You get your choice of murderous mechwars or aerial combat in this sequel to Earth-Siege. Either way, expect excellent explosions, awesome armaments, and riveting, riotous shooting action. In EarthSiege 2, you lead a squadron against invading Cybrid forces. Stunning high-resolution graphics and digitized voices heighten the realism.
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Two tremendous artillery rigs crest the hill and begin to pour fire down on what remains of my squadron. My wingman is hit, lurches off to the east with his left arm on fire and both knee joints all but crippled. He nearly makes it. I see him at the top of the rise, then see an enemy HERC twice his size flank him. It opens up with two disruptor cannons and my wingman is finished, both legs buckling as he falls, then disintegrates in a ball of fire.
I can only watch for a moment, though, because artillery shells are raining down all around me, tearing holes half my height everywhere a shell hits. There is nothing to do now but try to get home alive; there is nothing left to save of my squad, and someone must make it back with the data or the mission will be for nothing. I almost make it. I have my base in sight when they catch me. A full volley of magneto-optical rockets lock on me despite my jammer and in seconds they slam into my HERC, shattering my cockpit and tearing me into a dozen pieces as the camera pulls back and away for a bird's-eye view of my demise.
Sounds pretty exciting, right? Well, it is. For an hour or two. Then it becomes pretty obvious that, like its predecessor Mechwarrior 2 from Activision, that this is basically another stomp-around-and-find-the-bad-guys, kill-'em, watch-'em-die, then-return-to-base-for-a-pat-on-the-back futuristic slugfest. Innovation? Well, OK, there is a flying Mech, er, HERC, but it drives like a '74 Pinto with the clutch going out. And that's about it. They did manage to make the HERC/Mech/big robot you drive really hard to control, and they did implement a heads-down display so you can watch your dashboard while accidentally walking into enemy targets, but unless you like those traits as some sort of stupid degree of difficulty, you'll quickly begin to wonder if the folks who designed the controls for this game aren't the same ones who thought that computers would always contain vacuum tubes.and last year's robot-slaughtering-robot megahit
Absolutely first-rate. No polygons here, great animation sequences, realistic fire, smoke, landscape, enemies, structures can all show damage. Sierra did a bang-up job here and if you liked MechWarrior, but wished it had more realistic graphics, this alone may be enough of a selling point for EarthSiege 2.
Pretty darn important when the game doesn't support multiplayer (the major drawback of EarthSiege 2, but I'll come back to that). The good news is that the computer opponents are good. They'll follow you if they see you're wounded and they'll break an attack and regroup behind their artillery or leave the field for the day if you have them badly beat up. The thing is, after a few successful missions when you hear your Malcolm McDowell-ish commander say "Great job out there, soldier. I wish we had more like you," you'll start to seriously wish that there were more out there like you. That is, human network or modem opponents. Failing to put this capability into a game of this genre should be a no-brainer. Note to Sierra, Activision, et. al.: Hello? Netplay? Modem support? Build it in ... as much for us as for your own continued success. Somebody? Anybody?
Well, I guess we'd better get used to using the full keyboard for most games these days. ES2 about doubles the number of keyboard commands of MechWarrior 2, and it had plenty to remember in the heat of battle. Suffice it to say that the learning curve for ES2's controls will get you killed a couple of times; on the other hand, there are some rote tasks (e.g downloading data from an enemy's computer center) that are automated once you reach the right building -- no need to target it, inspect it, etc. Overall, once I'd tweaked the configuration a bit, my SideWinder worked admirably (but man, the flying HERC was still a pain to control, as it didn't seem to want to let me use my joystick as a flight stick, but forced me to use the HAT switch to control my vertical movement, no mean task when you're taking fire from the air and ground at the same time.) Still, the flyer is a great addition to the otherwise ground-based HERCs, far better than temporary jump jets or the like, but limited by not allowing you to land, so there's a tradeoff to be sure. When are we going to see a mech-based game that allows you to start out in a walker, jump up and fly, then land and go out first-person hunting against other soldiers when the mission calls for it? Maybe.
EarthSiege 2 adds in an interesting model for customization: when you win a battle, your ground forces go out and salvage the remains of the enemy HERCs, giving you additional steel and weaponry. You also gain the ability to scrap existing HERCs to build other models. The selection of weapons to outfit your HERC is adequate, although there's nothing too special here -- just a standard assortment of long- and short-range beam and missile weapons. Reduced to its elements, though, these are just higher octane versions of sticks and stones. They all make the other guys blow up; your defensive jammers and missiles sort of work, but they might as well just give you extra shielding, as this is all the defensive weapons accomplish.
Windows 95, 486 w/VLB, 8 MB RAM, 2X CD-ROM drive, mouse, SVGA, 16 MB hard drive space
Despite its shortcomings, EarthSiege 2 is quite a bit of fun. It's not substantially different from the original EarthSiege, except, of course, more advanced. It's also not substantially different from MechWarrior 2, but it does add some nice touches that were obviously missing from MechWarrior. Without human-vs.-human capability though, I really can't enthusiastically recommend this game unless you love this genre. The missions and scenarios are nicely varied within the limited imagination of the game's storyline (that is, there are some nice scenery changes), as are the HERCs you can pilot. The music is OK at best (a letdown from the gorgeous opening score of MechWarrior 2, though) and the acting of General I-forget-his-name is repetitive. Couldn't they have filmed, say, five or six more phrases for him to say after a good mission? It looks like there was certainly room on the CD for it.
If they get around to adding network play, add another 8-10 points onto the score, depending on how well they carry it off. One-player games went out with the coin-ops and the Atari 2600s. As the writers for The Six Million Dollar Man said: "We have the technology."