There's little doubt that Mechs are sexier than tanks. Which is presumably just part of the reason why there are now more Mech games on release or planned than ever before. There's only one officially licensed BattleTech game due for release this year and endorsed by creators FASA Interactive, however, and that's Hasbro Interactive's MechWarrior 3.
The Story So Far
Mech heads will know that previous games in the MechWarrior series were published by Activision, who, since losing the BattleTech licence, have developed their own spin-off that involves Gears (essentially smaller Mechs). Mech heads will also know that it's just not the same. Additionally, they will be only too familiar with the rich sci-fi universe developed by FASA that has spawned no less than 38 novels over the past 15 years, and no doubt revel in the fact that MechWarrior 3 represents the next step in the gargantuan story.
Set in the year 3058, when the Houses of the Inner Sphere have banded together to take on the Clans with a unified force, the overall objective in MechWarrior 3 is to defeat all Clan warriors and totally eradicate one of the most feared of all the Clans - the Smoke Jaguars.
If you haven't read any of the novels, played the table-top games or indulged in any aspect of the BattleTech universe, then you probably don't give two figs about the Smoke Jaguars and the Inner Sphere, and are just as happy stomping about the countryside firing laser-guided rockets in a state-of-the art 3D environment. To some people, however, all this scene-setting history shit matters.
The Story Now
When we last saw MechWarrior 3 in the autumn at ECTS, it was quite fair to say that it looked surprisingly ropy. The landscapes were relatively flat and uninspired, and the couple of Mechs on show, although pretty detailed, were lolloping about the screen at about 10 fps. What the hell was going on?
What a difference a few months' development makes. Having recently seen and played some more up-to-date code, we can report that things are looking rather better. The Mechs are now even more detailed, and jog along at a fair old rate, while the terrain could have been modelled on the Lake District with bits of Milton Keynes added for good measure. The introduction of a nifty new zoom and target device enables you to pick off certain bits of your foe, and the ability to duck down inside craters and behind buildings finally brings some credibility to the Mech's existence as a legitimate weapon of war.
The Story Soon
Despite the official licence and FASA's blessing, MechWarrior 3 obviously faces some stiff competition from the likes of Activision's Heavy Gear 2, Sierra's eagerly anticipated StarSiege, and Slave Zero from Electronic Arts. From what we've seen, however, MechWarrior 3 looks like being more than a match for the competition, whether you're familiar with the BattleTech universe or not.
The licence may have changed hands, but few 'Mech-heads will be able to resist the pull of the original MechWarrior games.
MicroProse are working very closely with FASA Interactive, the people responsible for creating the BattleTech universe, to ensure the game remains true to their massively popular MechWarrior world.
The developers have really gone to town on the terrain, and thanks to 3D acceleration and a brand-new 3D game engine it's anything but flat, o You're able to stomp your way over cliffs, river beds and sprawling urban developments.
The man himself, Jordan Weisman, is the inspiration for many of the new 'Mechs, weapons and missions. True MechWarrior fans should not be disappointed.
MechWarrior 3 has had a troubled development to say the least, with various team personnel changes somewhat prolonging development time. Early glimpses of the new 3D engine have been encouraging, although the increased detail of the landscapes, coupled with a progressive perspective, mean that the frame rate is struggling to get into double figures.
That said, it's still very early days (the game isn't due for release until spring next year), and the code is yet to be optimised for speed.
From what we've seen so far it looks like being the best MechWarrior game yet, but then it's got an awful lot to live up to, flexibility, maintains Yeo. We've tried to create new environments in Tiberian Sun which justify the introduction of new units. The weather and conditions are now an important part of the gameplay. Ion storms now sweep across the globe, and they not only affect how the game looks and feels, but also how it plays.
The GDI now dominate the air, whereas NOD have literally gone underground, they're subterranean. They've developed 'Mechs out of necessity, because they're forced to adopt guerrilla tactics to survive. 'Mechs are good at that type of combat - they're good at raiding a base and getting out quick. Of course, this development in the Earth's environment has allowed us to develop some really cool units. Our 'Mech units are definitely some of the coolest units in the game.
The Joy Of 'Mechs
There's no doubt that 'Mechs are cool. However, their potential as effective mobile assault 'vehicles' is not beyond doubt. First of all, what happens if they fall over? Most traditional 'Mech designs are extremely tall and top-heavy - not exactly a recipe for stability, is it? In contrast, modern-day battle tanks are designed to have a low centre of gravity and be of a limited stature, which enables them to use cover more effectively and traverse difficult terrain without toppling.
Of course, the real argument for 'Mechs over tanks is that they can negotiate more difficult terrain, because they can effectively step over or even climb over the more challenging obstacles that get in their way. Indeed, this is one argument for them being so tall, but it does raise some other issues. Think back to when you last played a game with 'Mechs in it and try and recall the last time you encountered something - be it a jagged hillock or a smoking pile of rubble - that your 'Mech could get over but a tank couldn't? Tricky, isn't it? Add to this the fact that, to date, most 'Mech games have been based within environments that are flatter than the proverbial pancake and you begin to ask yourself: why bother with 'Mechs at all?
Okay, they look cool, but aren't they just a bit bulky and cumbersome? In most situations surely a nifty hover-tank would be much more practical? And why can't they duck? One of the most useful features a 'Mech could have would be the facility to pop up over the edge of a bomb crater, let rip with both barrels and then duck down under cover again. After all, this is what makes combat helicopters so effective.
MechWarriortins are also in for a bit of a re-education as far as the third game in the series is concerned. Gone are the barren landscapes, and in come rocky crevices, river beds and rough urban sprawls. The 'Mechs look better than ever, though the emphasis is still as much on armour and ridiculously destructive weaponry than on mobility.
Heavy Gear II is more of a halfway house in that the units are generally smaller and therefore quicker and more manoeuvrable. The first game in the spin-off series sported 'Mechs with wheels, which rather turned the whole 'Mech raison d'etre on its head - why not just have tanks? Hopefully, the addition of more challenging, obstacle-packed landscapes means that the scenarios will play to the 'Mechs' strengths. Mini-'Mechs are best suited to built-up, urban warfare, after all.
Starsiege is again following the familiar territory that was established by Earthsiege I and II, though the universe has been expanded to accommodate more varied units and terrain types. Like the original MechWarrior games, the emphasis is on powerful, stomping, metallic monsters of destruction, though smaller, more manouevrable units will be available, as will more Ctraditional' battle tanks and airborne units.
So who will win the battle of the 'bots? Well, one thing's for sure: come Christmas we'll be spoilt for choice as rival developers attempt to outdo the opposition. Which can only be a good thing for 'Mech fans big and small.
Download MechWarrior 3
Systems: Windows 9x, Windows 2000 Windows XP, Vista, Win 7, Win 8, Win 10.
Game features:Single game mode