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Xbox Review - 'MechAssault 2: Lone Wolf'

by Corey Owen on Jan. 7, 2005 @ 1:22 a.m. PST

In MechAssault 2: Lone Wolf gamers will be able to step outside the 'Mech and live the life of a human pilot in a fresh new single player game. Tanks, VTOLs and BattleArmor will offer players plenty of opportunities to rain destruction on their opposition in both single and multiplayer games.

Genre: Action
Publisher: Microsoft
Developer: Day 1 Studios
Release Date: December 28, 2004

Buy 'MECH ASSAULT 2: Lone Wolf': Xbox

The original MechAssault was a mech game for people who don't like mech games. Even those for whom the idea of piloting their own giant robot weapon holds no special appeal, such as myself (the "Giant Robot" part of my gamer brain is apparently missing, presumably replaced by an unusually large "Shooting Zombies" lobe), could have fun with it.

If you can't enjoy knocking down buildings, launching missiles at enemy mechs, or stomping unwise enemy infantry into a fine paste, then you may actually be dead, and MechAssault delivered all these things in spades, both online and off.
Now there is MechAssault II: Lone Wolf, a sequel that doesn't try to fix what isn't broken. You are again put into the role of the nameless MechWarrior, bouncing from planet to planet and war to war in search of the participants in an unknown conspiracy. Naturally, this will require you to blow people up.

First off: MechAssault II looks one whole hell of a lot better than the original. I guess there are more polygons or something, I don't know. Ask somebody else. What I do know is that everything is bigger, faster, and smoother, with no hint of slowdown. Whether you're dogfighting a single enemy Mad Dog or you're under fire from an entire base's worth of mechs and tanks, everything remains crisp, clear, and fast. This includes the game's driving metal soundtrack, which is a bit repetitive but fits the onscreen action like a glove.

The biggest change to the game play is that you can now get out of your mech. Instead of being trapped inside your starting armor for the entire level, you can and often have to jump outside and grab a new ride.

You'll drive over thirty different vehicles over the course of the game. Most of these are, of course, giant rolling death robots, but you'll also be able to jump into tanks, planes, gun turrets, and a personal armored suit. A couple of missions even require you to stay on foot to sneak into enemy territory, with only a few demolition charges to defend yourself with, or to steal enemy battlemechs. If you can input a fast button combination while you're clinging to a mech with the suit's climbing claw, you can force its pilot to eject and hijack the mech.

The singleplayer Campaign mode's surprisingly involved, albeit a bit on the short side, and contains more plot than you might expect; while it's all a thin justification for blowing things sky-high, it's a particularly compelling justification. However, like a lot of games, MechAssault II was designed to provide a multiplayer experience first, and the singleplayer mode was apparently something of an afterthought. It's by no means bad; this isn't the kind of phoned-in singleplayer you find in something like Crystal Chronicle, where it's an unapologetic waste of time.

Campaign Mode can be a lot of fun, but it’s mostly a training ground where you can learn and master a great number of the game's new quirks, like stealing mechs or going up against enemy forces into a VTOL fighter jet. On the other hand, you'll also find yourself blatantly outgunned and outnumbered half the time; armies of constantly respawning tanks, small battle groups of up to seven mechs, and having to take on heavy armored columns while you're in a VTOL or a turret are fairly standard fare as you get into the later levels.

Some stages are roughly comparable to being thrown headlong into a gravel crusher, with your mech taking heavy fire from all sides and barely able to retaliate in kind. Campaign mode's all right, but it is not always designed for humans.

This game is all about the multiplayer, and this game's got it in spades. As in the original, you can simply go to optimatch, find the gametype of your choosing, and launch into battle. You’ve got your standard Destruction, team Destruction, Capture the Flag, and Last Man Standing modes, as well as some newcomers like Base War, where you must destroy the generator in the opposing team's base while simultaneously defending your own. In addition to this “standard multiplayer” component, Day One has added Conquest mode, in which you must choose one of the five houses in the game and attempt to wipe the remaining four houses from the face of the galaxy. This is a great new feature that borrows somewhat from Halo 2, in that you must master all types of play if your team is to be successful. Every planet has its own rules that you must play by, so if you are good at CTF but horrible at Destruction, you might be in for some trouble.

The presentation in Conquest is quite nice with a main page that looks similar to a stock ticker. This ticker constantly updates with information like what planets of yours are under attack, what planets are ripe for the taking, as well as all houses current galaxy possession percentage. They make it very easy for you to find a planet that needs defense or one that needs reinforcements to crush the enemy. Unfortunately its once you get into the lobby that the problems start. Unlike almost every other game, where you simply stare at a text menu while waiting for the game, MechAssault II has a 3d lobby, much like Phantasy Star Online, where you can talk to your team before the match starts.

In theory this sounds like a cool idea, but it was poorly implemented. First of all the other team can hear you while in this lobby, so don’t plan on talking strategy while you wait. Secondly, there are numerous graphical glitches. Sometimes the room will load and there won't be any room for you to stand in. You simply float out in space. If the room does successfully load, you can actually run through the wall if you find the right spot. This isn’t a huge deal, but when the rest of the game is so polished, it’s a shame the lobby is so dysfunctional.

The biggest problem of all comes from the way a room is filled. The game will not allow you to launch if the teams aren’t balanced, which seems like a good idea, and it is. The problem is that it takes so damn long for the teams to balance that you almost don’t want to wait. Typically the attacking team will have between six and ten players and the defending team will only have one or two. This could easily have been fixed if they simply cut off one team once they reached six players.

The other problem is when you are joining a game it tells you how many people are in it, but not what team they are on. This is incredibly frustrating and it can often take up to ten minutes for a game to fill properly. I’m sure that this will be fixed soon, but it should have been done right to begin with.

My final problem, which Halo 2 has spoiled me on, is that if the host quits the game is over and you get no credit for all of your accomplishments. From now on all games should re-select a host if one drops, especially if you're playing a first party title.

If you have the patience to wait for a game to start, you'll be in for a huge treat. They have redesigned the multiplayer gameplay to be much more team oriented than any other game I know. Instead of each player pre-choosing a mech before battle, everyone is on foot when the game starts. You must dash to one of the available mechs scattered around your base. Communication here is critical, because many players have strong and weak points and you want to make sure everyone is at their best.

The most important person on the whole team is the pilot of the VTOL. This person will most likely make or break your team. They bring much needed power-ups and health to battle, and can drop devastating bombs. If the pilot picks up two battle armors and fully charges his missiles, it can be the most powerful force in the game. The VTOL can also carry a tank, which makes sniping a breeze. All of the new vehicles and their combinations make teamwork a must if you want to win.

The new scoring system they implemented is also a welcome addition to the game. This is the first instance in my experience where they award points to the support units. It is entirely possible to be the point leader as a VTOL pilot without every firing a shot. You are awarded points for kills obviously, but you also earn them for jacking mechs, avoiding jackings, and dropping health and power-ups. If you're a good pilot, you should expect to be very popular.

All in all, this is a much better game than the original. The single player, while still weak compared to multiplayer, is longer and more engrossing. The graphics have been given a major overhaul, especially in the cutscene and effects departments. The audio is fantastic and really helps you feel the scale the whole game tries to communicate. Finally, the multiplayer is fantastic, if you can get into a game. If they release a patch soon, this may be the first real contender for the best multiplayer game of the year.

Score: 9.1/10

Thomas Wilde also contributed to this review.

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