The Iron Commander
The Iron Commander - it is the way I would characterize the game that turned out to be on my table. So, today we will be making the preparation of Mech Commander 2. First of I need to make a reservation that this review is made for those who has not yet played first game of the series and does not know anything about it. Before I started to write this review, I'd been thinking for quite long and finally came to a conclusion - these games (the first one and the second) should not be.
As you might have noticed, the review has appeared not right after game release - there is an explanation to this - the author has been already playing MC 2 for 3 days on end and even now is thinking over how to accomplish one of puzzling mission in the third campaign :)
After the Microsoft introduction cinematic ends we get to the Battle Tech Universe. I should say that there is no introduction cinematic as such. Clips start when you begin the game. Right after the campaign has been chosen we fall into galactic turmoil. You are foreordained to play as mercenary, who sell themselves (no vulgar analogies, PLEASE ;) and their 'Mechs to those who pay more. (For those who have just returned from an desert island and have not seen Mechwarrior movie, I'll lift up the veil, 'Mech is a walking combat machine, not a robot).
Three clans and a group of rebels are reigning in this area of the Galaxy. You will be hired, used and 'handed over' to different people. Step by step the 'simple' business of conducting local conflicts and making dirty work involves mercenaries into politics, and willy-nilly, they have to take the side of the weak and unfortunate and protect them. After just another employer's betrayal, when every clan took up arms against you, you'll have to side with some mysterious rebels.
Between missions you will communicate with your employers via quite nice scene cuts that resemble similar briefings of KKnD 2 to some extent. But it looks like a storyline serves as a screen to a strategic game; you should not pay much attention to it anyway. Just to wage war is much more interesting. Although, all storyline looks not bad, everything is nice and tastefully! Galactic news a la Starship Troopers look just nice. And characters here are as picturesque as in scene cuts by Westwood.
The engine of the game is not excellent concerning landscapes and landscape interactivity. For all time I've been playing the game I could not get rod of feeling that it is built on the Myth's engine. It has the same inconvenient camera angle that makes one feel that you are looking at the battlefield leaning over the balcony. Especially I was irritated with rigidity of the camera - although it allows moving an object near and away, the screen moves not on curve but straightly. So, I always wished to "straighten my back" to see horizons of the MC 2 world, but I have not succeeded though. So, we are fated to play the game been buried ourselves in the ground.
Landscapes of MC 2 are quite big, but I suppose they are secondary in the game. I mean that they do not affect combating, although the only one thing affects - ranges of radars. Some 'Mechs are equipped with radars that, as in the real life, have their range as well as their horizons. So, if enemy 'Mech hides behind a hill, you may detect it only when you've mounted the peak of the hill. And in some hilly missions where you need to destroy all enemies it is hard to say that this feature of radars is convenient, but some stationary radar stations that are numerous in area save the situation - seizing them you may detect enemy with ease.
Landscape interactivity is just some features: you may walk through a forest and feel some trees, you may trample barracks, hangars and fences: and to leave behind yourselves a chain of traces. In the multiplayer mode the later feature promises to be useful especially when you need to trace a runaway enemy.
Special effects must be discussed separately. Explosions in the game are beautiful, it is just nice to watch the flight of the rocket in the midnight missions. Although it is nice to watch how the squadron of 'Mechs is illuminated, it is nice to watch the dance of shadows, fireworks of sparks that are coming from a hit 'Mech and fountains of fire from big explosions. But hardly I can say that everything is ideal concerning graphics in MC 2. In the night, on 'chests' of 'Mechs, searchlights are turned on. And even at the maximum distance it is hard not to see that a cone of the light has a strange form in section - it is quadrangular instead of round: So, it looks like quadrangular beams of light is a distinct feature of the Battle Tech Universe. Just believe, it strikes, and not to forget about it you will be able only in a hard combat. In Earth 2150 this feature was realized almost perfectly while there were other problems with its engine. Although other effects as fogs and rains are very nice. Units are funnily walking out of the fog - first you see outlines of the machine, only then one may descry "what a hedgehog has got out of fog":
Originally the game is made a tactical strategic game that is its core distinction from other games with root 'Mech in the name. With so many drawbacks, the developers however managed not to spoil the game in the worst possible way. Missions are not monotonous - your objective can be escorting, or attacking enemy convoy, defending a friendly base or taking by storm an enemy one. Relief of battlefields considerably varies - you will have to fight in mountains, plains, in forests and cities, and even in vacuum space - on the surfaces of satellites. Every time you need to complete different missions that does not allow the game to be turned into the routine extermination of hordes of two-legged machines. As I've already noted, night missions should be paid an extra attention. They are most beautiful, and as a rule, in these missions you have extra, although interesting, limitations, like, you may be ordered to destroy as many targets as possible for a limited period.
