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MechWarrior 4: Vengeance

Score: 90%
ESRB: Teen
Publisher: Microsoft
Developer: Microsoft
Media: CD/2
Players: 1 - 16
Genre: Action/ Strategy/ Online

Graphics & Sound:

MechWarrior 4: Vengeance is a fine game when it comes to graphics. The mechs have a gritty, worn-in look that I found much more appealing than the usual glistening steel that you see in this sort of game. In a world of dirty warfare, itís unlikely that everything would look pristine. The BattleMechs themselves are wonderfully articulated, not to mention they move a hell of a lot faster than in any of the other MechWarrior games I played. Watching a light mech traversing the landscape like a robotic yet organic creature is something to behold, and the larger mechs lumber with a ferocity that is truly intimidating. Added to this, the landscapes that you do battle in are generally lush, with all sorts of different locales -- snowy tundra, hot desert, murky swamp. And MechWarrior 4: Vengeance does the Economy of Scale thing to a tee -- walking over a Hum-Vee gives you the feeling that these mechs are big. Not Godzilla big, but big nonetheless. The weapons have sweet effects -- I particularly like the smoke trails from the various missile packs -- and when you blow parts off of an enemy mech, you can see the damage. Cool, cool stuff. And the shadows are just a beautiful bonus.

The video in the game is a mix of human actors and renders. It works well, and although itís not exactly high-budget film, itís not atrocious like much live-action game footage out there. It ends up working in the gameís favor, as listening to real people talk about things and advancing the plot is much more enjoyable than reading raw text output. You may not be wowed -- well, other than the sweet intro movie -- but itís certainly passable.

The sound in Vengeance isnít as strong as the graphics, but itís nothing to really complain about. Each weapon has its characteristic sound, and the sound of the mecha, er, mechs lumbering about is quite nice. Thereís some radio chatter, but it seems like itís only dealing with the tasks at hand. I much preferred the constant one-upmanship of, say, Unreal Tournament, but whatís there is certainly good. The music is good, but nothing youíll be writing home about, and I found myself slipping some Crystal Method into my PS2 to keep me company as I blasted away the enemy. Your taste may vary, of course.


Gameplay:

Now, fair warning: the last game in the MechWarrior series I played with any depth was the second game, and even that I wasnít particularly fond of. Although I enjoy the occasional tabletop game of BattleTech, Iíve always had problems with the style of mech used in the games. Even the fast ones were slow, and the truly powerful ones were god awful. Maybe Iíve watched too much anime, but I like my mecha fast and sleek, more Robotech and less BattleTech. So, at first, I wasnít too intrigued by this game. But then I sat down and played it, and I realized that one of the major tweaks in the game is the speed.

And all I can say is: Aww yeah.

For those of you not familiar with the MechWarrior universe, well, it would take many books to fully spell out. In fact, it has. But the basic gist is that you command a large walking robot, or Mech, and generally lay waste to enemies with a wide variety of weaponry. There are many different chassis that you can base a mech on, and plenty of weapons to stick in the mechs. They all have a maximum load-out, though, so you canít load your fleet-footed mecha down with enough weaponry to take out a small country. Hamlets, yes, but not countries.

The first surprise that I got was when I went into the MechLab. This area of the game frankly intimidated me when I started playing MechWarrior 2. I had friends who would spend hours customizing their mechs, but Iím the sort of guy who likes fast action. In Vengeance, the core layout of the various chassis is unchangeable. You can adjust the weapons load-out, but only to an extent: certain locations can only hold certain types of weapons, so youíve got to manage them correctly. You can also add various optional components like jump jets and better sensors, and you can adjust the armor for each section. Itís still a balancing act, to be sure, but itís one that can take mere minutes of your life instead of hours. I thought it was a vast improvement.

The second surprise I got, and the most pleasant, was the way the game played. Youíve still got all the mech-blasting, terrain-stomping, nav-point-following goodness that youíve come to expect, but it moves at a much quicker pace than previous games in the series. I remember playing the original MechWarrior back on my 486 and it taking long, boring minutes to get across the map to where I needed to be. In MechWarrior 4: Vengeance, you can practically (and literally) fly across the map. The battles are more fast-paced too, and although they still require a good deal of strategy, itís great fun to run circles around an enemy mech and watch them get confuddled. Good stuff.

The Single Player campaign has more than two dozen missions for you to engage in, from standard destroy-all missions to defense and exploration. Itís entertaining, and more importantly, it follows a storyline. It may not be the most original story in the world, but too often strategy games feel like a string of unconnected battles rather than a coherent whole. Vengeance doesnít fall into that trap.

Thereís also plenty of Multiplayer experience to be had. Even over my weak narrowband connection, I could enjoy some mech-blasting fun (er, well, I could die quickly) without too much lag. Iím waiting for my broadband connection so I can jump in and serve a few 16-player games of my own. All sorts of game modes are here, from the traditional deathmatches to the wonderful keepaway called Steal the Beacon, and the old standby Capture the Flag. Thereís little to no chance that you wonít find a game mode that you like.

Thereís also an Instant Action mode, where you can jump into a single-player mission with any load-outs you want. It lets you get a feel for the harder missions, and is a great addition to the game. Just donít let it ruin your single-player experience.


Difficulty:

Vengeance sports a four-level difficulty system, with the A.I. being a relatively bumbling fool in the lower levels and a quick-witted adversary in the higher ones. More important than any arbitrary scale, though, the game breaks the player in gently. The first missions have few difficult objectives, and are set in environments where heat dissipation is at a maximum. As the game progresses, the situations get tougher, the heat management becomes more of an issue, and you get people to control and train. You never feel overwhelmed, as it all happens gradually, and itís a wonderful way to break people into the style of gameplay.

Game Mechanics:

The core controls of Vengeance are solid, and you can use a variety of control methods to your liking. Iíve always been a mouse player, and it works great; I hear that pads with hats that let you turn your torso easily are even better. The mouse is certainly highly playable, though. The camera is good, and itís recommended that you keep the game in 3rd person mode -- you can see things above and below you much simpler, and itís an order of magnitude easier to move your mech around when its torso is twisted. There are quite a few key commands to learn, but theyíre all simple, and once you know them, they all make sense. The menus are relatively Spartan (other than the fantastic MechLab), but they certainly get the job done.

While itís much more evolution than revolution, MechWarrior 4: Vengeance is a great game. It may not bring too much to the genre other than refinements to the experience, but thatís good enough as is. And although I enjoy my mechs a little more fleet-footed, Vengeance goes a long way towards making the game world a place for people like me. As it is, any fan of the genre and those looking to get into the genre should look at picking up a copy. Itís a great game and definitely one of the best mech-style games in recent history.


-Sunfall to-Ennien, GameVortex Communications
AKA Phil Bordelon

Minimum System Requirements:



P2 300, Win9x/2K/Me, 64MB RAM, 775MB HD space, 8X CD-ROM, Mouse, Sound card, 8MB Direct3D video card, 16-bit monitor, keyboard
 

Test System:



AMD K6-III 450 running Windows 98, 256 MB RAM, 6X/24X DVD-ROM, Sound Blaster Live!, Creative Labs TNT2 Ultra w/32 MB RAM

Windows Madden NFL 2000 Windows MDK2

 
Game Vortex :: PSIllustrated