For­mat PC Pub­lisher Para­dox In­ter­ac­tive De­vel­oper Hare­brained Schemes ETA Out now Play­ers 1-2 Go ahead, mech my day

Games Master - - Contents -

The only thing hot­ter than the strategic ac­tion is your rapidly over­heat­ing weaponry.

“It’s re­mark­able how many fights come down to the wire”

Max ‘Peanut’ Mullen stands alone. The mech he’s strapped into has lost both its arms, and its chest plate is spark­ing omi­nously. With no weapons, he can’t shoot the fi­nal en­emy, and on its next turn a vol­ley of rock­ets will turn his bot to scrap. This is his last chance. He charges, fling­ing head­first into the en­emy in a crunch of metal. It re­coils, stag­gers, and top­ples over. Peanut sur­vives, but all around him are the smok­ing re­mains of the rest of our squad, three pi­lots dead in the wreck­age. “Mis­sion suc­cess­ful," the game de­clares. That’s one way of look­ing at it. In Bat­tleTech, fail­ure is un­avoid­able. You’re out­num­bered in vir­tu­ally ev­ery fight, and if the en­emy rock­ets don’t blast you to bits then the heat from your weapons will fry your pi­lots in­side their suits. To stand a of chance of sur­viv­ing its turn-based bat­tles, you have to think five moves ahead.

On your turn, you move one of your four mechs a lim­ited dis­tance on the bat­tle­field, and then at­tack an en­emy. The fur­ther you move in a turn, the more ‘eva­sion’ you gain, which makes you harder to hit. Your mechs carry a va­ri­ety of weapons, from mis­sile launch­ers to lasers, and each one works best at a spe­cific range. The idea is to at­tack from a range that gives you the best chance of hit­ting – the per­cent­age is shown on-screen – while en­sur­ing you keep an eye on your heat gauge. If it gets too high, you’ll take dam­age.

En­emy mechs can take a beat­ing, so to kill them quickly you’ll need to tar­get in­di­vid­ual ar­mour parts, rip­ping them off to ex­pose the frag­ile struc­ture be­neath. Arms, legs, and sec­tions of torso all take dam­age sep­a­rately, and you can fo­cus fire ei­ther by po­si­tion­ing your mech to­wards the side you want to tar­get or by tak­ing ‘pre­ci­sion shots’, which use up the morale that builds through­out a fight.

Fights feel over­whelm­ing at first be­cause the game doesn’t bother to ex­plain its sys­tems in any de­tail. Some at­tacks will dam­age a mech’s sta­bil­ity, rais­ing a sep­a­rate gauge, and if it’s high enough they’ll fall over. But the game never tells you what types of at­tacks will make your op­po­nents trip up. It never prop­erly ex­plains what the dif­fer­ent in­di­ca­tors for lines of sight are (red, dot­ted white, solid white), nor does it walk you through the ar­mour sys­tem that sits at its core. For the first six hours we’re con­stantly fail­ing and reload­ing. It’s not fun and, bizarrely, the game has no dif­fi­culty set­tings, so you’re stuck with its wicked ways.

Turn­ing point

But when it fi­nally clicks, you feel clever, and you learn how to stack the odds in your favour. That means ac­count­ing for your enemies’ most likely moves, and cut­ting them off. It means switch­ing off some of your weapons in­di­vid­u­ally to gen­er­ate less heat. It means test­ing sev­eral lo­ca­tions be­fore you lock in your move, so that you squeeze ev­ery last per­cent­age out of your chance to hit.

At that point, the dif­fi­culty feels ex­actly right, and it’s re­mark­able how many

fights come down to the wire, with all of your mechs on their last legs as you fi­nally land the killer blow. It’s tense, and you’re al­ways wor­ried that your en­emy’s next mis­sile strike is go­ing to be the one that crip­ples you.

The campaign mode, which is the cen­tre­piece of the game, makes it sim­i­larly tense off the bat­tle­field. Set in the far fu­ture, it sees you in charge of a trav­el­ling band of space mer­ce­nar­ies which gets pulled into a po­lit­i­cal tug-of-war. You com­plete pri­or­ity mis­sions to ad­vance the story, and it’ll take you a good 20 hours to see the end, but the nar­ra­tive only re­ally ex­ists to nudge you for­ward. The meat of it is in man­ag­ing your squad month-to-month. You have run­ning costs, so you need to ne­go­ti­ate enough con­tracts to stay afloat fi­nan­cially while slowly pick­ing up new pi­lots, mechs, and weapons up­grades.

Ev­ery month is a strug­gle. Peanut may have sur­vived, but the fact that we’ve come back from our mis­sion three pi­lots light quickly takes its toll. We re­cover the mechs, but the re­pairs are costly, and they’re out of ac­tion for months while our tech­ni­cians bash them back into shape. With no mechs, we can’t take on any more con­tracts, and we slowly spi­ral to­wards bank­ruptcy. It’s painful. We reload a few hours back, vow­ing to keep more mechs in re­serve.

Again, Bat­tleTech fails to ex­plain your man­age­ment op­tions in any de­tail. We end up spend­ing a solid hour dig­ging into some bor­ing on-ship di­a­logue just to work out the ba­sics of what’s go­ing on. That’s not a good sign. But just like the com­bat, it starts to shine once you get to grips with it, and mak­ing ends meet feels like a big achieve­ment. The mech cus­tomi­sa­tion is the best bit, and you can re­fit each one to your lik­ing by adding and re­mov­ing in­di­vid­ual parts.

Un­der the hood

We turn our Shadow Hawk into a melee spe­cial­ist with a flamethrower and an arm mod to make it punch harder, and trans­form our Cen­tu­rion into a long-range spe­cial­ist with a mis­sile launcher and a ranged laser. When you com­bine that cus­tomi­sa­tion with lev­el­ling up your pi­lots’ var­i­ous skills, your squad starts to feel unique to you.

The con­tracts vary from as­sas­si­na­tions to es­cort­ing con­voys and more in­ven­tive story mis­sions with multi-part ob­jec­tives. They’re mostly fun, but some have por­tions that should be cut en­tirely. In es­cort mis­sions, you have to clear a site of enemies so that friendly trans­ports can move safely through the area. There’s noth­ing wrong with that, ex­cept that you have to then es­cort them half­way across the map. The game re­mains turn-based the whole time, de­spite the fact there are no enemies around at this point, and the friendly ve­hi­cles move painfully slowly.

Also painfully slow are the load­ing screens, which of­ten freeze for 30 sec­onds be­fore splut­ter­ing back into life. We had some per­for­mance issues dur­ing bat­tle too, with the vi­su­als con­sis­tently freez­ing be­fore big ex­plo­sions. It’s not enough to ruin fights, but it is no­tice­able.

It’s a shame these mi­nor frus­tra­tions ex­ist, be­cause be­hind them lies a deep, sat­is­fy­ing strat­egy game with an even bet­ter squad man­age­ment sim tacked on. It could be kinder to new play­ers, and it’s not ex­actly a looker, but it re­ally cap­tures the feel of build­ing up a group of tough­ened mer­ce­nar­ies from noth­ing. In fact, Peanut is still in our squad as we reach the end – but in­stead of cow­er­ing in a mech with no arms, he’s in a be­he­moth with gi­ant mis­sile launch­ers strapped to each shoul­der, skil­fully raining pain down on his foes.

When you shoot an en­emy that’s been knocked down, you can choose which part of their ar­mour to hit.

You plan your moves from a zoomed-out perspective, and then move in to watch the ac­tion un­fold.

If you over­heat you’ll dam­age your­self, and you can break your mech if you push it too far.

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