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Platform(s): PC
Genre: RPG/Strategy
Publisher: Paradox Interactive
Developer: Harebrained Schemes
Release Date: April 24, 2018

About Tony "OUberLord" Mitera

I've been entrenched in the world of game reviews for almost a decade, and I've been playing them for even longer. I'm primarily a PC gamer, though I own and play pretty much all modern platforms. When I'm not shooting up the place in the online arena, I can be found working in the IT field, which has just as many computers but far less shooting. Usually.


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PC Review - 'BattleTech'

by Tony "OUberLord" Mitera on April 30, 2018 @ 12:30 a.m. PDT

Steeped in the feudal political intrigue of the BattleTech universe, the game will feature an open-ended Mercenaries-style campaign that blends RPG, Mech and MechWarrior management with modern turn-based tactics.

Buy BattleTech

It's safe to say that there's been a drought when it comes to the once-venerable BattleTech and MechWarrior franchises. When BattleTech entered crowd funding a while back, I'm not sure whether I backed it out of hope or desperation for something, anything, to fill the void. With the game now available, I'm finding that hope has mostly paid off, with a title that does a lot of justice to the tabletop game after which it's named. A large part of BattleTech revolves around trade-offs, however, so it's perhaps fitting that not all of the shots the game takes land on target.

The premise and overall backdrop is familiar to fans and generally accessible to newcomers. Humanity invented travel that's faster than light, and proceeded to spread across the stars and develop advanced technology beyond our current comprehension. Then, humans being humans, the peaceful spread across the stars turned into large-scale conflict over the wealth they contained. In the game's time, the splintered factions of humanity are composed of a few main houses and a handful of other alliances.

You create a character that plies their trade as a mercenary, serving as a hired gun so that these noble houses don't have to get their hands dirty. Creation options are limited to basic choices for your character portrait, some backstory choices that influence your starting stats and future dialog options, and things like your name and callsign. An interesting footnote is that you can choose a pronoun, and "they" is an option; otherwise, there is no "gender" selection. It's not a choice that has any other impact; for the most part, characters refer to you as your callsign or as Commander, but it's a nice inclusionary nod.

In the beginning, you are far from a hardened mercenary and find yourself as a royal escort for the coronation ceremony of a noble named Lady Arano. Of course, it doesn't go smoothly, and a hostile force wipes out her royal guard before firing on your group. The resulting battle ends with you ejecting, your friends killed or missing, and Lady Arano's dropship taking a fatal number of missiles as it tried to lift off. This conflict forms a central thread that the game follows; although you are your own mercenary company, your biggest goal is to restore the rightful heirs of House Arano to the throne. (The family's deep pockets don't hurt.)

From the outset, the game seems to revel in throwing out names of people, factions, areas of space, and fictitious TV shows. Thankfully, the game helpfully highlights topics of interest, so you can hover the mouse over them to learn more. You certainly don't have to in order to get the gist of a current conversation, but it's nice to be able to get an immediate answer to, "Wait, who were these people again?"

There are two sides to BattleTech: running your company and leading your mechwarriors on the battlefield. As a company, you take on contracts to gain negotiated funds, reputation or salvage. You fly to these locations and send your BattleMechs, control the battle, and attempt to minimize the damage. At the mission conclusion, you get paid, spend that money to fix the battle damage, keep an eye on your monthly operating cost, and hopefully have a few C-Bills left over to buy new weapons or hire new mechwarriors.

Managing the business side isn't too complicated. The monthly operating cost is basically your company's salaries and upkeep; fail to pay it in full, and it's an immediate game over. You can set salary levels each month so you can pay more and get more morale, or pinch pennies and let morale suffer. In either case, it's up to you to weigh the risk versus reward of chasing down the hard contracts and big paydays, string together smaller contracts to limp along a damaged force, or minimize damage in the first place.

Either way, it's your call when it comes to who to field and in which mech. You can send up to four mechs and their pilots on a mission, and the combinations are entirely up to your preference — or sometimes due to what's available. There are four different weight classes of mechs (Light, Medium, Heavy and Assault), but at a basic level, they all control the same. Generally speaking, lighter mechs are more maneuverable but have less armor and armament, whereas the heavier mechs are slow, lumbering beasts that can deliver some serious firepower.

