At last, after years of pilot protests and strikes, mechs have FINALLY been equipped with ejection seats and headlights!
Just when you thought the Inner Sphere was safe, here comes Pirate's Moon, an expansion pack for Microprose's popular Mechwarrior 3. With stiff competition from other mech-type games this year (i.e. Heavy Gear 2 and Starseige), the addition of Pirate's Moon serves to improve upon the original game with new missions, mechs and weapons. For those of you who haven't played Mechwarrior 3, please read its review first. Otherwise, on with the show.
Pirate's Moon takes its place in the Federation-controlled mining world of Veil. An uncharted meteor swarm referred to as the "Silver Swarm" has in the past decades laid down a rich deposit of the precious mineral Germanium on the planet. This mineral is vital to the production of mech jump engine cores. Political disruption within the Federated Commonwealth has given space pirates some breathing room to encroach on Veil's resources. As a proud member of the Eridani Light Horse unit, it is up to you to protect this world from the pirates.
So there you have it. The story line isn't particularly historic; it doesn't deal with the fate of the Commonwealth or with the clans, but it does set the scene for an interesting affair. This expansion pack gives you twenty-something new missions and allows you to play from either the side of the Pirates or the Federated Commonwealth. I suppose the folks at Microprose heard the cries of players longing for Mechwarrior 2, where you played on the side of the clans (the bad guys).
The most interesting aspects of the expansion pack are the new mechs and weapons at your disposal. The new mechs are the Atlas, the Awesome, the Centurion, the Clint IIC, the Masakari, and the Ryoken. As an added bonus you can play as a Clan Elemental. The new weapons include Thunderbolt missiles, X-Pulse lasers, MRMs, ER micro lasers, new machine guns, a light gauss rifle and heavy lasers. The Thunderbolt missile is noteworthy because it fires one salvo and inflicts huge damage.
The game also touts new, improved special effects, four new multiplayer maps, night missions, and new scenery. As far as I can tell, the special effects haven't changed much since Mechwarrior 3. I did notice that the scenery tends to catch fire when you shoot it, but all the other weapon effects appear unchanged. The night missions are kind of interesting because you can't see very far with your headlights and this adds an element of difficulty when firing into the darkness. Lastly, the new scenery is a welcome change but offers nothing out of the ordinary.
One problem with Mechwarrior 3 was that it was extremely system intensive. This time around, not much has changed. On the bright side the game does have graphical improvements that will make life easier for those with less powerful computers. Mainly, the game runs a bit smoother than the original, making targeting easier on the eyes. On the whole, Pirate's Moon is just a small, almost unnoticeable, step above Mechwarrior 3 in terms of graphics.
A feature that was vital in setting the mood of the campaign in Mechwarrior 3 was the military-type cinematics laying down the missions. Unfortunately these have been left out of Pirate's Moon, leaving only a recorded voice lecturing about your assignment. This was a terrible decision and hints that the expansion was rushed to market. The way the missions are presented in Pirate's Moon is dry and boring - you certainly won't feel as involved as you were in Mechwarrior 3.
Basically, everything else is the same in Pirate's Moon. You still salvage scraps from your enemies and you still have your mobile field bases. The difficulty has apparently been amped up a bit, expecting that players have already completed Mechwarrior 3. The difficulty is also heightened by the lack of a thorough introduction to the missions. If you thought Mechwarrior 3 was a walk in the park, Pirate's Moon might be your match.
Because Mechwarrior 3: Pirate's Moon is simply an expansion pack, it's really up to the player to decide if they really want it or not. It's more of Mechwarrior 3 with a few additions and tweaks. It's certainly not like Brood War was to Starcraft, or Armageddon's Blade was to Heroes of Might and Magic 3. You'll still be using the same strategies and running through the same types of missions as you were with Mechwarrior 3, but without the video introductions. I must admit it is fun to take on a mech with a lance of Elementals, but is it worth $40? You decide.