When I reviewed MechCommander, the realtime strategy game, about a year ago I begged FASA and Microprose to make a sequel. When MechWarrior 3 came out however, I was a bit wary. I like shooters and I love real time strategy games, but I’ve never really been a fan of trying to control a giant robot from within the cockpit, as MechWarrior 3 challenges players to do. I normally feel too removed from the action, nudging my mech to do my bidding just does not seem as satisfying as picking up an MP40 and doing damage myself.
But MechWarrior 3 made me a believer in the power of the mech.
I thought I was just going to sit down for a few minutes and give the game a quick try as I tried to figure out which GiN reviewer would test the title. That was weeks ago and if it were not for having to write this review, I might still be playing.
When you first get into the cockpit, you will notice that the world is very beautiful, and I am talking about the kind of beauty that makes you just sit there for a few minutes examining every little aspect of the world. Rain beat down on the ground all around me as I sat in my 35 ton death machine. In the distance lightning crashed, sending a brief electrical shower around the point of impact. My training mech left heavy footprints in the soft mud as I limped over to my instructor, patiently waiting about 100 yards away.
The game has an excellent tutorial that explains every aspect of mech combat. You basically walk with an instructor in a series of missions as he explains how to pilot and control your mech. Eventually you get to blow off some rounds at various targets and learn how to command other warriors that may eventually be traveling with you in your missions. There are a lot of controls, but the game does an excellent job of showing just how and when to use each one. For a game with a complicated interface, the tutorial is an excellent idea.
Fans of the pen and paper game the computer simulation is based on should be happy to know that almost most all of the old favorite mechs are featured in the game and can be both piloted and fought against. As an added bonus, a battlemaker program lets users program their fantasy battles into the system. Want to know if you can take your massive Annihilator mech against six smaller Firefly-class mechs? Setting up the battle takes just a few moments.
When you start the single player campaign, you will find yourself dropped a bit off your planned course and standing in cockpit-deep water. Actually battles in and even underwater are one of the best parts of the game. The arch enemy of every mech pilot, heat generation, does not affect you very much in the water, though your movement is slowed.
Just about everything in the game world can be destroyed if you choose. Blow the hell out of fishing boats, pickup trucks or houses and bring your massive weight down on top of helpless enemy soldiers or even civilians. Now that’s really putting your foot down!
After each mission you can salvage ammunition and even entire mechs if you manage to take them down without doing much damage. My favorite tactic was to equip my mechs with pulse lasers, which remain active for about seven seconds when fired, and concentrate all that energy on an enemy mech’s leg area. Your heads up display tells you how injured an enemy mech’s body parts are. Fire up your opponent to red hot and watch his leg crumble under the weight of the mech. Then after the battle you can normally capture his mech with very little field repairs needed. Slap on a new leg and get slugging.
The ability to customize mechs however you see fit is one of the best features of the game. Some players prefer long range missiles and can have their mechs bristling with them, while others can equip so many short range lasers that if they can get into range a kill is almost assured.
Some missions even require brains and brawn. When faced with one mission to destroy a supply train, I found that the resistance around the train was too much even for my force of heavy hitters. So I instead took one light mech into the field and ran around the defensive force using the mountains as a shield against their missiles and other long range weaponry. Then I used jump jets to set my mech down beside the train and blasted it to scrap metal while it was sitting in the station. The defensive force got a few hits on me, but soon I was back up in the protected high ground and zooming away at a speed the big boys could not hope to match.
But make no mistake, some of the missions are very hard to complete. Expect a lot of tries before you get it right sometimes.
Amazingly, this game also shines when playing in multiplayer mode. On a 56k modem, there is almost no slowdown. I’ve seen shooters recently that are nearly impossible to play using a T1, and here is a game where the combat engine is much more advanced yet runs great even at 56k. And multiplayer gaming is a huge rush. Besides not knowing how your opponent is going to configure his mech, live people tend to use strategy and tactics that the computer AI would never consider. Each game in multiplayer mode is a total surprise, and a heck of a lot of fun.
The only thing I can really fault this game on is that the AI is a little on the dense side at times. In one mission my force had just completed a huge battle and were proceeding to our final objectives, which involved walking through a tunnel. Suddenly, one of my mechs exploded. He had apparently run into the side of the wall, which for some reason utterly destroyed him. The same thing happened to me a few times in underground missions, with mechs lightly tapping overhead platforms, only to be totally destroyed in what should have been a fender-bender. Also, sometimes, especially when you are above them, computer controlled mechs will not know what to do when attacked and will instead run in seemingly random patterns till you destroy them. Thankfully, these problems are rare.
MechWarrior 3 is a superlative game in the mech series. Think of it as a very specialized shooter with awesome network playability. MechWarrior 3 earns a near perfect 4 1/2 of 5 GiN Gems because trust me, once you strap into the cockpit, you won’t be thinking about anything else for some time.