Don't tread on the daisies!
We are the Eridani Light Horse, most distinguished among combat units. Our enemies of Clan Smoke Jaguar must die. Their invasions into the sacred territory of our inner sphere must end for all time. Kill the head and the body will die...
You have been selected for the most important mission in our offensive. While the bulk of Inner Sphere forces crush the Clanners on Strana Mechte, you shall lead a commando raid upon the world of Tranquil. You shall destroy Smoke Jaguar production facilities, military emplacements, and their battle force. You will crush buildings, burn bridges, squash ground troops, and eventually take down the military leader of Smoke Jaguar, Galaxy Commander Brendon Corbit.
Such is your purpose in MechWarrior 3, a game of BattleMech combat set in FASA's legendary BattleTech universe. Mech 3 is the official sequel to MechWarrior 2 and Mech 2: Mercenaries, which were both created under the auspices of Activision, who have since lost the license to Microprose.
For those of you still unfamiliar with BattleTech or the MechWarrior series of games, here's a quick intro. BattleTech is a system of combat between large, lumbering, anthropomorphic machines. The 50 foot tall machines are controlled by human pilots, whose movements are mimicked by the BattleMechs. 'Mechs carry enough firepower to level a city block in a few seconds, can run at speeds of up to 110 MPH, and may be outfitted with JumpJets which allow them to fly through the air. In addition, the torso of the Mech may swing from side to side in a 180 degree arc, causing Mech combat to be a nimble, graceful, and precise form of combat, even though the combatants maneuver at a sluggish pace compared to your average human.
It has been a long time since the last MechWarrior game (aside from the strategy game MechCommander), and since this one has a different developer, the question arises: Does it measure up? Is it as good as Mech 2?
In a word, no.
The combat has been enhanced and expanded, resulting in better gameplay. But key elements of the game, which in Mech 2 were responsible for the game's incredible atmosphere and immersiveness, are cut short in Mech 3, giving way to a sometimes better, but ultimately soulless action experience.
To begin with what is good, look no further than the actual Mech combat. Quite simply, battling in BattleMechs has never before been this much fun. The inclusion of new features such as constant beam lasers rather than the old 'energy projectile' ones, writes new rules for how to proceed in battle. Having to keep a laser targeted on a specific part of a Mech for an extended period of time changes your whole attack style.
Other great new features include the ability to deform terrain, stomp on buildings, and bring down mammoth structures on the heads of your opponents, crushing them resoundingly. There are also great new little details like a zoom reticule and your cockpit bucking and swaying when hit by incoming fire. Charging a line of hostile enemy Mechs takes on a dramatic, almost WW2 air combat simulation feel. Combine this with new, truly incredible graphics for the Mechs and some fantastic fireworks, and you'll see that Mech 3 has more energy and provides more fun than any of the previous Mech titles.
To add to the bounty, the missions are all very well designed. Ranging from frontal attacks on major bases to underground strikes on thermal reactors, the missions are enticing, varied, and eminently playable. In fact, once you start Mech 3 it is very difficult to cease playing until you beat the game. Unfortunately, with only 20 missions in the one-sided campaign, Mech 3 flies by far too quickly. However, good multiplayer and an excellent instant action mode ensure several more hours of fun once the campaign is completed.
Graphically, Mech 3 is something of a quandary. Although the Mechs themselves are incredibly detailed, the terrain is somewhat more angular and less 'rolling' than it should be. Also, the terrain uses textures that are washed out and dull when compared to those on the Mechs. However, the overall graphical effect is sufficient to support the game. Flame, explosions, and other special effects are all very attractive. The Mechs are simply stunning, water and other environmental effects are handled with aplomb, the detailed 3D cockpits help draw you into the action, and you can't help but smile at the delightful ways that the Mechs perish amid smoke, flames, electrical sparking, and a gnashing of servo-motors. The sounds that accompany all this action are truly first rate and lend a hard edged feel to combat, giving Mech 3 an edge over the esoteric variety found in the recent rival StarSiege.
Sadly, it is in atmosphere that Mech 3 fails. The first problem is apparent in the interface, which is technical, military, and completely lacking the immersive first-person feel of the Activision MechWarrior shells. The next failing is that you are now piloting for the Inner Sphere instead of the Clans as you did in Mech 2. While from a moral perspective this is preferable (the clans being genocidal maniacs), it also takes much of the sense of culture out of the game. The clans have elaborate new social classes and command structures which, when mixed with a highly developed sense of almost religious fervor, made playing for the clans a unique experience. Who can forget wondering just what the hell the 'Keshik' was, or marveling at how the Clan's Mechwarriors earned promotions by winning fatal duels against their comrades in arms? Playing for the Inner Sphere is essentially like being an American (Hey! Watch it, commie. - Ed.), which although preferable to the humanitarian, is of less interest to a fan of intriguing science fiction.
Music is a key issue in Mech 3. Games that truly excel in the music department usually manage to distinguish themselves in terms of feel and originality. Mech 2 was an excellent example of this, featuring a beautifully composed neo-classical techno score that brought the gamer into the experience and really transported you a unique world. Mech 3, unfortunately, includes only 2 actual music tracks on the CD. Although these tunes are well-composed and have a feel that is similar to the Mech 2 music, the Mech 3 soundtrack just comes up short. This makes the entire game feel far more ordinary and military than the mysterious and intriguing Mech 2 and Mech 2: Mercenaries. It's a pity, because if the atmosphere and depth in Mech 3 had been up to par with the rest of the Mech series, it would easily have been an 'A-' game.
In the end, MechWarrior 3 is an excellent simulation of piloting a BattleMech and stays true to all the precepts laid down by FASA in the BattleTech board games. It manages to be a hard hitting, enduring action title. Unfortunately, it is also marred by a lack of atmosphere and a few rough edges. Mechwarrior 3 is a superior action game, but an inferior overall experience to the previous games in the series. Fans of Mech combat should definitely try it out, but perhaps take out the old Mech 2 CD during play, pop it into the stereo, and just let it all flow. . . while you keep an eye out for Heavy Gear 2.