MechAssault 2: Lone Wolfby Stephen Cameron
December 1, 2004
The Battletech universe has been depicted through nearly twenty years worth of game evolution, from its tabletop roots with the massive ‘mechs represented by cardboard cutouts, through its slightly off-the-mark SuperNES and Sega Genesis arcade-style representations, through to the PC simulator-style games from the mid-nineties on. Sadly, none of these ever quite communicated the sense of mass and destructive power these enormous ‘mechs are capable of dealing in. So when Day 1 Studio’s Mechassault was released for Xbox two years ago, I was enormously pleased with the lusciously rendered, violent, and visceral representation of the kind of mayhem our big walkers are supposed to be capable of. Mechassault was a fast-paced arcade-style ‘mech game where stuff blew up in grand style. Buildings were gutted by cannon fire and missile strikes, window glass blew out in massive clouds to the streets below from gauss rifle hits, and ‘mech powerplants blew apart in massive, shuddering nuclear-style detonations that you learned to fear and avoid. Still, the last, final touches of perfection were just out of reach. Namely, you as a character were always safely ensconced within your Battlemech, and the viewpoint was always from a cozy, safe hundred scale feet above the action. The ‘mechs looked, and felt, a little like really beautifully rendered action-figures or toys that were simply capable of wrecking the place in fantastic fashion.
Mechassault 2: Lone Wolf will give you the profound feeling that your toys are now fifty feet tall, royally pissed off from being left out in the rain in the sandbox, and have come looking for you to kick you down and steal your lunch. >From the earliest moments in the game, the effort is made to emphasize that you are not your ‘mech – rather, you are the man within the mech. Levels where you are on foot among pedestrians being chased by a pursuing scout mech (once a laughable foe, but now very terrifying when you barely stand taller than its ankle) will make you realize that these machines are huge. And you are no longer confined to driving ‘mechs. The game has a new level of freedom in which you can jack and steal tanks, transports, battle armor, and – in a clever new game dynamic – hack enemy mechs with a DDR-style combo-pressing interface and force their occupants to shut down and eject, allowing you to steal their ‘mechs with a minimum of fuss and danger. This is especially fun and it’ll add an extra level of intensity to multiplayer matches over Xbox Live when some punk in a cheap suit of Battlearmor jumps on you like a tick and forces you to vacate your sweet 100 ton ride with a few button presses because you weren’t quick enough on the draw. The ‘mechs are rendered with an extra fine eye for detail this time around – the engine has been overhauled and tweaked to the point where the original game looks almost drab in comparison. Outdoor levels are particularly beautiful, with swampland rendered in amazing levels of detail with realistic water, foliage, and soft lighting. This is a game where you can tell the developers have had unrestricted access to the hardware inside the Xbox and have been given the means to wring a phenomenal level of performance out of the console. You will look at certain moments of onscreen action, with city streets roiling in flame and multiple enemies descending upon you filling the screen with missile and laser fire and sheer pandemonium erupting, and ask yourself, “why aren’t all games like this?”
The soundtrack has a tough, hard-rock-with-extra-crunchy-guitars sound well suited to the subject. The controls are still dirt-simple, with the piloting of the ‘mech still on par with playing a first-person shooter, with the two-stick look-and-move players are used to and the two triggers being the most frequently used buttons, for weapons selection and firing. The frosting on the cake, which is set to give serious Live competition to a certain other title launching earlier on November 9, is a new persistent campaign mode in which the player, and the groups or units they join, will have an ongoing effect on the state of the online war – borders will shift and objectives will change depending on the success or failure of member players over Live. Once again, like the first Mechassault, this looks to be a title that will have an unbeatable staying power on the Xbox Live servers. This will take Mechassault gaming beyond the level of the one-shot skirmish and will put these machines into the war where they truly belong. December’s end simply can’t come soon enough.