What is it that makes robot games so cool? Obviously, the biggest reason is the robots themselves. No matter the genre or setting, a sharply designed bipedal weapons platform is the perfect centrepiece for a memorable interactive experience. Have a cheesy action game full of awkward comedy? Slap a cool robot in there and you’ve got a cult classic From Software game. Making a third-person shooter about an onslaught of aliens and the ravages of nature? Pop some mech suits in there and you’ve got an addictive Capcom shooter franchise. Creating a co-op action game set in a post-apocalyptic world that parallels the struggles of the modern working-class and military bureaucracy? Toss in a bunch of sleek, fully customisable giant mechs and you’ve got Daemon X Machina.
Daemon X Machina is, without a doubt, a mecha action game. It’s produced by the pioneer of the Armored Core series, after all. The robots are hardly the most important part of this package, though. For me, I actually ended up being more struck by the human side of the game.
The narrative starts out vague, but after a few pre-mission conversations and emails, you start to piece together what exactly is happening in the world of Daemon X Machina. After the moon crashed into the surface of the Earth (and life somehow managed to survive), countless AI vehicles and weapons were taken over and turned hostile by a threat called the Immortals. You’ve joined a group called Orbital as one of their Reclaimers, a mercenary who works with various Earth factions and governments in order to protect civilisation and fight back the AI menace.
There are dozens of other Reclaimers, though, and you’ll meet all of them as the game progresses. Every mission has a random assortment of mercenaries assigned to it, so for the first couple of hours of the game I was constantly meeting brand new characters, from a poetic try-hard named Savior to a smarmy up-and-coming member of Bullet Works named Johnny G. Every character has a unique personality, and an equally unique design thanks to the wonderful work of character design genius Yusuke Kozaki. He was responsible for the character designs of the No More Heroes series, as well as Fire Emblem Awakening and Fates. Despite every Daemon X Machine character wearing an identical pilot plugsuit, the colours and hairstyles and facial designs of each mercenary stood out as unique and instantly memorable.
I had so much fun meeting all these characters, and even more fun having repeat encounters. Taking a new mission and finding out a favourite mercenary of mine was also assigned to it was great, as was seeing the way different groups of characters would interact on each mission. Every mercenary belongs to a different faction or outfit, and those faction lines quickly lead to trouble as the story progresses. You’ll routinely butt heads and even battle other mercenaries belonging to a different group, but the fact that you’ve met and even worked with them before adds so much more gravity to the situation. Events like being on a mission with Bullet Works to protect a data facility, only to be stopped by familiar faces who were given a mission by someone else to destroy the facility, were made so much more tense by these not being simple villain characters.
These situations would almost always end in battle, and it’s here that Daemon X Machina also shines. Your mech, called an Arsenal, moves swiftly along the ground or through the air, utilising left and right weapons to do battle, as well as a shoulder-mounted weapon, a special equipment chip, and extra weapons to swap to on your left and right pylons. It’s a lot of hardware to keep track of, and you don’t get to take your time. Every enemy you fight is fast and lethal, forcing you to stay on your toes as you dash across the ground and boost through the air to survive. Your weapons offer a solid balance between automatic lock-on and manual touch that give you an ample amount of control over your performance without making the game feel like it’s on auto-pilot.
That wild sense of action is amplified by the incredible soundtrack of the game. The music of Daemon X Machina can best be described as the child of the Doom 2016 and Xenoblade X soundtracks. Harsh and heavy guitars mesh with synth sounds and occasional effects-heavy Japanese rap-rock vocals for a variety of face-melting tracks that made every fight even more hot-blooded. A bright, cel-shaded art-style combines with the flawless 60FPS performance to ensure that every second of the game hits as hard and fast as it needs to.
As you progress through the game, you’ll unlock a huge amount of new equipment for your Arsenal. There’s a variety of weapons from mini-guns and snipers to bazookas and electricity cannons, not to mention the swappable parts for every limb of your robot, including the head and torso. Paint jobs, camo patterns, and decals offer an extra layer of customisation that is much appreciated. You’ll acquire all of this in a number of ways, from scavenging single parts from downed enemy mech to receiving end-of-mission rewards or simply purchasing them at the shop and factory. The game really lets you take control of your Arsenal style, allowing you to customise the performance as much as the aesthetic.
That level of customisation is true for your player character, as well. Daemon X Machina is a ruthless world of battle, and mercenaries will outfit their bodies, or Outers, with countless cybernetics to gain an advantage in combat. You can acquire skill tree upgrades that boost the performance of your mech or upgrade the combat abilities of your own body whenever you decide to exit your Arsenal and navigate the environment on foot. These cybernetics will alter your appearance in drastic ways, though, and the only way to circumvent this is to get none at all. Deciding whether you prioritise the appearance of your meticulously customised character, or a few extra abilities in battle, is a simple yet effective window into the existential debate of advanced body modification. Many games pose this question in a purely narrative-driven context, but Daemon X Machina extends it into the gameplay flawlessly.
Even if you don’t go for the cybernetics, there’s still plenty of other ways to boost your combat effectiveness. Weapons and Arsenal pieces can drop with random bonus effects, higher stats (of which there are many), and even attachment slots that you can put augments into for boosted performance. There are a dozen different layers of customisation in this game, but they’re all doled out slowly enough that it’s never overwhelming or confusing.
Of course, the more robots the better, so you can always take the battle online if you need help with a particularly tough mission. Four player co-op lets you and your friends wander around the otherwise barren hub complex of the game together, as well as take on various missions in a group. While finding or making co-op rooms is quick and painless, some of these multiplayer battles outlined a major issue with boss fights in this game. In solo fights, giant bosses can sometimes be a bit too bullet spongy. In co-op, the problem is only exacerbated, especially if you hop into a mission that’s above your current rank. These fights can still be fun, but perhaps a bit too time consuming.