Review by Tenshi No Shi
"Something a little off the metal-foot trodden path."
I suffer from the fantastical delusion that I might one day actually be able to pilot a real-world Mech. So, in preparation of such a date, I purchase and conquer as many Mech 'simulators' as I can get my hands on. Chief among my rigorous training routines are the series of games that have come from the BattleTech brand of role-playing games, MechWarrior. MechWarrior has already had one spin-off brand, MechCommander, and now that the Xbox Live has launched we are introduced to MechAssault, the latest entry to the BattleTech universe.
At this point, there's really no point in discussing the storyline that drives any of the recent MechWarrior games since Microsoft acquired the license because none of them have been faithful to the history established by the original FASA source materials. In fact, this game shares very little with either the pen-and-paper RPG or the PC games except for the types of weapons and the names of Mechs. In fact, when you cut right to it, MechAssault is nothing more than a straight-up 3D action game. No Mech customizations, no first-person (cockpit) perspective and no gauges to constantly monitor- just you and unlimited ammo against the enemy army.
Graphically, MechAssault is a fairly impressive game...to a point. It's not all that polished looking (though it does have a certain sheen to it that might fool you into thinking it does) but it does enough things right that you can forgive its faults. First of all, there's the much-touted destructible environments, which, truth be told, aren't nearly as expansive as they'd have you believe. Sure you can destroy buildings, bridges, low walls, boulders, trees, tunnels and rock bridges, but there is an equal amount of things that can't be destroy which are comprised of the very same materials- mountains, high walls, certain rock formations, natural dams and any form of terrain immediately spring to mind. I might be nit-picking, but if I can fire off a couple of rockets and cause a rockslide that crushes a lance of enemy Mechs, then I better be able to blast a hole in the side of a dam to flood the valley below it. Those issues aside, the animation is good and all the Mechs look just as they should.
It's a shame that the sound team couldn't reach the same level of quality set by the graphics, otherwise I might've spent more time listening to the game. In fact, I can't even recall a single piece of score from MechAssault it was that unmemorable. The voice acting, on the other hand, is a slightly above average effort (which still makes it better than most of the drek that's being pressed) with some rather clever bits of dialogue that help move the story along. Lastly, I found myself somewhat disappointed in the audio effects- they are passable as far as authenticity is concerned but lack that sort of bassy 'oomph' that makes you feel like your really in a 90 ton Mech decimating entire city blocks.
Controls could not be more perfect- employing a movement/look system similar to console FPS; you move with the left stick and aim with the right. Clicking the left stick will activate jump jets while the right handles defensive weapons. The left trigger will cycle through three different weapon groups (ballistic, energy and missile) and the right trigger fires yours currently selected weapon. Finally, the face buttons are assigned to specific weapon types if taking the extra second to cycle past a weapon using the left trigger is too time consuming for you. In multiplayer mode, the black and white buttons handle scoreboard and chat functions. It is this flawless, simple setup that makes MechAssault such a worthwhile game, both online and off, but you definitely get more out of the game with an Xbox Live account.
Aside from completely removing the core elements of BattleTech, MechAssault does everything else right for an all-out action title- unlimited base weapons, interactive environments and excellent level designs (with plenty of ambush points) makes this a great game to play alone and an incredible game to play with a group of buddies. It would have been nice to have the ability to customize your Mech (such as weapons layouts, heat sinks, jump jets, armor types, ect.) but the developers wanted gamers to be able to jump right into an online match without the wait. To that I say Phhhhhhhthft! Would it have been too hard to allow players to customize their Mechs offline and then limit the match set-up time to prevent last minute tweaking? A well-designed game nonetheless that will hopefully become a franchise that expands on the idea and injects a few more sim elements into future installments.
For your efforts in the single player story mode, you can unlock one new Mech, the Ragnorok and that's about it. However, those with Xbox Live can download new Mechs (Chimera, Hellbringer, Corvus, Loki and Raven ) along with several new multiplayer maps. Those without Microsoft's online service are kinda screwed (especially now that Miscrosoft has stopped all Xbox Live support for original Xbox games). The Xbox Live support is nice, but those who don't have access to broadband shouldn't be so short-changed.
If you're a fan of balls-to-the-wall action, MechAssault is the game for you. With excellent Xbox Live support and a handful of play-modes, you won't easily tire of it. However, if you want a serious console Mech sim that will test your skills to their limits, check out Steel Battalion instead.
Reviewer's Rating: 3.5 - Good
Originally Posted: 10/29/10
Game Release: MechAssault (US, 11/11/02)
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