|a game by||Microforum|
MechCommander, the fourth installment in the MechWarrior-series, although the first by Microprose, is also the first to take the Mechwarrior series back to its roots as a tactical-level strategy game. The creators of the ‘Mech universe, FASA, chose to go with Microprose and their time-tested skill with such strategy classics as Sid Meier’s Civilization and rather than with the more action-oriented approach of previous licensee Activision, who spun off their own ‘mech-themed Heavy Gear earlier this year to less-than-stellar reviews.
The decision to return, more or less, to the roots of the FASA game structure is quite well carried off in MechCommander, although perhaps a bit too much so for gamers used to the more lenient battle structure of the Command and Conquer style of strategy games. Although MechCommander is a real-time strategy title, it maintains enough of the tactical level decisions such as Mech loadouts, pilot skills and support vehicle selection to be both an intriguing mix and at times a frustrating real-time experience, as there is at least as much tuning and tweaking of units in this game as there is fighting.
If you’re a fan of the original turn-based die and hex board Mechwarrior games from FASA, I think you’ll feel right at home with MechCommander and will likely think it deserves a higher score than 83. However, I feel that it is more important and honest to the gaming community in general to put MechCommander in context with its 1998 competitors than to compare it to a completely different gaming genre. Having said that, I think MechCommander unquestionably ranks at the top of its Mech-themed competition, while not quite standing up with the cream of the crop in the real-time strategy crowd.
Much as in Mechwarrior and Mechwarrior 2, the action centers around two distant-future clans at war with one another for dominance of a handful of planets. Unlike its predecessors, though, MechCommander puts you in charge of a whole squadron of Mechs, rather than as the solo pilot of a Mech taking on missions from a first-person perspective.
The tactical level mix of pre-mission decisions and Mech construction works well to set the tone of your role as squadron commander—in fact, during the missions you not only assign drop zones for your teams of mechwarriors, you can call in air strikes, reconnaissance flights, etc. to back up your troops.
The missions themselves, however, are extremely rigid, and can often seem nearly impossible to defeat until you’ve tried 20 different approaches and strategies. The first time you succeed in figuring out the key sequence of orders and movements, this can be very rewarding, but after coming up against three or four consecutive missions that have to replayed time and again before some minor nuance of terrain or Mech loadouts occurs to you as the linchpin to success, you just want to shut the game down and move on to something a bit more balanced. In fact, the bulk of the criticisms I have heard are directed at the mission structure in single player mode—perhaps not a crippling factor to a game, but certainly one that the designers may want to consider when creating mission packs or subsequent installations in the series.
Overall, MechCommander makes a worthwhile addition to any gamer’s library who enjoys real-time strategy and is looking for a new challenge—you won’t play through this one in a couple of days, and even if you somehow manage to, there is a real challenge awaiting you in the multiplayer realm of MechCommander.
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