Mech Commander review by Devin Coley
By Al Giovetti
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Battletech has been around for many years. Way back in the prehistoric ages of computer games, during the mid 1980s, a company named Westwood created several Battletech games similar to Mech Commander. These top down oblique perspective games, were a combination of turn based strategy and adventure game, with a very detailed plot. The strategy included both individual ground combat and mech to mech combat.
The plot revolved around the invasion of your mech pilot university by a hostile force of Kuritans. You need to get your training mech out of the training facility intact and work your way to the local seat of power where you can up grade your mech and find out more information about the invasion of your planet and the subjugation of your people. On the way you find mechwarriors still faithful to your family and recruit them to travel with you to liberate your planet.
Denny Thorley Executive Producer, MechCommander give the following insights into the game. I can't believe it has taken so long. MechCommander started out as a gleam in our eye when we founded FASA Interactive in 1995. We are nearly at Alpha. As soon as we button up multi-player we will call it Alpha. The pressure is on to make MicroProse's fourth quarter (1st calendar quarter). It's going to be tight.
The team is rallying and is putting in stupid hours to bring this game to fruition. Can't cut features, won't cut quality, gotta make our ship date. Same drill, different game. I'm really anxious about the mission designs in the campaign game. The designers program enemy and environment behaviors in ABL (Artificial Brain Language) and the level of control they have is a little scary. They are doing some amazing things with ABL though. It's like we've given them a huge tinker toy set and they are finding new ways to twist and turn the commands to get great missions put together. The gamers, I'm sure, will push missions even farther when we release the game editor with the ABL scripting language.
I've been playing a mission from operation 3, roughly mid-way through the game. The mission briefing states the challenge: Take out an enemy base to the north while protecting my drop zone camp. I've got 15 minutes. The mission designer, Tim Ryan, is trying to convince me it's easy. Yeah, right. I've been close a couple of times but haven't beaten it yet. Tim's put underground pop-up turrets at the enemy base entrance that waste me every time. This time I'm taking more firepower and less speed. I've loaded a Catapult and an Atlas with long range LRM-20s and some PPCs.
Veteran 'MechWarriors Rooster and Countess will ride these big 'Mechs, protecting my camp. I'm also taking a mine layer to mine the shit out of the narrow canyon to the east of my camp. Four Clan Ullers came that way last time and wasted my base. I've put the best sensors I can in a Raven with a stupid "green" pilot. I hate using these newbies, but it's the only way they will ever get any better. If I'm careful I can get Isis promoted from Green to Regular. I need better pilots. The Raven's sensor range should give me plenty of warning if they attack again. I'm going to assault the enemy camp from a hill just to the camp's west. Last time I took a weapon variant of the Awesome and a couple of other grounded 'Mechs. This time I've got a Jump-capable version of the Awesome with as much long-distance firepower I can cram into the chassis. The two Firestarters will make good recon vehicles.
Tim's mission toasted me again. Somehow the enemy avoided the mine field I put down and they wasted my base. I should have told the Atlas and Catapult to "Guard" the base instead of just positioning them there. I got busy attacking the enemy base up north and the Atlas left the base to chase down a retreating Clanner and an obnoxious Bulldog tank took my base out. Next time, I'll get it. The logistics phase is really adding to the game. We've been playing the missions so long with a pre-set group of 'Mechs it was shocking how differently people started playing the missions when they equipped the 'Mechs to their personal fighting style. As soon as players knew they had to carry their 'Mechs and equipment forward to the next mission they started being much more concerned about tactics and protecting their 'Mechs. Very cool. The persistence part of this game should be a key factor in keeping MechCommander out of the Command & Clone genre.
Mitch Gitelman Associate Producer, FASA Interactive had this little scenerio to tell us about. Denny came into my office today, wearing one of his "gotcha" grins. Those make me nervous. When your Executive Producer is also your CEO, every visit carries a certain weight. When he looks like the Earth II Superman, the feeling is intensified. "Did you play the demo?" "Uh. . .yeah." Very pregnant pause. "Something wrong with it?" "Did you beat mission two?" "Well yeah. . .of course." "How many 'Mechs did you use?" Puzzled look. "Four. There are four slots available. . ." SLAP! His Clark Kent-hand hit my desk. Under it was a dollar bill. "Mission two. One 'Mech. No enemies survive. Beat it."
This exchange has become par for the course on MechCommander. For us, it's not whether you win a mission or not. When you create a game with persistent resources, customizable 'Mechs payloads, battlefield salvage and missions that may be completed in multiple ways (and rarely the way the designer planned), it becomes the quality of the victory that counts. The style. Our lunches, hallway conversations, and e-mails are filled with challenges like, "beat mission five without the minelayer", "beat the train mission with my saved game", and "win mission ten 90 tons under maximum drop weight and NO jumping 'Mechs". Bragging rights have been replaced by dollar bets. The loser signs the dollar and often adds a pithy quote such as, "Spanked by Tim 4/7/98. This mission rocks, but you still suck." So now it's one o'clock in the morning, I finally feel as smug as he did, and I'm slapping my dollar on your desk. Demo mission two. One 'Mech. No enemies survive. Beat it.
MechCommanderTM is a new real-time action strategy game of tactical combat and resource management set in the stunningly detailed BattleTech® universe. The player assumes the role of a MechCommander, in command of a growing unit of MechWarriors® and their assigned 'Mechs®. The goal is to retake the planet Port Arthur from the technologically superior Smoke Jaguar Clan. Players manage supplies, repair, upgrade, and organize the entire 'Mech unit. The user interface can be customized offering the player limitless command options, allowing for a unique view into the BattleTech universe. Up to 24 'Mechs are involved in combat during 30 in-depth missions. Players select from 18 different chassis and custom armament.
