Life's cheap, Battlemechs are expensive - Advertising slogan Irian Battlemechs
THE Game To Beat
With an estimated
fan base of nearly 4 million, the Battletech Universe has become a true
franchise. The board game has sold over 600,000 copies and 3 million supplements
and has an average audience between the ages of 13 and 35. The 38 novels
have sold a whopping 2.2 million copies and have even spawned a card game,
a 13 episode animated series and a 20 million dollar toy line. Not to mention
one of the greatest selling sims of all time with the Mechwarrior 2 series
Wow, with a background record like that Fasa Interactive
and Microprose had a lot to live up to. Battletech fans can get very
particular and their expectations are very high. Microprose is paving
the way for their upcoming title Mechwarrior 3 by whetting everyones appetite
for more mech mayhem by publishing this new real-time strategy title Mech
In their first ever foray into the PC market Fasa Interactive
have proven themselves to be a comer with their first effort Mech Commander.
The goal of both MPS and FI has been to bring the Battletech experience
to the PC in a very real and engaging way. Their goal has been attained
with the latest release and this is by far THE real-time strategy
game to beat this year. This one will have much deserved success and I
hope will be only the first of many in a series.
More than just a story
Set in the
year 3059 you are in command of Zulu Company of the First Davion Guards,
as part of “Operation Bird Dog”. The goal of the operation is to liberate
key planets that the Smoke Jaguar Clan has held since the invasion of the
Inner Sphere 9 years ago. With 30 campaign missions stretching through
5 phases of the OP, your tactical expertise will be constantly challenged
and living up to its PR slogan: you will truly feel what it is to command.
Quick Background Story
advent of the Kearny-Fuchida Jump Drives interstellar travel became a reality
and the populations of the Earth now known as Terra reached for the stars
and began to populate the galaxy beyond our solar system. As colonies sprang
out over 150 light years of space mankind forged the Star League and peace
flourished. After 200 years of peace the Star League began its collapse
and the leader of the Star League Defense Force Aleksandr Kerensky, disheartened
by the tragic loss of the ideals he held closest to him, led a mass exodus
of his army and their families into the Periphery beyond known space. With
the collapse of the Star League the successor states were born and mankind
fell into centuries of conflict over who was the overall ruler or Star
and his troops themselves had further problems when settling in and as
time went by they split into Clans, taking their names from animals of
their home planets like Clan Wolf, Jade Falcon and Smoke Jaguar. Having
a caste system in place with the Warrior as the superior caste, the Clans
evolved by using genetic engineering for their warriors. Taking a “giftake”
or DNA sampling from warriors who had proven themselves in battle, the
Clans were able to produce more superior forces with each succeeding generation.
Never letting go of the great Aleksandr Kerensky’s vision of a reunified
Inner Sphere under the banner of the Star League Defense Force, they bided
their time for the right moment to invade and once again reclaim Terra.
In 3050 the
Clans invaded and decimated many worlds in a short period of time. It wasn’t
until Comstar and their troops stopped the invasion cold with a proxy battle
for Terra on the world of Tukayyid that an uneasy 15 year truce was initiated. Now
in the year 3059 the Inner Sphere, filled with nations once locked in battle, has been brought together again in the form of the Star League
Defense Force and is taking the war to the Clan homeworlds.
This is a
VERY short and sweet rundown on the political and military situation in
the Battletech Universe: there are over 38 novels, countless board game
scenarios and field manuals from which you can gain further background
if you want. As I said earlier this is one of the richest and most involved
storylines ever created, so it’s hard to shrink it down to a couple of
paragraphs, but now you get the gist.
The True Meaning of Real-Time Strategy
When I saw
the demo of the full version at E3 my mouth watered. When I played the
demo I drooled. Now that I have the full version I need a bib! This game
kicks some serious ass and is THE tactical RTS to beat this year!
is one of the titles I had mentioned in my Commandos – Behind Enemy Lines
review along with Commandos and SWAT 2 that would be changing the face
of RTS gaming, for the better. I have not always been a big fan of RTS
games because they tend to degenerate into more of a build, build, build,
mine, mine, mine ad nauseum situation that bores me rather quickly. Mech
Commander steps above that and brings true strategy to the otherwise action
oriented RTS genre.
Commander there is none of that drudgery. As a commander in the
field you command Mechs and troops, not engineers. In this game you concern
yourself only with tactical decisions, both on and off the field. On the
field you command up to a full Battlemech Company of 12 mechs and vehicles.
