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Xbox Preview - 'MechAssault 2: Lone Wolf'

by Corey Owen on May 19, 2004 @ 3:27 a.m. PDT

"MechAssault 2: Lone Wolf" continues the massive destructible environments, intense combat and addictive online multiplayer gameplay that gamers have been praising since "MechAssault" first hit Xbox. Continuing in the 31st century, "MechAssault 2" allows gamers to encounter entirely new experiences in the epic BattleTech world. This third-person action/shooter game defines immense destruction taken to another level, as each environment in the game's five worlds is fully destructible.

Genre: Action
Developer : Day 1 Studios
Publisher : Microsoft
Release Date : January 30, 2005

When you play games day in and day out, every day, year after year, it takes a really special game to make you say, "Wow." Mechassault 2: Lone Wolf is that game. Instead of improving one or two of the things that made the first Mechassault so great, they decided to make all of them better. The focus of the game is vastly different from its predecessor, but they managed to keep intact everything that was so fun about the original. From the moment you step foot into the new and improved world of Mechassault, the immense upgrades become apparent. So without further ado, allow me to introduce you to the next level in Mech gaming.

Lone Wolf takes an approach to Mech gaming that has never really been explored before. This time around, it is all about the pilot and how he experiences the world with these massive metal giants. What this means to gamers is a more immersive gameplay experience where you can get out of your Mech and run around freely as the pilot. For the first time ever, you really feel the scale and power of these huge beasts. In addition to being able to jump out of the Mechs, FASA has also added several new vehicle types for you to control, including tanks, Battle Armor, and VTOLs.

The tank is a fairly fast mode of transportation with some devastating abilities. Its primary weapon is a dual gauss rifle the delivers a mighty punch. For the close quarters battles, it comes equipped with a machine gun. Couple these weapons with the ability to cloak, and you have one lethal combination. Its defenses aren't nearly as durable as the Mechs', so it's best if you can use the tanks from afar. There may be other tanks available in the final build as well.

The Battle Armor looks like a miniature Mech that you slip into like a suit. This bad boy has a lot of ingenious abilities and plays a huge role in Mechassault 2, its weaponry consisting of a single laser and a mortar. The laser isn't very useful against the Mechs, but it can be used in a pinch. The mortar, however, is much more useful and can be used to rid yourself of campers, as well as backing up your teammates in battle and taking out base defenses. Since the Armor is so small compared to a Mech, you can hide on the battlefield and send mortars into the enemies' base to try and draw out the defense. That is not the end of the Battle Armor's abilities, though. Arguably the most potent of its assets is the ability to jack an enemy's Mech. By flying up to the back of an enemy and pressing A, you will latch onto its back. From this position, you must enter in a series of button combinations as they appear on the screen. If you perform this quick enough, you will eject the pilot from his Mech, allowing you to take it over if you choose. You can also latch on to your teammate's Mech to hitch a ride into battle. This adds a huge amount of strategy because you can disengage and jack an enemy Mech while he is distracted without him ever knowing you were there.

The Battle Armor also has a claw built into it, allowing you to scale even the tallest buildings. This is yet another strategic element of the game because it gives you access to places the Mechs are unable to reach, in addition to giving you a vantage point from which to see inbound enemies. Finally, the Battle Armor has the ability to latch onto a VTOL, which can rapidly move troops in and out of battle. The VTOL is essentially a helicopter capable of air lifting either a tank or 2 Battle Armors to any location on the map. While the Battle Armor is hitching a ride, it can fire down on enemy troops or disengage at any time to enter the fray. The VTOL can also air lift up to four supplies, like health and power ups, into battle, but it also comes equipped with rocket launchers and can carry up to four bombs to drop on unsuspecting foes.

Now that you know about the new additions the developers have made to the game, you might be wondering about the actual gameplay. Well, in single player ,I was able to see part of two levels where many of the new features were demonstrated. One thing that instantly stood out to me was the level of immersion that Lone Wolf creates. When you are running around on foot with a 200-ton behemoth stomping around you, things can get quite intense. Being in the Battle Armor still gives you the incredible sense of scale that this game offers. Even in the Mechs, you feel the size of the world has grown; the buildings are much larger now and can take more of a beating so they play a greater role in gameplay than ever before. Now you really feel like the world is to scale because your Mech is no longer as tall or taller than most of the buildings. One of the other great improvements they have made is the story. In the original Mechassault, there was a decent storyline, but it was quickly forgotten in favor of the excellent multiplayer. This go round, they are hoping for a much more memorable single player campaign with rich cinematics and memorable gameplay moments. One other aspect that really impressed me is the transition from cinematic to gameplay. In the original, there was basically a movie that faded to black, and you appeared on the field of battle. This time around, how you get to the battlefield is part of the cinematic which keeps you engaged in the story.

Multiplayer is what made the original Mechassault the most popular Live game to date, and it is sure to make Lone Wolf just as popular. Mechassault 2 focuses much more on the team aspect of the game, and strategy, teamwork, and excellent communication are needed in order to succeed. You are no longer able to choose a Mech before entering battle; instead, when a map starts, several Mechs, as well as tanks and VTOLs are scattered around your base. You are also able to go to a Battle Armor generation pad and procure some for yourself. Depending on the map, different Mechs will be available at the start, and it is up to you to communicate with your teammates about who will take which vehicle into combat. This idea is totally foreign in a Mech game and is a welcome addition because this type of gameplay forces you to become good with all of the vehicles instead of getting comfortable with only one.

The final stop on our tour is the graphics department, another area which has been improved in every possible way. The Mechs all support more detail than ever before: bump mapping over every square inch as well as improved textures make these beasts an impressive sight to see. The weather system looks fantastic, with incredible rain and water effects, and all of the weapon effects have been redone to look even more realistic than before. The gauss rifle now leaves a Matrix-style bullet trail in the air, rockets leave smoke trails, and the PPC has a new electrical effect that's sure to please. Buildings take more realistic damage now: when you hit an area of a building, you can actually punch through it and see to the other side. There is also two-stage destruction, where the outer shell will fall and leave a burning inside, which still follows the localized damage system. This inside will burn and decay over time or can also be destroyed by further attacks. Finally, the lighting is simply a sight to behold. When you use an energy weapon, you can see dynamic lighting on the ground as it flies across the terrain. Building fires and streetlights are also dynamically lit. Obviously, a lot of work went into beefing up the engine to create an awesome gameplay experience.

Overall, I was impressed with everything the FASA and Day 1: Studios team has done. I loved the first game, and this one looks to make fans of the original very happy. The single player should be a blast with memorable characters and an engrossing story line. Multiplayer will simply rock your world when Lone Wolf hits shelves in January 2005. Keep checking back for more info about multiplayer modes, maps, Mechs, and everything else MechAssault over the coming months.

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