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MechAssault 2

Review By:  Tim Mitchell

Developer:  Day 1 Studios
Publisher:  Microsoft
# of Players:  1-4
Genre:  Action
ESRB:  Teen
Online Play:  Yes
Accessories:  Memory Unit, Xbox Live, System Link
Date Posted: 

4-23-05

Letís not lie. This is a game built for Xbox Live. The first MechAssault was great on Live, and the second is just as clearly aimed to provide great multiplayer action. Surprisingly though, Lone Wolf manages not only to up the ante online but provide a passable single player mech campaign. At the center of the new experience is being able to change vehicles mid-level, greatly increasing the strategy involved in gameplay. Sure, there are mechs, no less than thirty to be exact, spread out across four classes. But the action doesnít all center on the well-armed behemoths. The small and agile battle armor, tanks with sniping capability, stationary turrets and the VTOL aircraft all come into their own at one point or another. There are even times youíll find yourself unarmored and on foot, only stealth and some potent remote bombs between you and death.

With so many different ways to get around, scale is important, and they handled that well. On foot, mechs will literally tower over you, but within a moment you can hop in one of your own and stand toe to toe with them. The graphics are improved marginally over the previous game, which werenít too terrible to begin with. Effects are quite nice, with impressive explosions and weapons fire thatís distinct enough to be noticed from afar. Environments in general are little less bright this time around, a little more realistic. All in all the graphics arenít the best around, but everythingís consistent, and the framerate keeps up.

Audio work on the game is fairly solid; youíll be able to recognize most weapons by sound alone. Mechs have huge thumping footsteps so youíll know when oneís around whether youíre looking at it or not. The soundtrack is sort of hit or miss. Lots of metal and such, featuring bands like Papa Roach and Korn. If youíre into that sort of thing youíll probably enjoy it, otherwise you might find yourself turning the music down.

I said the single player was passable, but I wouldnít go much further. Itís basically a lot of mech fighting strung together with a thin but okay story. Occasionally youíll find yourself in battle armor or on foot, but a mech is almost always around the corner. I suppose I canít fault them for that, it is right there in the title of the game. Surprisingly, the gameís final boss is fought in the battle armor, with gameplay that resembles more a third person platform shooter than mech combat. Actually a good boss fight though.

The heart of the game is the Live play, though. Instead of mech choosing, youíre all dropped into the beginning of the level on foot, surrounded by unmanned vehicles and mechs. Whereas in the first game youíd often end up fighting a bunch of the same powerful mech, in Lone Wolf youíll all take whatever you can get. Thereís a great deal of strategy that comes with the variety. No team should be without a VTOL, which is so versatile it still amazes me. A good pilot can carry tanks and battle armor into enemy territory, or pick up opposing ones. Load the VTOL up on bombs and you can bombard the enemy from above. It can also drop off supplies for weary allied mechs, upgrading them to maximum firepower. The other vehicles make great support for mechs as well. A cloaked tank can cause a great deal of havoc sniping enemy units, and the battle armor can neurohack mechs, throwing them both into a frantic button-mashing sequence to save themselves. Picking up battle armor while youíre already trying to duke it out with a mech can be a very scary experience.

Backing up the gameplay is a great set of online options. Youíve got your typical game modes such as deathmatch and CTF, then some more creative options like Not It! (basically Tag) and Base War, where the two teams assault and defend opposing structures. If you want something a little deeper than random games, thereís the Conquest mode. In it youíll join up with one of several different great houses, and fight for control of planets in a never-ending epic campaign, control of worlds shifting sides continuously as the war carries on. Downloadable maps have already been released to supplement the ones that come with the game, so thereís a decent choice of battlegrounds. Lone Wolf even tears a page from Bungieís playbook, offering up support for Clans as well as online stats tracking to their Live gaming community.

Highs:

  • Preserves the core MechAssault gameplay while greatly expanding the strategy by enabling you to switch rides.

  • Lots of options and game modes for Live gamers

  • Nice sense of scale between mechs and other things

  • Very good sound effects

Lows:

  • Single player is a weekendís distraction at most
  • And donít expect to get the story much either
  • VTOL controls can be difficult to pick up
  • Iíve said it before and Iíll say it again: you have to play with the people on Live
  • I hope you like metal music

Final Verdict: 

If you liked the first one, youíll like this a great deal more. If you didnít, you might find the expanded gameplay variety to be just what the doctor ordered. Lone Wolf serves up some heavy-duty action, becoming one of the quintessential games for Xbox Live. Try it and see if you like it, if so, youíll be getting plenty of replay out of it online. If you donít have LiveÖdid you not read the rest of the review? This is not a game for you. Shoo!

