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MechAssault

Review By:  Nick Arvites

Developer:   Day 1 Studios/ FASA
Publisher:   Microsoft
# of Players:   1-8
Genre:   Action
ESRB:   Teen
Online:   Yes
Accessories:   Xbox Live (content, online play), System Link
Date Posted:  

12-11-02

What’s cooler than giant mechs leaving a wake of destruction behind them? Nothing. Yes, that has been the cry of many gamers like myself for years. MechAssault draws upon the rich history of the Battletech Universe. This is not the first incarnation of Battletech in the videogame world. The Mechwarrior PC series is on its 4th installment and just saw the release of the stand-alone Mechwarrior 4: Mercenaries. There were also several attempts at bringing the franchise to the home consoles, but they never really fared that well. MechAssault is the first respectable home game in the franchise, but it may not appeal to the hardcore fan base.

The background story follows the same line as a typical Battletech backdrop. You are part of the famed mercenary group Wolf’s Dragoons. Your orders are to land on the planet Helios ahead of the main strike force to clear the way for the main invasion force. Standing in your way is a planet full of Word of Blake forces. What exactly is the Word of Blake? The Word of Blake is an offshoot of ComStar that worships technology. Yes, you read right. These guys claim technology as their religion and are on a technology-based jihad. Keep this bit of background in mind when their commander starts speaking over the communication channels as it helps to explain his attitude. If you want the short summary of your mission: destroy the tech-worshipping geeks that took over the planet.

This game is a graphical kick in the teeth. In other words, MechAssault has shockingly good graphics. Mechs look great and the landscape of the planet itself is varied and detailed. Explosions look great, as does weather effects like fog, snow and rain. Lasers look extremely bright and the damage effects on Mechs are visible. Damaged mechs will show fire damage, electrical damage and limb damage. Mechs will actually catch fire for brief periods and crackle with electrical bolts. After so much damage is taken, Mechs start to move slower because a legs is limp. When Mechs are destroyed, they go out in a miniature nuclear explosion. All of the constant bullets, missiles and lasers flying around and causing explosions would seem like there would be graphical slowdown issues, right? Wrong. This game runs about as fast as Quake II would on a 1.5 Ghz processor. Translation for those who have no clue what that means: Silky smooth performance.

Missions take place in cities, valleys, mountains, arctic tundra, wastelands and ports. Each one of the landscapes have different feels to them, be it fog, snow, rain, lava, buildings, rivers or lakes. One new and innovative feature to this game is destructible terrain. If an enemy Mech is firing at you from a bridge over a canyon, you can blast the bridge from under your opponent and send him plummeting to heavy damage or instant destruction. You can blow buildings on top of opponents and cause rockslides in mountainous terrain. Rock bridges in mountain stages can be destroyed and brought down on top of many enemies. This type of feature makes urban combat so much more interesting since you can now take out the annoying light Mechs that love to snipe from atop a tall building.

There is no mission variety in single player mode. Every mission is essentially the same...destroy all enemies. There are no recon missions and only one instance I can think of where you get any sort of friendly assistance. While single-handedly annihilating an entire planetary garrison may be fun, the distinct lack of variety in the missions will cause one strategy to emerge; take the heaviest Mech into battle. There is no incentive aside from pure difficulty to take a lighter Mech into battle except in the timed missions, and even in those timed missions it is not required. In actuality, the hardest mission in the entire game is one where you must pilot an Elemental through a base to hijack a Mech. This is not to say that the campaign missions are easy. On the contrary, the campaign is fairly difficult. However, the lack of variety in missions will make them start to seem tedious.

The single player campaign could actually be a stand-alone game, but the pure strength of this title is the multiplayer options. Sure, the direct multiplayer options are weak. You can go one-on-one with an opponent in the various multiplayer contests or compete in the grinder (see how many CPU controlled Mechs you can destroy without being killed yourself). The system link options allow more players to join in the fray. However, since I can’t think of anyone I know that actually utilizes system links, I doubt this will be helpful for many people. The true multiplayer is on Xbox Live. MechAssault is the flagship title of Microsoft’s online service. Fast paced destruction against other players makes for good online gaming. To further the online experience for this title, Microsoft has promised updates in the form of downloadable content. These updates will be new game modes, new missions and, most importantly, new Mechs. The single player campaign may warrant a rental from most people since it could be beat in the time of a rental, but if you have Xbox Live, this game should be in your collection.

MechAssault seems to sound like a Game-of-the-Year contender, but it is not problem-free. Hardcore fans of the Battletech series may be turned off by the play style. MechAssault is not a simulation like the famed Mechwarrior series. It actually has a much more arcade feel to the game. The idea is to run, shoot and destroy without worrying about ammo. Damage is irrelevant since you can pick up repair kits that repair your damage. It is much less of a strategic simulation like the Mechwarrior games and more of a FPS style where you can decimate an entire military force by yourself. The watered-down version continues with the Mechs themselves. You cannot customize your Mech. In Mechwarrior, players would have to create a balanced load of weapons tailored for each mission, change the camouflage and change the engine among other things. In MechAssault, you have three weapons on every Mech and possibly jump-jets and a defensive weapon. You cannot customize your paint scheme and cannot change out anything. Each Mech has a variant to it. Veterans of the classic Mechwarrior 2 will recognize some of the variant names as the Clan names for the Mechs. Here is a list of each Mech and its variant:

Atlas

Prometheus

Catapult

Bowman

Cougar

Puma

Mad Cat

Timberwolf

Owens

Hackman

Thor

Summoner

Uller

Kit Fox

Uziel

Belial

Vulture

Mad Dog

Elemental

<none>

Ragnarok (unlockable)

Ymir

While Mech variants do give you a little extra choice when picking a Mech, it is not nearly enough to make it competitive in multiplayer in the long run. The beauty of the Mechwarrior PC series was playing people who had completely customized Mechs over the Internet. Hopefully Microsoft gets a few more Mechs released because the ones included can get old pretty quickly.

Another minor problem is the musical score. It only seems to pick up into a hard rock/industrial beat when enemies close in. When you’re just walking to the next group of enemies to destroy, the only thing you hear is the footsteps and ambient sounds. Some constant music or at least the option to utilize the custom soundtracks would have been nice. The environmental sounds are great. Weaponry, Mechs walking, and explosions sound great. The voices that you hear over the communications channel are pretty good, although sometimes you would wish they would shut up and come help you instead of giving orders.

Highs:

  • Fast-paced fun
  • Xbox Live flagship title
  • Mechs
  • No graphic slowdowns
  • Excellent single player campaign

Lows:

  • Limited offline multiplayer
  • No customization

Final Verdict: 

MechAssault proves itself to be a great title if you subscribe to Xbox Live. However, if you do not have Xbox live, you should rent this before you buy this title. Hardcore fans of the Mechwarrior series may be displaced by this title because it is more of an arcade-style shooter than a Mech simulator. Personally, I like this title because of its fast-paced action. I was a major fan of the Mechwarrior series, but I would load up Mechwarrior 4 if I wanted to play a Mech simulator. Hopefully Microsoft keeps its promise of downloadable content and starts releasing more Mechs and game modes soon.

Overall Score: 9.4

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