Little Big Man.
There was once an episode of the Twilight Zone in which passengers on a 1950's
era jet were catapulted into prehistoric times when their plane broke the sound
barrier (Called "The
Odyssey of Flight 33" - Ed). Outside their windows were tiny little
dinosaurs on the ground far below.
It is with fond memories of such Saturday afternoon TV that you might find
Mech Commander 2. High above gigantic anthropomorphic tanks called Mechs,
you give orders to your troops and watch the enjoyable fireworks. The game is
sort of like setting off firecrackers in a model-train set...and don't deny
it, you always wanted to do that.
While the original Mech Commander showed some
promise, it was hamstrung by a few critical design errors that made it far too
difficult and strategically deficient. The viewing distance was unrealistically
and unfairly constrained; this combined with difficult combat that required
prior planning made for a game that constantly cut off it's own circulation.
Mech Commander 2 is in all ways the game that Mech Commander
should have been. It's a seamless romp through a beautiful 3D world, with mayhem
and destruction befitting its series legacy. This time around, you not only
can look far off into the horizon, but that horizon is on the edges of what
looks remarkably like the latest entry in the MechWarrior franchise viewed
from high altitude. While the horizon spoken of is really a fog shroud, it's
a very, very distant fog shroud that is absolutely necessary in maintaining
But seeing isn't the only difference. Scanning takes on a new importance in that often opponents are obscured by the landscape and you can only detect the presence of something. This creates a slick combination of the known and unknown, which is enough to let you plan out attacks, but still provides for battlefield surprises.
And speaking of planning attacks, Mech Commander 2 makes far more of
an effort than Mech Commander to be a real strategy game. In every mission,
you begin with resource points that can be used to call in airstrikes, repair
craft, artillery and so forth. Other resource points can be acquired by capturing
certain enemy facilities. Not only does this add a new dimension to assaults
themselves, but can provide for more gameplay than the core mission objectives.
The other important resources in Mech Commander 2 are pilots. While
Mechs may be individually tailored to your specifications, and new ones may
be bought (assuming you have enough reward money for accomplishing previous
missions), it is arguably the pilot you place in the Mech that makes most difference.
Unlike other strategy games in which a unit is just like any other, individual
pilots gain experience and grow more proficient in their skills over time. In
addition, if a pilot excels in a mission, you are able to train him in a specific
area, such as targeting ability. Since your long-lasting and well-trained pilots
are of far more value that your pool of replacement rookies, it is in your interest
to keep them alive. This can result in some interesting uses of forces, such
as sacrificing one pilot for another or using valuable resource points on a
repair that could have been used on an airstrike.
The point is that Mech Commander 2 gives you things of value and forces
you to make choices regarding them. More choices even than that, if you like
using the included mission editor.
itself is also far more reasonable this time through. While in the original
even smaller Mechs could take extraordinary punishment, Mech Commander 2
dials back enemy stamina so that a missile of yours is far more pleasingly
effective. Enemy A.I. is good enough so that combat is more enjoyable to watch
than simply two lumbering machines standing still and throwing ammo at one another.
Battles are between limber death-dealers that dance across the landscape, leaving
scorched earth and metal in their wake.
The audio keeps up its end of the bargain and no element of the production seems to have been short-changed. No, wait... there is one.
Ever since MechWarrior 2, Mech games haven't had a decent plot to speak
of, so there isn't any reason to dwell on this one's. There is a civil war on
a planet, with sexy results. You are there to fight the rebels, with sexy results.
Many Mechs and assorted other things are blown up real good, with sexy results.
In order to communicate all of this there are dozens of short videos with live
actors who tell the player what's at stake and what should be done.
While plenty of money seems to have been spent on this, not a penny went to finding decent actors, which brings an unwanted ham-factor into what otherwise is a serious game. My advice to future Mech-developers is to either come up with a plot so good we don't care, or hire people who can present a lackluster story in such a way that we are not motivated to liberate our fingernails.
Asside from that, Mech Commander 2 is a very solid game. What it isn't
is a very innovative game. It does everything it has to and does it well, but
it doesn't do anything new. Mech Commander 2 satisfies your god complex
in wanting to control several behemoth killing machines at a time (and your
desire to blow up your dad's model train set), but those are old desires from
an old paradigm. Feel free to have fun with this one, a lot of fun, but don't
pressure yourself about remembering it.