During a mech's turn, it can move, perform an action, or sprint, which consumes both a move and an action. Actions include everything from attacking a target to using one of a pilot's active skills. Facing is also highly important, as mechs are composed of numerous parts that each have their own armor and structural integrity. Rear armor is generally weaker, and you also want to keep damaged parts facing away from potential threats to minimize their risk.

Mechs are going to get the mechanisms blown out of them anyway. All parts have a layer of armor that's basically a flat health pool, but things get tactically interesting when structural damage occurs. If the internal components on that piece is damaged and the structure fails, the piece is destroyed. It's entirely possible to do some structural damage to a left torso piece, detonate some ammo within, and have the target lose the left arm instead of the torso.

While BattleTech has a cover system, it's mainly in the form of moving a unit into a forest or dust storm, where they're naturally harder to hit. A more common defensive option is to use your action to enter Guarded and cut incoming damage in half until the mech's next turn, or to simply keep moving and use Evasion. Mechs gain Evasion points at a different rate, but for every point, the mech is that much harder to hit. This favors a mobile approach to combat, so it's best to keep units moving and then fire from a new position. There's a pilot skill later that passively places a mech into Guarded (if it didn't move on its turn), so it stands and fires while keeping the damage low, but even then, there are times when mobility is the better option.

Pilots can also be wounded and knocked out of combat. If a mech is knocked down or if a mech takes a shot to the head, the pilot is wounded. Pilots can only take three wounds by default — although it can be increased with skills — and once it reaches zero, the pilot is knocked out of combat. If the pilot was one of yours, you learn their fate in the after-action screen. If a pilot gets banged up and you really want to lose them, you can have them eject, which takes them out of the fight and you have to recover their mech afterward.

Once mechs and pilots get banged up, you must tend to them back on the ship. Pilots heal at a rate of several days per wound received, and they effectively heal for free but are unavailable until fully healed. Mechs are another story, and their level of damage scales directly with how much time and C-Bills it costs to fix them. You can also tinker with a mech's loadout to swap out the weapons, amount of armor, etc. Doing so also takes time and money but lets you tweak a mech to your liking.

If there's one underlying theme to the gameplay, it's that it's relatively complicated. The game does a good job of making just about every UI element have an explanatory tooltip, and it sometimes shows the math that went into it. Other elements, such as the distance between units, is more akin to guesswork, which matters since weapons often have different optimal ranges. The UI does a pretty good job, but realistically, it'll take a few missions to understand the avalanche of numbers and displays.

A larger problem is that the tutorial doesn't include any of the game mechanics. You can learn about them if you seek out the ship's crewmembers and ask them. Even then, it's more abstract blurbs about how the systems work, and far outside of a battlefield, where it can be shown on the interface. I'm generally against a game getting overly coddling, but BattleTech may be a daunting title for someone who's unfamiliar with the franchise. It's possible to figure it out, but the game could use a gentler offramp before it kicks you into missions.

The graphics are serviceable, and it does well in the subtleties. Hot mechs have heat emanating from them, damaged body parts spark and smoke, and after a skirmish, you can see mech wreckage and missing arms on the battlefield. Weapon effects, such as a swarm of missiles raining down, can be impressive, but such effects can ironically be lost due to the cinematic camera. How often that camera activates is customizable, and it's nice when it works. However, I lost count of how many times the camera shows a shot leaving a mech and doesn't show if it landed.

There's also the issue of the load times. An SSD alleviates a lot of this, but on a conventional hard drive, load times can be a little excessive. Loading a save file can take over a minute, as can other load screens, such as deploying to a mission or returning from one. There are other performance issues, from slowdowns when a lot of weapon effects are going off at once to strange stuttering. Since this is a turn-based game, it never detracts from the gameplay, but it's visually jarring when the frame rate takes a nosedive.

Despite the issues, I'm really enjoying BattleTech. Get past its learning curve and get a few missions under your belt, and you begin to feel like a capable commander. The company management gives a backbone to your progression, while the mission gameplay is an enjoyably tangled web of tactical options and trade-offs. It's far from a perfect game, but it's a solidly good title that's a welcome entry in a long-overlooked franchise.

Score: 8.3/10

Reviewed on: Intel i7 4790k, 16 GB RAM, NVidia GTX 970

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