MechCommander will fry competition

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Having grown up playing the various mech combat games, I was excited to see that FASA Interactive and MicroProse had gotten together to add a new twist to the old genre of piloting giant robotic warriors, or mechs, into battle. What they have created is an excellent addition to any mech fan’s collection, though it does stray rather far from the original pen and paper game.

The first thing players will notice is the incredible introduction. Through the use of live actors interspersed with computer drawn sequences, the mood is quickly set and the premise of the game explained. The Inner Sphere planets, the traditional good guys in most mech commander games, are planning a massive attack on the Clan-dominated planets on the outer rim of the galaxy. The entire game follows the role of one division of Inner Sphere mechwarriors as they battle it out over a single planet in Clan space. The possibility for sequels is almost limitless and could involve other planetary battles as either the Inner Sphere or Clan.

The interface for the game is the best I’ve seen for mech combat games. From a top-down view you control the action, selecting your troops and maneuvering them. You can also use the function keys to control specific groups of mechs, so you can assign your frontline units to F1 for instance and your support wings to F2 or F3. Because the most mechs you will ever control at one time is 16, the game rarely gets too complex to control, even when things start to heat up.

The game is rather challenging, in part because the Clan units have been training for war for a long time. Their mechs are better designed and their weapons are lighter and pack a bigger punch. Fortunately, you can capture Clan equipment, patch it up and use it yourself. This requires your units to often shoot for the head of the enemy mechs, because that’s where the pilot sits. It’s a hard shot, but can kill the pilot without harming the valuable equipment if successful.

Players also don’t have to worry about ordering missiles or extra guns for their mechs in advance, as they are almost always available instantly before a campaign. This takes the administration headaches out of the game. In previous mech games you had to order equipment weeks before a battle, with no option to just FedEx it.

For all its glitz and playability, fans of the pen and paper game the computer simulation is based on are likely to be disappointed. The mechs never overheat no matter how fast you run or how many weapons are firing, something unheard of in the paper game. Mechs can not go into water at all, even though this is both a hiding tactic and a way to reduce heat in the paper game. Finally, missile racks get over 20 volleys each before running out of ammo, something not only far from possible in the paper game, but also physically impossible if you think about it. Ten missile racks each firing 24 volleys would just take up too much space.

A major component to the game is the ability to play multiplayer maps against real opponents. This is a real treat because you never know what a human player is going to do. The AI for the game is good, but too often just stands there waiting for you to get the first shot off. Humans almost never want to concede the first blow.

But the game has some serious multiplayer issues. The game supports both Mplayer and GameZone formats, but many players I talked with said they get dropped before a game begins. On GameZone, about one in every five games I played ended with someone else or my system locking up, ending the game for everyone. On Mplayer, it was more like half.

Also, you are forced to configure your mechs from scratch before every multiplayer game, a process that can take quite a long time and is almost always longer than the game itself. It would be nice to have some sort of ability to save favorite mech configurations and bring them up before each game. Building a new army before each mission gets repetitive real fast.

All in all, this is the best mech combat game ever made. It will lure both mech combat fans and those who just want a good battle. It gets 4 out of a possible 5 GiN gems, with a few points taken away due to annoying multiplayer problems. It’s a strong product and I anxiously await a sequel.

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