Developer: Day One Studios
Release Date: December 28, 2004
The mechwarrior series of games goes back among some of the oldest series of games around now, has seen simulation, real-time strategy, and even some action as a failed MMO. Whichever the genre, it’s hard to argue against simply how cool giant walking tanks bristling with firepower are, whether they are blasting each other with armament or tearing substantially large holes in a cityscape. The original MechAssault title was an excellent example of how versatile the basic gameplay of Mechwarrior could be, foregoing the deep simulations favored by most of the games in the series and instead making the game a fast-paced shooter, viewed only in a third-person viewpoint of all things. Regardless, it took your average gamer very short amounts of time before picking up MechAssault and blowing holes in whatever tickled their fancy.
MechAssault 2 is largely the same beast as the original game, only with a facelift, some new toys, and somehow even more chaotic destruction and mayhem. Just as from before, the player can pilot a variety of mechs, each carrying three weapons classes, a unique special ability, and some come equipped with jump jets to temporarily get airborne. The weapons range from homing missiles to machine guns, puny lasers to powerful PPC cannons, and each serve a distinct role. Missiles are excellent to use against fast-moving enemies at long range, while machine guns and regular lasers are great against infantry and other weaker targets. The special abilities are such things as temporary cloaking or protection against laser weapons, skills that can easily turn the tide of a tough battle.
One big change to the formula is the addition of BattleArmor, a puny powered suit with all of two weapons and significantly less armor than a mech. However, BattleArmor is incredibly versatile, thanks to its fast movement speed, mortar, and claw. The mortar works incredibly well for picking off enemies from behind a short building or hill, especially when upgraded. The claw serves a dual purpose, the first being that of allowing the BattleArmor to cling to a wall to let its jump jets cool down. Using the claw, any building can be scaled to gain an advantage, but of course that building could just as easily be crumbled down by your adversary. The claw can also be used to latch onto the back of an enemy mech, at which point you can engage a hack attempt. Hacking involved pressing a random assortment of buttons at the right time, the success of which hotwires the pilot's ejection seat and flings him out of the cockpit. The BattleArmor may be fun, but it's never a bad idea to trade up into something with a bit more power behind it.
Another addition to the mix is drivable tanks, which are a good deal larger than what MechAssault fans are used to. Tanks are also much more durable, though still not too high of a threat against mechs. Still, in the single player campaign, you not only steal a tank from a group of dimwitted guards but can proceed to run them over with it and then blast their friends apart, which is a nice change of pace, to say the least. A much more prominent addition to the pilotable vehicles roster is the VTOL, which serves many purposes. As an attack vehicle, the VTOL isn’t too powerful, but its shining point is that it can transport mechs and BattleArmor through the air and across enemy lines. While attached to a VTOL, guns are almost impossible to overheat, which makes seeing a VTOL with a full load flying overhead similar to that of seeing a dropship full of heavies in Starsiege: Tribes, either a sight to rally behind or that of impending doom, depending on what side you’re on. VTOLs also have the ability to drop upgrades and armor to resupply friendly mechs and tanks.
The graphics in MechAssault 2 really serve to pull the gamer into the action and to bring the explosions and special effects to life. Hard lighting effects give laser fire and the glow from explosions a very nice touch, while there is nothing else that can be said about the way damaged mechs give off sparks and plumes of smoke as they limp away from the withering fire from your mechs weapon bays. A new effect can be seen accompanying the explosion of mechs, which temporarily "sucks in" the player's perception of the area, followed by strong jolts of electricity arcing between the destroyed mech's parts. Weapon fire such as the laser effects and the missile smoke trails all look suitably awesome, but the real show of the FX department is the way buildings crumble. When buildings take one too many mortars, they collapse much more realistically than they did in MechAssault, this time not only falling over as they shudder and break apart, but you can also watch slabs of glass and concrete fall down and shatter on the pavement below. The in-engine cutscenes look very good, with a strong attention of detail given to characters such as dirty smudges on their faces after a battle or wearing different equipment.
The sounds in MechAssault 2 are shaping up well, with only one rough spot to really note. Weapon sounds are all very crisp and distinct, but not unlike the graphics side of things, the sounds that accompany explosions and crumbling buildings by far take the cake. The music in the game could use a little love, as it seems a bit too much like generic, uninspired rock anthems, but on the other hand, there have been far worse tracks of music heard in far worse games. However, in our preview build, we did encounter glitches in the sound engine that caused audible popping noises to come from the speakers. Still, one can fully expect such problems to be ironed out by the time gamers will get their hands on the title.
MechAssault was praised not only for its fairly faithful representation of the BattleTech universe, but also for its signature action elements and the simple satisfaction in blowing holes in buildings to view their inner walls and structure. MechAssault 2 is cast in that very same vein, only now with a much better engine, some new toys to play with, a multiplayer component with much more room for coordinated teamplay, and even better building damage and explosions. There are few things quite as fun as engaging in heated mech-versus-mech combat in the middle of a bustling city, watching the ordinance of the enemy miss you and blow a hole in a skyscraper behind you as you plant a pair of missiles into him while he strafes too far and smashes a mark in a business building. If destruction, explosions, and full-out combat between giant metal machines is your thing, MechAssault 2 should definitely be on your "To buy" list as it nears its ship date.