To Fight Steel, One Must Become Steel

HIGH Zipping through a high-tech base as everything explodes around me.

LOW A boss that’s out of bounds and impossible to shoot.

WTF Your enemy in this mission: Meteorites!

It takes a lot of nerve to dive headfirst into a world as bizarre as the one DAEMON X MACHINA offers. Starting with one of the most jarringly dense opening cutscenes I’ve seen in ages, the game throws one bizarre twist after another at the player.

Here’s a precis – the moon exploded, wiping out most of life on Earth. Computer programs have attained sentience and use automated factories to crank out drones meant to finish the job started by the moon. A superintelligent computer leads the human effort to fight the AI threat, but a surprisingly large amount of the time, that entails pitting various mercenaries against one another at the behest of sinister conglomerates.

…Got it?

It’s a a great big mess that gets more confusing with each new character introduction and dialogue scene dropped into the middle of a deathmatch or boss fight. At the center of this maelstrom is the player, controlling a mute cipher whose only role is to be awesome at completing missions while all this craziness spins around them.

A third-person shooter, DXM puts players in charge of a customizable mech with surprisingly intuitive controls and sets them loose on a chain of missions that will reveal the terrifying secrets of its world. I won’t lie, though, I was still puzzled about a few things after the credits rolled.

What is clear is that there’s a huge amount of variety in DXM‘s missions – they start simple with the player wiping out opposition in a variety of post-apocalyptic maps, but things quickly take a turn for the unusual. Several storyline missions will switch objectives midway through, with new foes turning up and new goals unlocking. There are even missions that completely upend the experience, with the player suddenly out of their mech and stealthing their way through a research facility, and ones where they find themselves dropped into the cockpit of an ultra-heavy battlemech, stomping around ruined cities while firing volleys of missiles and crushing tanks underfoot.

This unpredictable mission structure makes it a challenge to build the perfect mech loadout for any given assignment. If they’re told to destroy an enemy factory, for example, it makes sense to bring along bazookas and heavy ballistic missiles. But, what if quick-boosting mercenaries arrive to defend the facility after a couple of buildings have been wrecked? Hopefully the player packed some assault rifles and lock-on missiles as backup weapons, or it’s a trip back to the mission select screen to refit the mech.

DXM‘s arsenal is enormous, with everything from SMGs to laser cannons, and the player can choose any style they like. The mech suit offers quite a bit of aim assistance (necessary, since enemy mechs are able to boost and hover with as much agility as the player) so the idea is to keep the target at the center of the screen and hit the trigger once a lock-on has been achieved. This works great most of the time, and only causes problems during boss fights when the auto-aim might decide a giant robot’s heavily armored hull is a more important target than the glowing weak point just to its side.

The control scheme grants mechs three main modes — at any moment the player can switch between prioritizing their craft’s shields (halving incoming damage), weapons (doubling outgoing damage), or thrusters (unlocking unlimited boost until the power runs out.) Adroitly flipping between these modes is the key to success in the game. Powering shields while taking fire on approach, blasting the enemy to pieces with bonus damage, and then zipping freely away is a dynamite tactic that can wipe out almost any for if executed carefully.

These controls work just as well for multiplayer as they do for the story mode. There’s traditional deathmatch gameplay in which players can entertain themselves boosting and dodging against real life opponents, but much more interesting are the co-op features. While it’s great to have help taking down some of the enormous bosses, the real star of the show is a randomized dungeon mode, in which teams of players delve into AI-controlled depths in the hopes of finding rare tech to customize their mechs.

DAEMON X MACHINA might have an overwrought, needlessly complicated plot, but doesn’t that usually go hand-in-hand with giant robot narratives? Whether or not players are interested in the story, there’s a huge amount of great gameplay on offer with dozens of story and side missions and replayable multiplayer content. From any perspective, DXM offers great value and gameplay, making it one of the top mech games available.

Rating: 8.5 out of 10

Disclosures: This game is developed by Marvelous and published by XSEED. It is currently available on PC and Switch. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the PC. Approximately 25 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was completed. Four hours were spent in multiplayer modes.

Parents: According to the ESRB, this game is rated T and contains Fantasy Violence, Mild Blood, and Mild Language. Yes, robots are constantly blowing each other up, but the pilots almost always make it out alive so generally players are just wrecking technology. I honestly didn’t notice any language, even of the mild variety. There’s a little existential horror in what the game has to say about AI and the way players can transform their avatar into a post-human beast to keep up with their enemies, but that’s it as far as sensitive material goes.

Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available in the options.

Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: I played the majority of the game without sound and encountered no difficulties. There are ample dialogue and mission information is given via subtitles and text. Text cannot be resized. This game is fully accessible.

Remappable Controls: Yes, this game offers fully remappable controls.

Daniel Weissenberger
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