--------------------

Nick Arvites' Take: 

I've been a fan of this franchise since the Mechwarrior games on PC and have played them online (or on a LAN) since the Mechwarrior 2 network pack. I will second Tim's assessment that the single player mode in this game is decent. Maybe decent is still stretching it, as an average gamer can beat the single player mode in the span of a 5 day rental. There is absolutely no replay value for the single player campaign, and the offline multiplayer modes pale in comparison to the Xbox Live experience. Grinder, however, makes excellent practice for would-be Live players.

Again, make no mistake, Xbox Live is the entire basis of this game. Like other titles that focus on Live, MechAssault 2 feels like the Live experience was the primary goal and the single player was just slapped together to give gamers a disguised offline training mode. This isn't a bad thing though, as MechAssault 2's online modes have caused me to abandon all my other live games, including Ghost Recon 2, Halo 2, and my stalwart favorite Crimson Skies: High Road to Revenge. With that in mind, I'm going to elaborate a little further on MechAssault 2's online mode.

There are two basic multiplayer modes on Xbox Live: Regular and Conquest. However, clan support supercedes both modes. Players can form or join an existing clan and get an abbreviation placed before their gamertag during the games and in the lobbies. This gives players two identities: your own and your clan. It also lets people know that the other team isn't a random group of people that have never met. Clan support in MechAssault 2 is extensive and beats almost every other game with the exception of Halo 2 (only because it has built in clan ladders and a ranking system). Keep in mind that Clans are only as good as the people in them, so maybe it would be a better idea to try to get in an established one before starting your own with your two friends that never play the game. Regardless, Clan members inhabit both game types, so you're going to encounter them wherever you go.

The regular Xbox Live mode is pretty much how Tim described it in his review and it is pretty much standard fare for action multiplayer games. For some reason, I usually see team destruction being played more often than any other game type, though that ultimately depends on the time of day. One of the major changes in MechAssault 2 is that Mechs are no longer picked by the players. Each map has a mech list for each game type, and those are the only mechs that appear on the map. To some, this is a very welcome change to the 3 Ragnaroks + 3 Mad Cats vs. the same that littered the MechAssault 1 servers, but to many (or perhaps a few very loud) voices in the MechAssault community this is a horrible innovation. I actually like this change, and as a result I've gotten better with Mechs I never would have picked in the first place.

Conquest is an excellent mode with vast potential, but it has been plagued with problems on the human side. The recent patch helped the mode by putting a waiting period when switching houses and allowing people to see how many players are on each side in a room (you need to have a minimum of 3v3, and sides MUST be even to launch in Conquest). New players should stay away from Conquest until they've played enough Team Destruction in the regular multiplayer, as Conquest is essentially the playground of many of the Clans. I've been in games where two people in my clan are sided with 4 people and go against 6 clan members, and get totally annihilated. If you want to be readily accepted in Conquest mode (and team games in general), master the VTOL. While you won't get as many kills or points, every team needs a VTOL and you won't get booted if your reputation spreads through the community as a VTOL pilot. An average team with a good VTOL pilot can take out a great team with a weak VTOL pilot.

Perhaps the biggest problem with Conquest is that it almost requires a matchmaking system similar to Halo 2's. Far too many games never get started because people do not go into that particular lobby. Another thing that would be nice for the Conquest mode would be to have some sort of incentive to hold particular planets (similar to Star Wars Battlefront). As it stands, each planet is just one game type on one map. As a result, you rarely find anything other than Team Destruction being played, even though there are several Last Man Standing, Capture the Flag, or Check It planets that are rarely played.

Overall, I would have to say this game should be required for anyone who has Xbox Live. While the first title was the first mega-hit for Xbox Live and practically built the service, this title shows off the fine-tuned features of the Xbox Live service while things like the Conquest mode show what future online games may be like. As a Live title, this one exceeds its predecessor by leaps and bounds, and I would have problems thinking of many games that can top the Live experience of MechAssault 2.

--------------------

Overall Score: 8.5

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