A nice feature of MC 2 campaigns is that you sometimes can choose what mission to accomplish. Even so you still have opportunities to accomplish other missions as well.
As the storyline advances, you get new kinds of weapons at your disposal. Sometimes you may capture enemy machines with unknown type of weapons. And the fact that you have captured enemy unit does not yet mean that you may use that gun. If you sell it, then you loose it forever. That maybe acceptable but a bit irritating that one cannot dismount weapons from one's unit and to mount on another one - all operations of that kind can be done only in the buy/sell screen. So, at times, to get new 'Mechs or weapons you need to accomplish extra tasks in missions, that allows you to acquire new technology, or new weapon can be granted to you by your employer - as an additional reward.
For completing tasks in missions they pay you good money. It is on this money you live. Thanks to God, the developers did not make something like paying salaries to pilots - this way the game would be just awful. So, do not be afraid of money side of the game. At normal difficulty level you'll have enough cash to buy all necessities already after several starting missions, if everything goes good.
Main income item for mercenaries is captured materials. Not all 'Mechs die irretrievably while on battlefields. Very often, when a 'Mech is damaged the pilot, being overcautious, jumps out of it and his/her 'Mech falls on the ground. So, it is these 'barbecues' we gather from the ground. Evacuation of a 'Mech costs money, total costs depend on the class of a machine and weapons which it is equipped with. But, this business seems to be quite profitable - when you sell the remains you get more then you've spent evacuating it. But there is another problem - do you have enough cash to gather all countless enemy 'bodies'.
Interestingly, but the same happens with your 'Mechs too. Pilots often leave their machines at the last moment. Catapulting looks very nice - a moment before an explosion life-saving capsule flies up into the sky. But, sometimes the capsule does not work - careening down right after starting it falls down on the ground. And there is the only meaning - the pilot is dead! Although sometimes it is fun when an explosion of a 'Mech makes its pieces fly up into the sky.
Pilot-less 'Mechs that are not totally destroyed still can be useful. Capturing machines with fuel or different storages you also acquire an opportunity to put (after paying 10.000 RU) a new pilot into an idle machine. Although, these machines are usually heavily damaged and all this is similar to the proverb - better a small fish than an empty dish, nothing more.
But when you collect enough resources you may call for another sort (cheaper) of backup, like stationary cannon, a chopper, repairing complex and other stuff. But I suggest this to be the cheater's way, as far as it is much more interesting to accomplish mission with what you have only, at times just repairing your 'Mechs.
A 'body' of each 'Mech has areas that can be damaged or even destroyed. A cannon or limbs can be shot off; legs and cabin can be damaged. It is fun to watch how a 'Mech with heavily damaged legs starting to retreat shuffling one of its feet or, for instance, a rocket-carrier machine that is trying to remain on its feet, when one of its rocket mounts is destroyed.
Control is as easy as ABC - right/left click rules this world! Such an "intellectually" rich control system has settled for years since the time of Dune 2. There are not to many buttons with commands you may give to 'Mechs. You make order it to move running, or, if it is equipped with a special device, to order it to run jumping. Also, they can guard a certain piece of territory and shoot allowing lead. That is all they are granted with in this life! :( As this game is considered to be a tactical one, they could provide more functions for 'Mechs. But that is the way developers do:
Although AI is REALLY dull when tries to find the shortest way through the map (I suggest you not to send your 'Mechs through a half of a map - they will not make it running astray) and sometimes some machines frankly commit sabotage (when they do not want to move together with others expecting a personal order what way to move their legs), machines behave quite excellent in combat! They keep at distance, retreat when necessary, and conduct some uncomplicated maneuvers. So, you may not to afraid that they are not able to take care of themselves without your help. All they need is you to correct their shooting at times and give them necessary directions of movements.
If your brains have enough RAM to keep in memory tens of keys, then you may use the keyboard ordering different maneuvers or when to use lasers, when - rockets or any other hell machine: but you'd better grant it to the brains of your PC, instead of torturing yourself with chaotic finger dance over the keyboard.
