Hulking heavy metal takes a lesson from XCOM
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.battletechgame.com, ESRB: Not rated
A melee attack deals huge damage, but puts you in line for a kick on the next turn.