I’ll be honest. I played the hell out of MechAssault. I beat the single player in, let’s say about 3 and a half minutes, and then moved on to lay waste to hundreds of cocky bastards in their inferior mechs online. I played the hell out of it. Once I saw the first screenshots for MechAssault 2, I couldn’t help but try to imagine how vehicles and battle armor would change the tide of battle. I was caught completely unaware by just how different this game feels from the first, and I don’t know if I could be happier with the feel of the game at E3 this year.
The first thing I noticed (since I jumped into a game halfway through a multiplayer match) was that the mechs just ‘feel’ larger. They move slower and the surroundings just seem to emphasize how enormous the battlemechs really are. Of course, you aren’t trapped in a mech like you were in the last game. The idea is best told by Rick Ryan, the Microsoft-side Project Lead:
“If you played the original MechAssault®, I’m sure you remember the Mad Cat. Yes, the Mad Cat, lying helpless on a transport trailer, while you stomped in to liberate it from the Word of Blake. Support vehicles surrounded it like stinging gnats, and while your ride was more than capable of wreaking destruction all over your enemies’ lame little convoy, all you wanted was that heavy ‘mech. It was right there for the taking … but you couldn’t actually have it.
Even after the convoy’s guards were just smoking hulks, all you could do was look at that high-powered beauty and dream. Your ship’s engineer got his first spin behind the controls of a bipedal tank, while you covered his sorry butt all the way home. Cursing.
It’s hardware envy, plain and simple.
Fortunately, somebody at FASA obviously wanted that Mad Cat, too. In MechAssault® 2: The Lone Wolf™, vehicular greed is practically a survival skill. You’re no longer just the invisible pilot of a single ‘mech, you’re a power-suited ‘mech pirate who can “liberate” any two-legged or wheeled transport that isn’t bolted down. How sweet is that?”
The addition of non-mech weapon platforms changes the game in new and exciting ways. There are a lot of interviews and random sites with tons of info, so I’m going to focus more on the gameplay mechanics that I got to experience first hand. They have changed the mission briefings to incredibly detailed in-game cut scenes and you no longer get a chance to pick your mech for the mission (as of E3 time at least). The missions in single player will be much longer and feature much more team-based NPC interaction.
The mission that I got to see started with the player in the power armor, destroying all the vehicles and troops while jetting away from mechs. Then he found a huge tank and jumped out of his power armor and into the tank. The developers have been struggling to find a way to balance vehicles with tanks, and I think they’ve done a great job. The tank I got to use had duel gauss rifles (which are freaking awesome, more on those later) and could definitely lay the hurt down. Of course, once a mech got close the tank was dead. The tank’s main advantages were that it can cloak and that it is pretty fast and mobile. They will definitely have their place in both single and multiplayer.
The next vehicle I used was the VTOL (Vertical Take Off/Landing), a very interesting vehicle indeed. It can pick up power-ups and distribute those as the pilot sees fit, power-ups and bombs alike. It is a quick little bugger and it quote maneuverable due to the rotating engines on its wings. For weapons it has rockets, not missiles, but rockets. It fires either 6 or 8 of them (sorry, was too busy playing to count). They don’t do as much damage apiece as LRMs, but they fire from about the same range and they track which is nice when you can just pop above a building, fire a few salvos, then duck and run. The most useful aspect of the VTOL, however, is probably its ability to carry either a tank or two suits of battle armor. This means that you can jet reinforcements quickly into battle or around the battle to help relieve teammates.
The last ‘vehicle’ that I got a chance to use was the BattleArmor. I don’t know if any of you have every played BattleTech, the intellectual precursor to the MechWarrior and MechAssault series, but BattleArmor (or Elementals) were kind of useless. They had to attack in ‘points’ (5 suits) and the only thing they could do was swarm you and basically peel off your armor. Well, they’ve got a brand new trick in this game and it is such a huge factor that gameplay will never be the same again. If a suit of BattleArmor can jump behind a mech, they can latch onto it and cause the pilot to eject, leaving the mech open for them to jump out of their armor and into the pilot seat of a much larger weapon.
As BattleArmor, when you start the hijacking, a little mini-game starts, where you have to hit the buttons shown as quickly and accurately as possible. The pilot of the mech is given the same screen in an attempt to foil the hostile takeover. If the pilot wins, the BattleArmor gets ejected and lays stunned for several seconds, which is basically the end of that life. If the BattleArmor wins, the pilot gets ejected (and dies), the mech shuts down and the BattleArmor is free to jump out of his suit and climb the ladder to a bigger predator. The BattleArmor, while decently powerful against tanks, other BattleArmor, and normal people that don’t have the benefit of a ton of armor and weapons. Tanks can take out BattleArmor if they get a chance to actually shoot at them and mechs can decimate armor if they see them in time. While small, the threat they pose to mechs is still very, very great.
In one of the multiplayer games I played, I was running around in the VTOL, stealing powerups from the enemy and dropping them off for my teammates when one of the enemy Madcats finally got fed up and came after me. I was doing fine until he finally got me with a PPC shot and my mobility dropped. All of a sudden, two suits of BattleArmor from my team came jumping over the hill beside me and began attacking the Madcat. The only thing I could think of was the movie Dumbo when a mouse runs out into the circus and all of the elephants start freaking out. The Madcat immediately stopped shooting at me and turned to run away from my teammates. They caught him in short order and jacked his mech right out from underneath him. This scene repeated itself through all of the games (myself included once, although I shot the armor, didn’t run), mechs having to break off duels and just accept the shots from their enemies while they tried to deal with the little suit of BattleArmor.
The BattleArmor is balanced due to the fact that it is weak, but can take down a much larger enemy without ever firing a shot. It can also cling to surfaces using its claw, which allows it to climb huge buildings that it otherwise couldn’t reach via its jumpjets. Weapon-wise, it finds itself lacking compared to its big brothers, but it can still hurt things. It has an arm mounted laser (which can be upgraded), a machine gun, and a mortar. The mortar is the real weapon, as you can lob it quite far and it can actually hurt mechs.
New vehicles aside, the game features a few new … features. Buildings now fall in stages, much more than they did in the first game. The outer shell will fall away, leaving a bit of the skeleton of the building, which can be destroyed as well (of course). The graphics have gotten a nice upgrade, especially the weapon effects. The PPCs are now much more energetic looking and the gauss rifle leaves a beautiful ripple/distortion trail that makes me happy. In the first game, people learned very quickly that you don’t get close to a mech that is dying. In the second game, they have upgraded the mech explosion a bit and it is incredible. You can see a spherical ripple expand with the explosion, which will actually rock tanks and mechs and toss BattleArmor. All in all, I was very, very impressed with this game. The Day:1 guys really seem to have been inspired when they started creating the sequel and I don’t think that anyone who plays this game will be disappointed.