Off the field you are responsible for repairing, outfitting and configuring
your mechs as battle damage carries from mission to mission. You procure
mechs, vehicles and equipment through your Battalions inventory pool, from
here you also aquire pilots.
This is all done through the use of Resource
Points or RP’s, which you receive after each battle for accomplishing your
mission objectives as well as from selling battlefield salvage. The more
objectives you accomplish and more salvage you aquire the higher the RP's
awarded. You also have the choice of selling that salvage or repairing
mechs acquired in battle, which can help you when you see the difference
of Clan tech vs Inner Sphere tech.
is superior to Inner Sphere tech in that the mechs are capable of carrying
more weaponry and armor and weapons recharge at a faster rate and have
a farther range. This is due to the fact that Clan components,
weapons and armor are smaller and lighter. The Inner Sphere is working to bridge the gap, but the advantage still belongs to the Clans. So if you are facing a similar sized opponent, he’s still better than you.
With this in mind you will want to
keep the Clan mechs you can salvage from battle as they could be very helpful
down the road, and this is one game you should keep a steady stock of ready
to go mechs and pilots. In one mission you may only be able to take one
Lance (4 mechs) but then the following mission may have you taking 2 Lances
(8 mechs) or more. So keep your mechs repaired and ready and your best
pilots rested when possible as even pilots get fatigued or injured in battle
and you need to track them as well.
Click to continue . . .
This is where
MC really appeals to me in the management sense: it lets you truly be
a Mech Company Commander. When you lose a pilot you’ve seen grow from a
Green newbie to a Veteran you will feel the loss as the more experience
your pilot attains the better he is. Not only is he or she a valuable asset
to you because of their abilities but also because of the qualifications
on a mech.
A Green Mechwarrior with little experience is only “checked
out” on light mechs and so on up to Elite ranking. A Mechwarrior may pilot
a mech outside of his abilities but at a penalty, as he will not be as
good in it as a more experienced pilot. As the missions go on you will
see the need for more experienced pilots as the mech is nothing without
the proper pilot.
the dramatic opening video sequence you are sucked in and there's no turning
back. The story is set in the year 3059, and you are a Mech Commander
with the First Davion Guards. The game you have is said to be "software
representing a revolutionary step forward in integrated command and control".
You are able to command your forces not from a command Mech anymore but
from the safety of your dropship. From here all your commands are issued
to your units for them to follow.
From this interface you will also control which forces go into the field, purchasing equipment and pilots from the Battalion Inventory pool and matching up the right pilots with the right mechs. This game doesn't have you building factory's or mining
for ore, you draw from what is available and salvage what you can from
Mechs are customizable and can be refitted with different
weapons and equipment if you don't like the variations available to you.
Though not as customizable as the mechs from MW 2 series, you can easily
customize them to fit your likes if you don't like the 3 variants of each
class made available to you. There are 18 mechs in this game: 10 IS and
8 Clan, and each mech has 3 types. The 3 types of each mech are Armor intensive,
Weapons intensive and Jump capable. Each has its advantages and disadvantages
and it's up to you as a Mech Commander to make those decisions. You will
have access to the 10 IS mechs from the inventory pool, but Clan mechs
must be salvaged from the battlefield.
tactical game like Mech Commander should have a fairly straightforward
command interface, one that gives you all the pertinent info without drowning
you with data. FASA Interactive has done a great job here at giving you
only what you need and nothing else in a small but easily readable multi-
function display that sits in the top left corner of your map view. This
display can be either open or closed depending on your needs or preferences
in gameplay, but it should always be open as sensor data is constantly updated
and fed to you through it. You have the choice of using your MFD or a combination
of keyboard and mouse commands to issue orders to your mechs and see them
carried out immediately on screen.
From the MFD
you direct air and artillery strikes as well as sensor probes and
remote camera views to uncover the “fog of war” on your battlefield map.
Your mechs and vehicle damage indicators are nicely arrayed across the
bottom of the screen with icons for each individual mech. Damage is graphically
shown through color shades on the mechs icon, providing you with quick
glance information. Using this you can decide what to do with each mech,
if he’s too damaged do you risk him or send him in anyway?
Your units are
broken up into 3 Force Groups with access to each as easy as a function
key. F1-F3 brings up the corresponding force group allowing you quick and
easy access to individual lances. Using this you can very easily coordinate
multi-axis attacks on enemy positions or you can send one lance ahead while
you send another on a diversionary attack. You can also set one Force Group
in place as an overwatch as your movement element heads toward the objective.