The developers have created just few 'Mechs and that, I should say, hardly has any excuses. Do not hasten to fling stones or some other stuff that hurts at me! Each clan has own fleet of war machines, but frankly speaking, only few of them are really useful. Just tell me what use of super-light 30-tonned machines? Such a machine is not able to carry enough weapons and is weakly protected. A theory like 'a lot of small machines against few big 'Mechs are a real power' does not really work... It is not a C&C-like game, where one could make bunches of units and send them as cannon fodder to the enemy camp. In this game the number of your 'Mechs is limited by total tonnage. Only in really hard and huge missions total tonnage can be more then 200 tons. If the developers meant that four light 50-tonned 'Mechs would be a powerful team, then they were mistaken - it does not work in the game. It is quite easy to destroy, for instance Catapult bristling with missile mounts, with help of just one 70-80-tonned Mech.
In general, whatever you say, but all light 'Mechs (that cannot carry anything but themselves) and good few of 50-65-tonned 'Mechs are useless in combat. If one asks 'How then the enemy uses them? And manages to make enough damage!?' I'll answer - computer is not limited with tonnage. So, enemy can have about ten of them at once, while you are limited with 320 tones, and that is at best!
Let's now talk about pilots. There are enough of them in the game and even new mercenaries appear sometimes. Every pilot is characterized with two skills - piloting skill and shooting skill. As quantity of units, destroyed by pilot, increase he/she advances his/her rank. Combat achievements affect pilot's success in his/her career. So, if you manage not to ruin your 'pets' somehow, then you will make from them very good pilots that are able to control even the heaviest 'Mechs with ease!
But ranks are not all what pilots get; they also can be awarded for injuries, for units they hit, and just for courage they demonstrated in fight. Something, like "to withstand a fight against ten enemy 'Mechs", does deserve a good order!
Together with new rank pilots receive new special skills. So, there are 4 skills - as many as ranks. In general, development of pilots is quite an interesting business. If you want your pet to be awarded with ALL orders, you will have to run risks. But, that could be worthy of it - on completion of a mission your pet's iconostasis will be decorated with one more star! Only one thing spoils it - you cannot create your own pilot yourselves, as it were, in the image and likeness: but one could be resigned to it!
Before I wrote these lines, I got acquainted with other materials on MC 2 in the Internet. My conclusion was that they were mostly unbiased and composed in a slapdash manner. Some journalists have written that the game is too slow even on high-end PCs. It is an outright overstatement. I would not say that I'm an owner of a super high-end PC, so, my P3 650 with GeForce 2 MX 32 is really good with it, even on the hugest terrains, scrolling have not slowed down even for a jiff in heat of actions, when there are tens of missiles, falling trees, and machines that are rushing from one side to another. All this worked at resolution 1024*768 with 32-bit color depth. So, I mean that you should not afraid of invented voraciousness of the game to resources of your PC. The problem of slowdowns does exist though, but it does not concern gameplay, it concerns the save/load speed. It is a real problem! The time that requires for Quick Save (nice quirk of fate in the name :) is enough to walk to the kitchen and take a cup of coffee. It is because of that, I suppose, I'm trying to complete the game not using S/L! :)
So, in general, it has pretty nice storyline for the game of such kind and not suppressing atmosphere. It is quite nice to play it as far as the control is quite easy. I should also note diligence of the designers who has created missions. Of course, they could make missions bigger and harder, but the game would become boring. After I've completed 3 missions right away I still was eager to play further. Of course, there are still many questions and censures left, so, let's wait for news from Microsoft. Perhaps, some patch will improve situation with MC 2, and save/load will work better and quicker.
We perhaps could discuss a map editor and multiplayer mode. But somehow, it seems to me that the game is much better in single player mode. I think that keystone of MC 2 interest is some kind of arcade-ness of its missions. Of course one needs to work with his/her head to solve some tactical puzzles, but it does not require any brainstorming and multiple attempts.
In general, the game is worthy of its costs of cash and time, but it is not a season hit and it did not make a revolution at the gaming market though. The product is some kind of over boiled and it would definitely taste differently, if it were served up about 4 months ago, as it ought to be.
Mission design: 8/10
Game balance: 7/10
Total score: 7.07 (High)
(Expected score: 8.0)
- Yuri Bushin (Yurg-Aga)