MechWarrior Mercenaries

a game by Activision
Platform: PC
Editor Rating: 8/10, based on 1 review
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Overview

The birth of the Star League ushered in mankind's Golden Age. The death of the Star League's First Lord in 2751 began a devastating battle for succession that even General Aleksandr Kerensky, leader of the Star League army, was powerless to stop. When Kerensky fled the Inner Sphere with the bulk of his troops, the ruling Houses launched an epic-scale conflict that soon threatened to destroy centuries' worth of technological knowledge.

The year is now 3039. Millions of people have died in the brutal power struggles known as the Succession Wars, and the five Houses of the Successor States continue to press their claims to supremacy: The Federated Suns, the Lyran Commonwealth, the Draconis Combine, the Free Worlds League and the Capellan Confederation. War has become a way of life.

The current climate of war makes it financially beneficial to be a MechWarrior Mercenary who owns a BattleMech -- a commodity that becomes more valuable every day. The player must use wit and skill to survive as a mercenary, either by joining an existing unit or creating his own elite mercenary squad, then selling his services to the House that bids the highest. In the end, the player's combat expertise is put to the test at the Battle of Tukayyid.

Gameplay/Interface

For those who have played Mechwarrior 2 or its sequel, Ghost Bear's Legacy, there are not that many changes in gameplay or controls for the combat sequences. Most of the features that have been added are more for realism than for anything else. Since the game is a prequel to the original Mech 2, technology is not as advanced, and the game has more of a feel of gritty machinery and rusty joints, which is a good element in this game. Heat sinks do not absorb as much heat, and the ranges and damage for most weapons have been readjusted to the official specs of the original BattleMech designs.

In addition, things feel and play more realistically than in the earlier games. Gone are the days when a single long-range missile pack will take a mech's head off. Also, now when a mech loses a leg, it topples over (without exploding), and if it has jump jets it can pop back up into the action, sometimes even landing back on its remaining leg and keeping its balance. The same thing goes for your own mech. In fact, I once ended a mission without a leg, using only jump jets to hobble me humiliatingly back to the drop ship.

Another improved aspect of the game is the addition of an economic system, something that provided more involvement in the original MechWarrior, but was absent in the two previous sequels. As it is implemented, this system adds a great deal of involvement in the game, because everything you do hits you right in the wallet. No more coming back from a battle with no arms and half your weapons destroyed, only to repair everything without breaking a sweat (or the bank) back at the mech lab. This time, you have to fight for every stinkin' dollar you get, and you don't wanna be losing any pieces of hardware in the process. You buy every missile, bullet, and limb for your pretty little mech, and that makes you think twice the next time you send in your wingmen as cannon fodder, take a faceful of SRMs or spray the enemy with rockets just to get his attention. The best thing about it is that there is no micromanagement, and if you really hate having to deal with money there is an option that lets you play the game in the same fashion as Mech 2, in addition to a pretty fun "instant action" mode for all you adrenaline junkies.

Back at the base, you have to deal with the gritty details of commanding a troupe of mech mercenaries. You will have the option of hiring/firing mech pilots (whose mechs you've got to buy), as well as the more expensive Aerotech pilots, who provide their own jets. If you lose a pilot, you better hope that there is some good meat on the market this month, or you're stuck with Ernest T. Worrel as your copilot (knowhutahmean, Vern?). The mech customization is freshly new, and you have to buy all your equipment and mechs from arms dealers, who don't always have a lot of back supply and tend to vary their prices with the market. These factors help pull you into the role of a real mercenary, and make you care a whole lot more about what is happening to and around you. The one downer to this is that, upon winning the game, you are not allowed to continue with your mercenary empire. This means that if you want more action, it's back to starting from scratch unless you just want instant action.

Graphics & Audio

This element of the game has been greatly improved. A few months ago, screenshots from the new 3D-video card version of Mech 2 began running around the net, causing detail-starved action fans to salivate. The good news is that most of those features are bundled into the game (even for those of us without 3D video cards), but the bad news is that there is a sacrifice in speed. I played most of the original Mech 2 missions in 1024x768 mode with full detail and little slowdown, but found that even 640x480 was often taxing in the new version. However, you get a lot for the difference in speed, and there is always the option of toggling the new features on and off. In addition, the music is as haunting and as well done as that in Mech 2, with a slight edge of rock 'n roll thrown in to add some spice. Finally, sound effects are well produced and handled, and you will notice the next time a missile screams by you or a PPC slams you in the chest.

Improved texture mapping has been integrated into the game, giving mechs a more gritty, realistic feel, and providing the perception of actual terrain and surfaces. In addition, many other finer details have been added, including missile trails, shrapnel, dynamic lighting (launch a missile and see it really light up someone's life!), and many other effects. The result is certainly a good one, since there is not a significant visual difference between high and medium resolution, but users with lower end computers will find themselves eating chunky mech video soup straight from the can.

