And in the end the gameplay comes out at about two out of three as well--fantastic single-player campaign, passable Internet play, but no skirmish missions packed in the box. Hopefully the website will grow a few or something in the next patch, because a few nagging bugs and the lack of some fun skirmish maps are all that's keeping MechCommander 2
Okay, I'll admit it. I played BattleTech back in the day. I never got into it at the level that some of my friends did, but I certainly had a lot of fun marking off little boxes after I blew someone away with a pack of LRMs. And I enjoyed the original MechWarrior game, even though I wasn't very good at it; the absolutely massive gameworld kept me playing for a while, and although I never actually 'beat' the game legitimately, I had a lot of fun running around and doing the random missions.
But then something happened. I tried MechWarrior 2 once, and had to quit in disgust. The absolutely frightening level of customization that you could do with the 'Mechs simply didn't appeal to me at all. My BattleTech-playing friends would get together and spend hours designing new 'Mechs, and it just didn't cut it for me. The recently release MechWarrior 4 did a lot to repair that problem with me--while customizable, it's not frighteningly so--but since then I've become more a fan of RTS games.
So imagine my delight when I started playing MechCommander 2. Here we have what amounts to a tactical RTS, set in the BattleTech universe, with just enough customization to keep the game interesting without getting bogged down in the details. It was damn near love at first sight. Of course, I kept playing, and a few of the nagging issues started irritating me, but in the end I have to say that MechCommander 2 is a success.
Enough waxing philosophical. The game generally sets you in a hostile territory, out to execute a raid or defend a base. At the beginning of the game you're given a number of 'Mechs, and as the game progresses you can get more by purchasing them with your 'winnings' or by salvaging them from the battlefield. Commanding the 'Mechs on the field is very similar to any RTS game--you move them around, give them waypoints, have them guard or attack or whatever you want to do.
However, because you'll rarely have more than four or five 'Mechs at any given time, the game ends up being much more tactical than most real-time strategy games. You have to figure out just what the best strategy is, given the situation and the 'Mechs you have. If you've outfitted yourself with a number of long-range 'Mechs, you better make sure that the battles don't get up close and personal; you can't afford to lose a pilot in this game.
The single-player campaign is long and involved, pulling you into the storyline and making every advancement of the game seem plausible. The excellent FMV used to introduce each level only adds to the authenticity of the game. You pick your 'Mechs, load them out differently if you feel the need--the game saves each different loadout under a name, so you can quickly switch between them if necessary--and jump into battle. There you usually have a number of objectives that you have to complete. It's usually wise to do them in the order given, but it's not necessary; sometimes it's easier to do them a bit out of order to keep yourself sane and to minimize time spent in the level.
There's a lot to the game. You gain new 'Mechs and new weapons as it progresses, and keeping yours outfitted at maximum capabilities is necessary if you want to succeed. You also need to make sure to pick the right pilots for the job; they gain experience as the game progresses, and you can give them skills in various weapons and in piloting various types of 'Mech. They also constantly get better at both piloting and aiming, which can be the difference between life and death in the game.
Admittedly, there are a number of problems with the game. The pathfinding AI ranges from good to absolutely moronic; I've seen a 'Mech go in the complete opposite direction that I wanted them to on more than one occasion, for no good reason. The lack of real heat management may frustrate some fans of BattleTech, but I didn't find it as much of a flaw. Sure, flamers are next to useless if you can't use them to raise the heat of an opposing BattleMech, and you can fire a PPC way too frequently, but it keeps the game moving fast. The lack of any standalone single-player maps, however, definitely crimps the style of the game. Sometimes you just want to throw together a quick skirmish between some 'Mechs, see how they fare--you can't do that here. You can replay maps that you've already completed, and if you download any maps off of the Net you can play those too, but . . .