You pilot one of eighteen mechs, including commando, firestarter, raven, hollander II, hunchback, centurion, catapult, jagerMech, Awesome, Atlas, Uller, Cougar, Hunchback IIc, Vulture, Loki, Mad Cat, Thor, and Masakari
The mission structure is similar to that of Mechwarrior II, with objectives and terrain to cover with groupings of enemy mechs in between timed to intercept you. You find yourself escorting, rescuing, and destroying certain game objectives. The missions are very much like those in Mechwarrior II.
The game uses top down 3/4 oblique perspective save the map sequence which only appears at the beginning of the scenerio. This is a very poor use of mapping, since the map needs to be shown throughout the game play.
Salvage forms a huge part of the gameplay. If you do not control your firepower and leave something to salvage, you may find yourself running out of needed supplies and having to start the mission over. Supplies and mechs carry over from one mission to the next, so that if you get pounded you may not succeed as well in subsequent missions, so save your games and play them over until you not only win, but your mechs and equipment survive at a high enough level to survive in subsequent missions.
Surprisingly, the carryover of damage and equipment from one mission to another cannot be turned off. Many games make this feature optional in a difficulty selection grid, since many game players find this feature excessively frustrating on playing the game through the first time. If you dislike this feature in your real-time strategy games, you may want to consider passing this game by.
There are no waypoints, no heat management features, no formations, and no way to control which weapons are used or saved in a battle situation. On the other hand you can plan the mission prior to it very well by choosing which to fight and rest, what to repair, buy a new mech, and sell a mech. These latter mission planning options are some of the best features of the game. Units run out of ammunition due to lack of control of weapons, and with no heat management energy weapons have the advantage.
Unfortunately things that you purchase can be sold back to the shop keeper at far less value than they were purchased. A simple mistake in purchasing could be corrected if the dollar amounts of the sale were the same as the purchase. As it stands, a minor mistake in purchasing can cause you to restart the game at the last save game and redo the missions.
The missions are scripted, which I personally prefer, as opposed to the randomly generated missions, which while more boring on the first play through, give you more replayability. Another advantage of scripted missions, like those used for real military training exercizes, you can play them over and over again until you succeed, learning by successive playing of the mission how to counter the tactics used. Random mission generators can overwhelm the game player with many, many different strategies all mixed up together, and deny the player the opportunity to work through the given conditions slowly.
Missions cannot be skipped. If for some reason you screw up the mission and you cannot figure out what you did wrong, you are forced to go over the mission time and again until you get it right. This is also what the military does with thier games, but most game players find this inability to skip and come back to the more difficult missions frustrating. A better alternative is to allow game players to skip these difficult missions and return to them later after gaining more skill and experience with the game play and interface.
This type of "feature" which devicively makes the game more difficult and only frustrates most game players is characteristic of game designers who are trying to best one another with the toughest games. Often the designers of the game and their playtesters are very poor judges of what will frustrate the public since they have played the game so much they have gotten very good at it. At their level of skill the game seems easy, since they have been playing it night and day for over a year, they loose perspective and make the game too difficult for the public.
The casual game player will certainly be out of his or her league with this one. Even grognards and professionals like myself found the game overly difficult in some areas. The misions are easy at first but quickly escalate into almost unplayable levels of difficulty.
There are multiple ways to win each mission and there are certainly tricks that you can learn that will allow you to win easier under the circumstances. Since you will be repeating the missions over and over again, you will eventually stumble onto these tricks or tactical finesses.
There are no in mission saves, making the game even more difficult. FASA's explanation is that the lack of in mission saves makes the game more exciting since you know you will have to do the entire mission over if you fail.
The overall mission map only appears once at the beginning of the game and is not available during the game. This is absolutely not very realistic and is only added to make the game more difficult and require people to play it more to win. FASA explained that the shrouded map compensates for the poor enemy artificial intelligence. Game players are not stupid and they can tell when they are being jerked around. An in game map showing where you are while you play is a requirement in most games, why is Mech Commander different?
Multi-player FeaturesTwo to six players can play via Internet on Mplayer or Internet Gaming Zone, LAN or modem (phone or null). There are only five multiplayer maps. For a game like this, at least 20 maps are needed to keep the multiplayer games interesting. Chat and minimap are not visable simultaneously making it difficult to talk and know where you are at the same time.
Cheats, Hints, WalkthroughMech Commander Cheats Mech Commander Hints
JournalistsRobert calls the game at the same time "exciting, even thtilling exercize in strategy, tactics and resource management, which is sadistically hard, tremendously frustrating, and seemingly bizarrely misconceived."
Mech Commander is a strategy based game, you take control of mech warriors in mechs you assign to them. Instead of other strategy based games like Command and Conquer or StarCraft this game you don't build your mechs/units, instead you purchase them and are responsible for the condition after battle. The game is based on the board game Fasa makes and has been making for a long time now, this is there first attempt I have ever seen at making a game for the home PC. The graphics are nicely done the game play is smooth as you play as a commander to conquer the evil clan Smoke Jaguar. You can count on liking this title for it is addictive and will have you up all night either ready to put your hand through the screen hug your CPU.
Robert Mayer, Computer Games, number 95, October, 1998, pg 154-155, 3.5/5.0
Martin E. Cirulis, gamecenter.com review
Greg Kassavin, GameSpot Review, 7.3/10
Brett Berger, Online Gaming Review, 7.5/10
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