Documentation

Although some of it was interesting, I was disappointed in the documentation. If you dig, you can find some specs in the manual and some more buried in a text file on the CD, but I wanted a real manual. What you really get is a CD sleeve booklet with installation and troubleshooting instructions, along with a recruitment manual that is meant to be a cheesy promotion/guide to a mercenary academy and gives you minimal information about how to play. I want specs on weapons, mechs and other equipment. I want a real manual -- the kind that you actually turn to for information on how to play the game and which weapons to spring for, not a cute manual to chuckle over while on the potty. While the manual was not amateurish, it was disappointing and I expect more than this for my $50.

Enemy AI

This is another factor that has been greatly enhanced in Mercenaries. Enemies no longer run around like chickens with their heads cut off. They execute coordinated attacks, and have gotten much better at leading moving targets. In fact, you will find that many traditional tactics, such as the "death from above" and "circle of death," are much more difficult to perform on the enemy; instead he will be using them on you. Although the autopilot is still just about as brainless as it has ever been, enemies are much better and the degree of variance in the skill level of a recruit enemy and a trained killer is astounding. Kudos to Activision for giving us more of a challenge without just adding more bad guys. This is a definite improvement over the original.

Multiplayer

MechWarrior Mercenaries contains the NetMerc networking software that was originally packaged separately from the original Mech 2, allowing for plenty of deathmatching action after all the missions are complete. The game comes with not only 8-player LAN multiplayer capabilities, but also software for hosting and playing games over the Internet, all free of charge. This is another attractive feature in the game, and one that will keep me hooked.

Bugs/Patches

The one area where the initial version of this game really sucks in is the bug department. In fact, MechWarrior Mercenaries is the Roach Motel of games. Although I did not notice many of the bugs early in the game, later on I started to wonder if someone had drugged my computer. Mechs magically lost weight over time, and when they reached a negative weight they would explode. In addition, ammo would magically appear until a single Mech had thousands of missiles on a single arm, and firing one of them would crash the game. Leaving the CD out of the drive allows you to win (and subsequently skip) every mission without even touching down. Even more annoyingly, there are several missions that you cannot finish (you just run around under the waiting dropship with no enemies; I guess the pilot fell asleep at the wheel). Also, even though the manual and the game itself mention the existence and use of an "engine" button on the configuration screen, I never found one no matter how hard I searched. Maybe I'm just stupid, but I have the feeling that it's not me that screwed up.

However, the true redeeming charm here is that within a couple of weeks after release, Activision came forward with a patch that addresses practically all the above bugs. The one drawback is that when you apply the patch, all your non-standard mechs lose their customizations and revert to their default configurations. Personally, I would refuse to buy this game unless it is either v1.05 or above, or you are willing to add the patch as soon as you get the product. The bugs in this game are so glaring that I almost gave up on it two-thirds of the way through, because the game had become practically unplayable. I have no idea who decided the game was ready for release, because even one run through the game by the most amateur tester would have yielded the white flag of surrender. There is no way to play the original version of the game without being amazed by the severity of the bugs. This product as first shipped was not ready for release by any means, and it can't even be fairly called a beta release. However, if you start the newer version of the game (without the bugs) the true quality shines through. This game is everything that Mech 2 was, and more.

System Requirements

Official System Requirements: Win 95 or MS-DOS 5.0+, 486-DX2/66 or above, 8 MB RAM, 45 MB hard drive space, sound card, 2X CD-ROM drive.

Realistic System Requirements: MS-DOS 5.0+, Pentium processor, 16 MB RAM, 100 MB hard drive space, sound card, 4X CD-ROM drive

Bottom Line

I love this game. I hated this game. The only difference is that "hated" is past-tense and refers to all the annoying bugs that infested an otherwise good product. The improvements in the game are well done, installation is easy, it runs under both Win 95 and DOS (although the former is noticeably slower), and allows a good deal of user customization. The non-linear gameplay and variety of missions were very fun, and all-in-all I thought the game was excellent, especially for the avid MechWarrior fan. The hands-on economic model and "fight for your supper" aspect was well-done, and I felt every customization and bullet hole right in the wallet.

This is a game that I will keep for a good while, and look forward to playing it again. I feel that even in its single-play mode it has a great deal of replayability, and the LAN and TCP/IP multiplayer features add to that. The graphics were great, sound was improved, and the overall gritty feel to the game made for a lot of atmosphere. MechWarrior Mercenaries is a great addition to the series, and I would like to score it above 90, ranking it as an instant classic -- however, I have not forgotten how much this game pissed me off in its unpatched state. There is absolutely no excuse for releasing a game this buggy, so I give it an 87, which is still a very good score and one that it earns in both senses of the term. If you are a mech fan or enjoy 3D action, this game is a must. However, if anyone tries to sell you anything other than v1.05 or above of the software, either prepare to patch the game before you even play it a single time or just walk away. This game in its complete patched form is a rocking mech game and a welcome addition to the series. I highly recommend it and must congratulate the team at Activision for a very entertaining (although initially buggy) product.

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