Honey, where'd you put the keys to the Battlemech?
The year: 3059. The date: May 20. The time: high noon. The Inner Sphere has united after 275 years of civil war, in order to face the bigger threat brought to them by the Clans. Now waiving the banner of the Star League(where's the Last Starfighter when you need him), the Inner Sphere hopes to recapture all it has lost. It's first target is Smoke Jaguar occupied space. The Smoke Jaguars are a vicious foe, whose massacres of civilian populations are well known across this sector. While they do have a technological advantage over the Inner Sphere, the Inner Sphere has the newly developed Mechcommanders to help them stomp the Jaguars under one mighty metal boot.
In all of video gaming, no game has quite as detailed a plot as those based in the Battletech Universe. With years of role playing and computer games under their belt, Fasa Interactive could probably give you the blood line heritage of every character they've ever written into the plot. Mechcommander is the latest computer installment of the Battletech Universe and is the first one to try a different gaming genre. As opposed to Mechwarrior 2, top down strategy is the name of the game for Mechcommander. Though everyone and their brother are releasing real-time strategy games right now, each one tries something new to separate it from the pack. Though many fail in the attempt, Mechcommander succeeds in bringing some new life to a seemingly repetitive genre.
The object in Mechcommander is not to build, but to destroy. Logically, when invading a planet, the invading force will not be able to outproduce the defense force. So the key lies not in creating bases, but destroying the enemies defenses. To this end, the Mechcommander is supplied, at the beginning, with three Battlemechs and four Mechwarriors. For every successful mission, you receive resource points that allow you to purchase, repair, and refit your mechs. You can also salvage enemy 'Mechs from the battlefield, drop in one of your pilots, and use it in the next assault. How you do in the earlier missions will affect how prepared you are for the later missions. This cause and effect setup has been severely lacking from the real time strategy genre until now.
Besides making sure that your Battlemechs survive till the next mission, you also have to make sure that your pilots are getting enough 'Mech time. As the game progresses, the more action a pilot sees, the more experience he earns. You might not want a green pilot in control of your most powerful 'Mech. If the 'Mechs get destroyed, you'd better hope that your pilots ejected to safety, otherwise you're going to have to buy a new pilot and start the training all over again.
There are 18 different 'Mech to control in Mechcommander, but you are only able to control a maximum of 12 at a time. There are also numerous vehicle units that you can control as well. Many of the units are only available to the enemy, so in order to pilot them you have to capture an enemy unit. In order to capture an enemy 'Mech, you have to damage, but not destroy it. Is it random luck whether or not you capture a unit? Well, yes and no. Yes, most of the time the 'Mechs explode when they take a severe beating. Let's just say that a stray bullet struck the gas tank. In that vein, however, Mechcommander is also the first top down strategy game that allows you to command your units what part of the enemy to target. While letting an experienced pilot decide for himself where to attack might bring the enemy down faster, having them intentionally target the head of the enemy increases the chance of salvaging the 'Mech. It is a delicate balancing game between damage to the 'Mech that you own, and the benefit of salvaging the enemy 'Mech.
There is a multiplayer aspect to Mechcommander as well. Although the folks at Microprose didn't setup a multiplayer server themselves, Mechcommander will probably be available to play for free on most of the multiplayer networks (ie Mplayer or Gaming Zone). Another interesting aspect to the multiplayer is the fact that the players don't have to fight each other. Instead, they can work together to complete the single player missions. You might want to bring in a friend when taking on the Smoke Jaguars, because they are damn hard to beat!
The only real drawback to the game is its difficulty. Take it from me, folks, this game is real hard. By the fourth mission, you're already wishing you had been able to salvage more and take less damage. Though the difficulty might drive away some gamers, it will be a refreshing change to games like StarCraft, where the single player missions were way too easy and short. Each mission in Mechcommander has several objectives that have to be met before you can proceed. Just try to complete the last objective when all you have left is a Firestarter with one arm and one leg missing. Definitely a challenge.
Mechcommander is a refreshing change from the normal real time strategy game. It was a joy to open up a new game and have it actually be a new game. Though the game is really tough, it is well worth playing for fans of both the Battletech Universe and real time strategy games. Who knows, maybe you'll be helping me online to defeat the Smoke Jaguars. I sure do need the help . . .