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MechCommander 2

Score: 85%
ESRB: Teen
Publisher: Microsoft
Developer: FASA Interactive / Microsoft
Media: CD/1
Players: 1 - 8
Genre: Real-Time Strategy

Graphics & Sound:

The graphics in MechCommander 2 are a mixed bag. The world itself is bland, with muddied textures that seem to be about eight bits too shallow. Looking at the automap can confuse you even more, especially if the skirmish takes place in a somewhat icy area; the grey of the 'ice' and the grey of buildings blend into each other, making for a confusing mess.

However, the 'Mechs themselves are fantastically articulated. I love zooming into a battle and watching them blast away at each other, running around and swivelling their bodies to get in the best shots. The rockets look cool too, although I don't like their magic 'redirection'. Sure, they're guided, but it still looks a little silly. And the environments, bland as they are colourwise, are packed to the gills with pointless structures. This is the sort of stuff that makes or breaks a game; you can mouse over hundreds of little buildings and see their purposes, never mind the fact that they have nothing whatsoever to do with the game. And they all look the part; you can tell the difference between the factories and the headquarters and so on.

Unfortunately, the graphical sharpness of the game comes at a cost. Even on my machine, the camera stutters on a regular basis; it's especially pronounced when a number of 'Mechs are duking it out, but zooming around the landscape can cause some chug. I can only fear for the suggested Minimum System. Fortunately there are a number of graphical options you can turn off to maximize your framerate, but you'll obviously get an uglier game as a result.

The sound effects in MechCommander 2 are solid and convincing; the high-pitched whine of some of the beam weapons blends with the rapid-fire ackack of the autocannons to make for an intriguing firefight. And then there's the scream of the rockets as they cruise across the battlefield. It's not mind-blowing, but it's definitely better than most game audio out there, and it does a good job of pulling you in. The voice acting in the game does an even better job of taking you into the game; I daresay the acting is just as good as that found in Westwood titles, if not better. Everyone sounds the part that they play, and I didn't find anyone that really irritated me with their overacting. The music is rather unimpressive, however, changing tempo whenever battles occur but in general sounding like the generic combat music we've been hearing for years in these sorts of games. Ah, well--two out of three ain't bad.


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 from excellence.

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 . . .


If you keep your 'Mechs in tip-top shape, and salvage as many opponent models as you possibly can, MechCommander 2 never gets insurmountably hard. There are times that you'll have to try again with a different loadout because you picked the wrong sort of 'Mechs for the mission, but for the most part careful planning and execution can keep you alive in any situation. Use the Pause key liberally; you can pause the game and order your troops around at any time, which is useful in the thick of battle. The game doesn't even have much of a learning curve; the only thing that disappointed me was the lackluster instruction book, which didn't bother to have sections on rate of fire and such. The lack of such knowledge can be frustrating to someone who's never played this sort of game before.

Game Mechanics:

MechCommander 2 is almost entirely mouse-driven, although you can always use the hotkeys on the keyboard for particular commands. I typically use the keyboard to pause the game, but almost everything else I do with the mouse. Rotating the viewpoint is as easy as holding down the right mouse button; you have the usual 'left button to attack/move/use' paradigm for these sorts of games. There are a few extra commands that your 'Mechs have, such as jump jets, that may take a little getting used to, but there's nothing that any veteran RTSer should have any problems with. The core mechanics of the game are solid; it's basically a scaled-down version of the BattleTech universe, which captures a lot of the flavour without all of the rules lawyering. The load times are minimal, and while I wish the graphcis engine were a little more optimized, the game plays fine and I never managed to crash it.

MechCommander 2 is a solid tactical RTS with an excellent single-player campaign. Some stupid (but hopefully fixable) AI issues and the lack of skirmish maps both take away from the game, and hardcore fans of the setting may grumble about the lack of 'realism' with the various 'Mechs, but MechCommander 2 manages to keep the feel of BattleTech despite its lighter approach. Fans of both the big robot genre and of real-time strategy games would be wise to check it out; there's a lot of fun to be had with the game.

-Sunfall to-Ennien, GameVortex Communications
AKA Phil Bordelon

Minimum System Requirements:

P266, 8MB SVGA card, Windows 9x/Me/2K, 64MB RAM, 400MB HD space, 4x CD-ROM, 16 bit sound card, keyboard, mouse

Test System:

Athlon 1.1GHz running Win98 SE, 512MB RAM, GeForce 2 GTS w/ 32MB RAM, SoundBlaster Live!, 8x DVD-ROM

Windows Max Payne Windows Merchant Prince II

Game Vortex :: PSIllustrated