MechWarrior 4: Vengeance

a game by Microsoft
Platform: PC
Rating: 7/10

Overview

"Your father murdered. Your world overrun. Take command... and... reclaim your bloodright." With those words, a new story in the battletech universe is born. In MechWarrior 4: Vengeance, you play the estranged son of a House Davion noble, returned from the Clan wars to find your home overrun by House Steiner troops, seeking to capture your planet for their own gain. With most of your family killed in the fighting, it's up to you and your uncle to take back your home planet by force and restore your family to the throne.

If most of those terms don’t make much sense, don’t worry. Only diehard fans of MechWarrior or Battletech (the tabletop miniature game upon which MechWarrior is based) would be able to easily keep up with this backstory. However, the game feeds this information to you in small doses and usually manages to prevent you from being overloaded. When you’re actually ready to go off to the fight, you’ll engage in a series of challenging engagements, with one of twenty-six different mechs, some never seen before in the series.

Gameplay, Controls, Interface

MechWarrior 4 has an intuitive control interface that is reminiscent of previous MechWarrior titles, but greatly simplified -- using the joystick as the primary command interface provides you with target acquisition, fire control, and movement controls. As usual, the torso twist is an ever-important feature, allowing you to track your opponent and deliver fire while on the run. Essentially a very complex first person shooter, MechWarrior 4 is the first mech game of this style that has better control when playing in the 3rd person perspective. The first time you see your mech torso twisted, weaving between buildings, incinerating other mechs, you’ll never go back.

The same interface is used for both single player and multiplayer engagements, and it provides rough but easy-to-use lance management and tactical map features. Selecting your map and lancemates is as easy as using drop down boxes for assignment, and you can quickly enter the mechlab to modify anyone’s mech. Overall, the best aspect of this interface is that it pre-loads enough of the mission during your briefing that launching the game itself only requires a few seconds worth of load time.

Graphics

From the first moment you see a mech jaunting down a street, you’ll understand why MechWarrior 4 is so impressive. Never before could I have said that a mech jaunted. Or strolled. Or paced. Mechs walked and occasionally ran, usually in a way similar to an arthritic stick figure that had played a mean game of pigskin in his college years. When I say that a mech running in this game is a thing of beauty, I make no exaggeration.

Along with excellent motion and physics, the developers of MechWarrior 4: Vengeance have also created a host of excellent graphics features. Beam weapons lance out with a bright shaft of light and individual missiles leap from their respective launchers. The mechs themselves have not been left out, each one with a highly detailed model (which can easily be scaled down for less powerful computers) and several different paint schemes available.

Cutscenes:

The cutscenes in MechWarrior 4 are separated into two categories. First are the grand, sweeping, full screen cinematics, that usually tell more about the story and overall scope of the world, rather than portraying the struggle from the character viewpoint. The other animations are small two inch by two inch animations that portray your command staff and mechwarriors, as they report to you for mission briefings or short, poignant discussions.

MechWarrior 4 starts off strong, with a cinematic cutscene that tells a story of betrayal, loss, and heroism in the face of insurmountable odds. As that cutscene leads into the in-game briefings, you’ll be treated to some decent acting, a rare thing in a PC title. The further the plot proceeds, however, the poorer the quality of these cutscenes and the acting involved becomes, eventually resulting in perhaps one of the most disappointing game ending cinematics I’ve ever seen.

Audio

Unfortunately, the music in MechWarrior 4 is just not as stirring as the soundtracks from previous games. Obviously not one of the strong foci for the game, it has been relegated to only a small part, often times repetitive enough to deserve being turned off.

The sound effects in the game do deserve some credit, as they’ve quite probably created the most convincing heavy weapons sounds ever heard in a MechWarrior game. And, without a doubt, hearing the thundering ‘thump-thump-thump’ of a mech goes along way in creating a suspension of disbelief.

System Requirements

PII 300mhz, Win95/98/ME/2K, 64MB RAM (96MB for Win2k), 4x CD-ROM, 500MB HD Space, 8MB 3D Video card, and a Sound Card.

Reviewed On: AMD K6/2 400mhz, Win98, 64MB RAM, 4GB HD, Diamond Viper V700U, Creative Labs Soundblaster AWE 64, and a 24x CD-ROM.

Documentation

Once again we’ve seen the resurrection of the MechWarriors Handbook, a familiar site for any fan of battletech computer games, which lays out the game instructions as if they were an actual handbook discussing the operation, maintenance, and upgrade of your battlemech.

Room For Improvement

Although the mechlab gives a user an attractive drag and drop interface with which to create their mechs, it limits the design flexibility of the original battletech rules. Given that each weapon takes between one and three mounting spaces, and the mounting spaces on the mech can only accept certain types of weapons, it can sometimes take a lot of monkeying to get your battlemech just right. An added frustration is the lack of optional components (like MASC), and the inability to change your mechs internal structure.

Bottom Line

Always an enjoyable series, MechWarrior 4 lives up to the reputation of its forefathers, with new graphics, physics, and some of the most realistic movement ever seen from a mech game. Although the single player campaign is a little disappointing, the multiplayer features and fabulous gameplay, combined with stunning visuals, make MechWarrior 4 nearly an instant classic.

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