Hulk­ing heavy metal takes a les­son from XCOM

Maximum PC - - IN THE LAB -

THE MECHWARRIOR GAMES— first-per­son, real-time ex­plo­rations of driv­ing a mas­sive walk­ing tank—feel like a long time ago, and Bat­tleTech isn’t a MechWarrior game. It’s from the same uni­verse, how­ever, an adap­ta­tion of the 1984 board game that started it all, which has come via XCOM. You get the feud­ing in­ter­stel­lar em­pires and mas­sive walk­ing tanks, but it’s all played from above, as a turn-based strat­egy game.

Fol­low­ing a coup in which a queen is de­posed, you find your­self and your mech at­tached to a mer­ce­nary com­pany; you work your pas­sage on its mech car­rier to pay off debts and avenge your former ruler. As leader of a lance of up to four mechs, which can be cus­tomized and swapped, de­pend­ing on what you can scav­enge or af­ford, you’ve got the fire­power to make a dif­fer­ence, as­sum­ing you can use it right.

The XCOM com­par­isons are many, but a lack of over­watch/op­por­tu­nity fire seems a glar­ing omis­sion. In the alien-shoot­ing game, you po­si­tioned troop­ers based on what you thought the en­emy might do; here, you can only re­act to what’s al­ready hap­pened. Plac­ing a mech be­hind a rock be­comes a de­fen­sive tac­tic rather than part of a planned sur­prise at­tack, but that’s not to say there’s no strate­gic depth to be found.

Plan­ning the spread of your mech group, not­ing the red radar pings that could be en­emy mechs or other ve­hi­cles, de­cid­ing whether to at­tack with di­rect fire, in­di­rect fire, a close-up melee blow, or to bow out for the rest of the turn, en­gag­ing a sen­sor lock to make it eas­ier for your team­mates to score a hit all re­quires thought, and plays to the game’s turn-based dis­po­si­tion.

But it’s slow. We don’t mean in the ac­tual ac­tion—the mechs skip over the ter­rain like chil­dren—but in get­ting any­thing done. You can turn off all ac­tion cams, which speeds things up and re­stores a lit­tle san­ity af­ter you’ve heard ev­ery bark 10 times over, but do­ing this doesn’t im­prove the in­ter­face.

To be fair, it’s do­ing a lot of heavy lift­ing. There’s a great deal of in­for­ma­tion to con­vey, as not only do you have to man­age mech po­si­tion, but also ro­ta­tion, line of sight, and tem­per­a­ture. Sit in wa­ter with a clear line to a tar­get that’s ro­tated the wrong way, and you can blast it off the map eas­ily—just don’t ex­pect that sit­u­a­tion to arise too of­ten. Get your cal­cu­la­tions wrong and the en­emy can take out one or more of your mech’s 11 hit lo­ca­tions, knock­ing it over (bad), or killing the pi­lot (worse).

As a post- XCOM2 turn-based strat­egy game, Bat­tleTech was al­ways go­ing to have a lot of work to do to make it­self stand out. The gi­ant mechs and their swap­pable parts are enough of a nov­elty to be at­trac­tive, but the un­der­ly­ing tac­tics and the way it be­comes a game of man­ag­ing your losses mean that while it’s a lit­tle raw at the mo­ment, there’s a great strat­egy game here, just wait­ing to be dis­cov­ered.


MECH Good range of units; nice range of work­able tac­tics.

BLECH Slow; repet­i­tive; not great look­ing.

REC­OM­MENDED SPECS Core i5-4460 or FX-4300; 16GB; GTX 670 or R9 285.

$40, www.bat­, ESRB: Not rated

A melee at­tack deals huge dam­age, but puts you in line for a kick on the next turn.

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