This has what every player wants in a tactical game: all the important
info at your fingertips in a very powerful and easy to use interface.
Another important aspect of combat is the ability FI has given us to
"call our shots" by using aimed fire. Using aimed fire means you can
order your units to aim at specific parts of the mech to attempt to
either disable (ie 'leg') the mech or to even concentrate all fire at the
cockpit to kill the pilot. This way you can "kill the meat and save the
metal" allowing yourself some primo salvage with limited repair costs
to you after the battle.
The downside to this is that your mechs must be standing still and that any shots that do not hit the indicated area
miss completely. This is actually very realistic as you would need to
stand still to more carefully pick your shot and you would miss
completely if you were aiming at a smaller target area and failed to hit
Some of the other orders you can give your units include "Guard,"
where they can escort and protect a vital area, building or convoy.
The "Capture" order allows you to capture important buildings and
vehicles and this is the one you'll use most often. When attacking an
enemy compound for example, you can move in and capture not only
the HQ's and components warehouses (which ups your salvage) but
you can also capture missile turrets. The turrets, once under your
control, will augment your battlefield forces. Turned on your enemy, they
will help you make short work of them. Another great use of the
capture order is to capture a mech repair bay so that you can
continue to fix your mechs in the field quickly during the scenarios.
The last orders I want to cover are Mine, Shutdown and Ejection. No, this is not to mine for ore but to lay minefields! Looks like FI thought of everything for this game doesn't it? Nothing better than laying a minefield and watching your enemies walk right into it, slowing them down and chewing up their armor while you can hit them from ambush positions. Shutting down your mechs can be one way you can avoid an enemy patrol or hide from a pursuing enemy. This one can
come in handy but be careful as it will take a couple seconds for your
pilots to power their mechs back up.
Lastly, the ejection order is what
you give to a pilot you don't wish to see perish in the field when their
mech is all but lost. It's easy to get so caught up in battle you forget
about the pilots but keep a close eye on them because once they're dead,
they're gone. Don't worry SAR teams have a 100% recovery rate so
you WILL get your pilots back if they eject.
Looks Almost Like A Movie
a mecha fan like me you’ve probably seen those horrid movies like “Robot
Jox” and cringed when you watched the battle scenes, wishing someone would
just do it right. Here’s where this one sparkles like a pure diamond. From
the dramatic opening video sequence down to beautifully rendered terrain
with mech animations, and dynamic explosions so life-like you’ll feel
you are there: this one’s a real beauty to look at.
While beautiful, terrain doesn’t matter if it doesn’t serve a line of sight purpose. In Mech Commander terrain does matter as it can restrict LOS weapons which
can be used to your advantage or can work against you. With close to 100,000
frames of animation your mechs power up and spring to life right off your
PC screen, with attention to detail that is both amazing and extremely
entertaining. Issue a full power move order by holding the space bar and
clicking on the area of the map you want your mechs to move to and watch.
As your mechs move through a group of trees you hear the sound of wood
splitting and see the trees felled with no effort, after all it should
be easy in a 30-meter tall armored walking death machine.
Enemy tank crews bail out of their vehicles when you destroy them
and you can go ahead and stomp on them and be met with a
satisfying crunch! Each mech leaves his footprints behind as you
move and the animations of the mechs are wonderfully done,
especially in battle as you watch the mechs move and the torso's
twist while engaging targets. Vapor trails spew forth from missile racks
as your mechs engage enemy vehicles and mechs and lasers dart out
in short pulses of light. Your pilots when shot out of their mech call
out "ejecting" and you see a pod shoot out of the mechs cockpit
straight into the air, nice little touches like this give me the
PPC’s look like PPC’s should,
whips of lightning lashing out to savage enemy Battlemech armor. Energy
weapons and missiles alike have radiantly glowing shadows, lighting up the ground they’re flying over. The sounds of weapons fire are not only ear candy but also important audio cues, which will help you know who’s getting shot up.
Put this together with the constant
audio and FMV visual inputs from your pilots a la Wing Commander with your
pilots telling you things like “they’re chewing me up”, and “my armor’s like
paper”, and you have full knowledge of who’s effected and how much. These
things could have been left out and in favor of icons only, but FI has given us fantastic detail to bring the game to life and get you involved. Mech Commander plays great and is one of the best looking strat games this year.
Continue on to Part II