MechWarrior 2 is finally here, and despite the delays, misfires, and setbacks that have shadowed the project almost since the day it was first announced, the end result shows that good things really do come to those who wait.
Set in the 31st century, the storyline in MechWarrior 2 has advanced several decades beyond the mercenary tale of the original MechWarrior, and now presents a much richer, more robust plot that places the player as a rookie BattleMech (or ‘Mech) pilot in the stable of one of two powerful clans -- the Wolf Clan, and the Jade Falcon Clan.
After being soundly defeated in the Battle of Tukayyid and forced into signing a 15 year cease-fire with the Inner Sphere forces, the Clans have retreated to their homeworlds and are currently engaged in rapidly escalating disputes that threaten to destroy the fabric of Clan society.
Your goal in the game (beyond surviving each mission, of course) is to rise through the ranks gaining honor and prestige until you acquire the rank of Kahn (the title held by the Clan leader). Then you’ll challenge the rival Clan’s Kahn in a battle to become the il-Kahn, supreme ruler of all Clans.
But before you can achieve that lofty goal, you’ll have to claw your way to the top and prove yourself a capable ‘Mech pilot. You begin the game by choosing which Clan you wish to join, then proceed to the training grounds, where you’ll get some terse instruction on ‘Mech-handling from an indignant instructor. Please him, and you’re ready to fight; piss him off, and you might just find yourself changing oil in the ‘Mech pits.
It’s during these training exercises that you get your first glimpse of the cinematic drama the whole Mechwarrior Universe has become. With three resolution modes to choose from -- a standard 320x200 mode, 640x480 and an amazing 1072x768 -- the view from the cockpit looks far superior and more realistic than any of the other battling-bot games. The ‘Mechs, buildings, and landscapes are all sharply rendered, with modest but effective textures sprinkled about and enhanced by dynamic lighting effects for day, night, dawn, or dusk missions.
And while the low-res mode looks great, when you take the display up a notch to 640x480 you’ll begin to see the incredible detail that went into rendering each of the 14 ‘Mech types, right down to the Clan insignia on the sides of the ‘Mechs. Add to all this a very effective score and sound effects from Digital Domain and Soundelux Media Labs (responsible for the sound effects in True Lies), and Mech 2 begins to soar.
But without a strong game engine or good control options, graphics and sound mean nothing, right? Well, the gameplay shows as much attention to detail as the visuals, with missions that are designed to give the player an opportunity to get used to controlling these behemoths, then turns up the heat to the point where you become totally immersed in the struggle of the clans.
As you begin to progress through the campaigns, you’ll find that combat is fast and fierce due to the distinctive AI of each of the enemy ‘Mechs. Heavily armored ‘Mechs such as the Marauder IIC typically move in for the kill and blast away with big guns, while the dreaded Summoners (my personal favorite) use their jump-jet capabilities to launch themselves out of harm’s way or to attack from above. This makes the missions so unpredictable you’ll often want to enter a mission and find out what kind of opposition you’re facing, then reenter with a ‘Mech that’s better equipped for the job.
The missions are broken into primary, secondary, and tertiary goals similar to those in TIE Fighter, with success based on achieving the primary goal.
There’s a wide range of mission types as well, from strike, defense and reconnaissance missions all with their own unique feel and character. These missions take place in a wide range of environments, from the cold, dark vacuum of an asteroid to the breaking dawn of desert mesas, and you’re always aware of the environment and the role it plays in combat.
The terrain of each of these environments can be a help or a hinderance. Rolling hills provide limited cover, but they also slow you down, while the buildings of the sparse urban environments provide ample protection from marauding ‘Mechs. During low-light missions, you’ll need to close in quickly to gain visual sightings on enemy ‘Mechs, while during midday missions you can sit back and attack from further away.
MechWarrior 2 supports a number of devices for control, like the CH Products’ Flightstick Pro and Thrustmaster FCS, but I found the keyboard for ‘Mech movement and the mouse for turret control were all I needed to pilot my ‘Mech through mission after mission of ‘Mech-busting.
While the campaigns are very satisfying as single-player affairs, it’s a little disappointing that they aren’t networkable. Despite expectations, the campaign missions in the initial release won’t be multi-player. And even though there is a demo of a few networkable missions included in this version (no doubt to stave off angry mobs of net-loving ‘Mechers), they’re not part of the main story. So if you were hoping for some juicy net-combat campaigns, you’ll have to wait until September for the network add-on disk.
Also missing from the initial release, but due in September/
October is yet another expansion disk, which will be a more detailed version of the Mechlab where players can customize their ‘Mech with their own battle insignia and specify camo paint and new weapons.
But really, these disappointments are minor. As it stands, the game is a masterful update of the classic, with nearly all of the features fans of the original were hoping for. And it’s just the thing to introduce new gamers to the incredible Mechwarrior experience.