with two political groups that survived the apocalypse: the Muspell and the Forseti. The Forseti are more technologically advanced, who use green energy, and are governing over in a democracy, which is very much in deep contrast to their rivals: the Muspell.
The industrial dictatorship of Muspell have set their sights on the Forseti islands, and to accomplish this goal, the Muspell have cracking out war machines and genetically engineered soldiers from their dirty factories. They are greater militarily than the more peace loving Forseti. As the game opens, the Muspell are planning a major military operation to take Forseti lands as the Forseti are testing their new Battle Engine prototype mecha. Your character, Hawk Winter is a punk dock worker that conducts illegal races, and is drafted for his natural talent to pilot the Battle Engine, thrusting Hawk into a new war for the survival of the Forsteri  

The Historical Context of Battle Engine Aquila
2003 has been called the "year of sequels", and it was an important year for the Playstation 2 and the original Xbox. This year saw the release of Bioware's Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic along with the beginning of the  mega Call of Duty franchise, and Xenosaga. Along with this, there was the release of sequels to notable previous titles like SOCOM, Time Crisis 3, Max Payne 2, and Silent Hill 3. This was also the apex of the PS2 and the Xbox lifecycle with quality games coming out on a continual basis, but the end was in sight, Sony and Microsoft were developing the next-gen consoles. We also have to remember that 2003 was the year that we got Dead or Alive...let that memory sink in. Yep, good times. During this period of gaming, there was a great deal less online presence and more time and energy was devoted to the single player experience, but is in a decline today, sadly.


What Happened to Battle Engine Aquila?

Given the fickle nature of the gaming industry and gamers in general, games either make an impact and give rise to sequels or they fade away to the resell shop with a few scattered fans raving on the internet. This was the fate of Battle Engine Aquila, fading away with a few fans, like me, fondly remembering this title and raving on sites like this one. ATARI tried hard with Battle Engine Aquila, marketing the title for success with playable demos on gaming stands at stores like Target, Wal-Mart, and Best Buy. In gaming stores, there was the arresting game art and posters, and this is how I was first educated of the game. Reviewers placed Battle Engine Aquila on "games worth waiting for" lists and when the game came out in January of 2003, reviews were solidly positive, with an average of 7 or even 8. However, the game had been delayed, and it was not shipped during the busy November/December release span, and instead was released in January. January was a bad month for games or anything, because of the Christmas exhaustion for consumers. Sales reflected this, and Battle Engine Aquila, despite the positive reviews, was unsuccessful, and prices dropped quickly. When I bought the game in 2004, it was brand new and more than half in original price.
Soon after this, the developer Lost Toys, closed their doors, and the title disappeared. Before the release of the game, Lost Toys had hoped that Battle Engine Aquila was going to be the first in a new franchise. Some of the game article of the time that featured Lost Toys discussing a sequel in the planning stages with Muspell having their own copy of an Battle Engine, and the possibility of an war strategy game based on the war between the Muspell and Forseti. This was the original concept by Lost Toys for the Battle Engine Aquila game, and would have been similar to HALO Wars.
Battle Engine Aquila Today
After the game was on the bargain shelves, and the next-gen home video game console came out 2005, gaming magazines and websites came out with their lists of the best games on the previous consoles. On these lists, Battle Engine Aquila was ranked in the 80's and 90's, and called a solid shooter title with interesting elements. This has helped Battle Engine Aquila from completely disappearing along with the internet and online articles (like this one). Battle Engine Aquila is like many of these lost and forgotten titles, remembered by few and forgotten by many.

Why is Battle Engine Aquila an Classic?
Sure, in the realm of military science fiction games on the original Xbox, MechAssault and HALO: Combat Evolved are certainly the more classic titles that are still fondly remembered to this day. However, there is something special about this game. Battle Engine Aquila stands out as a classic on the PS2/Xbox due to its originality and how it stood out from the crowd of games in 2003 or even today...only Yager was similar, and it was released only after Battle Engine Aquila. The setting is unique, the mecha itself is a bold organic design, along with the overall design of the world of Allium. All of these elements connect in the crazy battlefield action that can be had in the majority of missions. Even after my Playstation 2 was stolen along with my copy of this game, I still wanted to own it. When I finally decided to write this blogpost, and bought the game (again), I could still see why I enjoyed Battle Engine Aquila all of those years ago. Even in 2015, Battle Engine Aquila is still a fun game, and one of the lost classics of that era in gaming.

The Modern Mini-Review of Battle Engine Aquila
Due to the length of time since the release of Battle Engine Aquila, I decided that I would write a mini-review of the game. Overall, this game is a fun experience with a unique setting and a fresh take on mecha, along with little touches in design that make this game a standout, even among mecha games. The controls are good, the weapons awesome, and being in the middle of massive engagements is a very nice touch, along with the combined arms approach to both military organizations. During the game play, the game sings. Crushing massive amounts of Muspell forces, unleashing grenades while performing an "death from above" tactic is the great moments of the game and never get old. But, when the game attempts to further the plot, it stalls. The basic plot of an Muspell invasion of the Forseti territory is simple enough and should be enough. However, the game attempts to tell a larger story and the result is very mixed, due mainly to the awful visuals of these cutscenes and poor dialog.
While no 2003 game is going to look "modern", much of Battle Engine Aquila is good, especially while you are fighting, however, the cutscenes are terrible, simply terrible. The human characters are more simian looking, and despite this being an alien world, they use common Terran names and other touches that betray the alienness of Allium. At times, it seems that the developers didn't even try to make an effort with this alien culture. This is compounded by the bad dialog and lack of an engaging "story" within the settling due to a simple lack of writing. However, the single worse element of Battle Engine Aquila is the weakness of the Forseti forces, and their endless bitching about it. During the majority of battles, the Forseti relay too heavily on the Battle Engine and your skills at the controls to turn the tide of them giving dominated by the Muspell. Trained soldiers will start to bitch and whine when they fall under attack, and scream for your help. This rapidly becomes annoying, and without your aid, the Forseti military will fail, and you flunk the mission. Thank the Lords of Kobol that the gameplay is so much fucking fun and that for a fan of mecha, this is a refreshing take, or else I would be temped to join the Muspell and end their bitching permittely.

Next Time on FWS...
For the next blogpost here on FWS, we will continuing the blog series Our Enemies, and the subject will the Grey Aliens of popular UFO lore. As someone who grew up with an strong interest in ancient astronaut theory and UFOs, the Greys represent something is both fascinating and terrifying to me. In some works, the Greys are the benefactors to humanity and this view is backed up by some UFO theorists. But then there are other works and theorists that believe the Greys are malevolent and here to push their own agenda on mankind.  It is my hope that I am NOT abducted for blogging about this and be sure to watch the skies. Got my shotgun and a tinfoil hat at the ready.

3 comments:

  1. Take a look on the "Dark Colony" pc game intro. Terrans vs Greys at its finest!! The ending is just awesome... https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xnxO6s41Gc8

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  2. muahaha that alien

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  3. I dont know why but I feel nostalgic about these games... even today I dont play modern games, i prefer something like Papas Games or similar restaurant management games!

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