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Mechcommander2 Preview

Johnny_B By:
GENRE Real-Time Strategy 
PUBLISHER Microsoft 
T Contains Violence

What do these ratings mean?

These ain't your momma's pewter figurines...

Remember when games were played on tables? Like most of the MTV generation, aside from the occasional dabbles into Monopoly I either played my games on a screen or a field when I was growing up. Yet each time I went down to the local games shop to buy a pack of Magic cards to waste what little cash I had, I couldn't help noticing a crowd of geeks a few years older than myself, some even in their 20's, purchasing perfectly boring pewter figurines in the shape of walking tanks.

Though my introduction to the property would come years later from MechWarrior 2, I was witnessing a glimpse of FASA's classic Battletech, and my world view on giant robots would never be the same.

It was in the spirit of the original tabletop and the style of a real-time strategy game that FASA Interactive and Microprose created MechCommander a few years ago, with some reasonable success. Although MechCommander was a little constrictive and prohibitively difficult, it offered a great deal of meaty potential as it gave you control over a squad of MechWarriors safe from the comforts of your reclining chair in orbit.

Several years and a few mergers later, we find FASA once again attempting to rekindle the spirit of their seminal creation's origins with their follow up, MechCommander 2, this time from Microsoft. While the change in publisher would be confusing to explain, the relevant information is that essentially the same developer is responsible for both games, and that if the beta build is any indication, MechCommander 2 is going to be great.

The basic concept of the series is that you are in command of a squad of Mechs, and you give them orders and targets, making gameplay a tactical real-time strategy game like Myth, but with a great deal fewer units and a great deal more unit complexity.

Three things hampered the original MechCommander. Viewing distances were extremely constricted and the map was blacked out to begin with, which makes sense for Warcraft but not for a game in which you are commanding from orbit. Difficulty was extremely high and it required strategy and planning to complete objectives, which in turn required information often unavailable because of the aforementioned view limitations. Finally, as a MechCommander you had only limited access to the perks of the position, such as calling in air strikes.

Things are far more reasonable this time around. The brand new beautiful graphics engine renders the detailed Mechs and rolling landscapes in fluid 3D, which is viewed through a moving camera reminiscent of that in Ground Control. You can zoom in to watch the metal fly up close, or pull back and command from on high. Although "scanning" range determines how far away you can detect enemy vehicles, permanent structures are always visible, facilitating more complex and successful attacks. Finally, air strikes, repair craft, artillery and a host of other goodies are available to you through a resource system that is dependent on capturing enemy supplies.

Much of the strategy lies in pairing the robot monstrosities with the right Mechwarrior pilots - training the pilots and customizing the mechs lead to endless possibilities. You'll be able to command up to 16 mechs over the course of the campaign, though the game will also ship with a level editor to enhance the shelf life.

Put this all together with a more intuitive interface and generally more forgiving mission design and MechCommander 2 is looking to be exactly what gamers everywhere wanted out of the first; namely, all the fun of their favorite MechWarrior sim with all the power of their favorite RTS. We at GR can assure you that even in beta form, MechCommander 2 is a blast and should more than satiate your god complex.

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