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Q4 2002



- Great looking mechs

- Mech upgrades are numerous and vibrant

- It blows up good



- Good Squad strategy seems unnecessary

- Drab looking levels

- Little mission variety



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MechWarrior IV: Mercenaries

Score: 8.5 / 10


It isnít hard to understand the geeky fascination of mechs and giant robots, so it is no surprise that the genre is going through an explosion on the console front with Steel Battalion, Z.O.E 2, MechAssault, etc. Still, the MechWarrior franchise, the granddaddy of all mech combat games, is back with its most recent incarnation of MechWarrior IV, and it is the first action-based mech game Iíve played to any extent since the original MechWarrior. So, treat this review as coming from the mouth of a neophyte to the MechWarrior universe. That means I canít tell your what the game has to recommend itself over the last incarnation, but I will be able to view the game without the bias you might find from ardent fans of the series (and there are thousands of those in the world of game reviewers, to be sure).


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MechWarrior IV: Mercenaries marks the return to the mercenary theme last seen in MechWarrior II: Mercenaries. Though used in a predictable and standard way, the mercenary theme works well here. The freedom to choose between different missions in different star systems gives the game a solid, non-linear pick-up-and-play quality that is sometimes missing from these kinds of games.


Iíll admit that one of the reasons I have avoided mech combat games over the years is that Iíve always been intimidated by the controls. I clearly remember watching a friend play the original MechWarrior while in college and being in awe of just how complex the controls were. I mean, geez, it was weird enough in the days of the Amiga, Atari 520 ST, and early Macs to see someone voluntarily playing their games on the then woefully underpowered (at least graphically) IBM PCís, but to see him using every finger God had given him just to maneuver his character onscreen made the game seem wild and esotericÖand fascinating. It was the only time during that period that I envied someone for owning a PC. Of course, I went home and fired up my Amiga 500, noted that the PC graphics looked like cave paintings next to it, and didnít give it another thought until after I bought my first PCóa whopping 33mz 486-- about the time MechWarrior 2 was released. I purchased it the second I had the cash. Unfortunately, I found that the manual dexterity required to move the mech around effectively put me off. I traded it to a friend for a copy of X-wing, and that was that.





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So, when the copy of MechWarrior 4: Mercs came in the mail, my first feeling was a sense of dread. "Great," I thought, "Iím going to have to put a control template above my keyboard and Iíll still get carpal tunnel syndrome trying to beat this game." Turns out my fears were unfounded. The controls for the giant mechs are certainly more complex than for, say, and first person shooter, but they arenít that hard to get used to. I wonít say I mastered the controls during the 


well-done tutorial, but they had become second nature by the time I had completed the first few available missions. For those unfamiliar with the games, the main difficulty is getting used to the fact that the mechs torso and legs move independently of each other, which is great when you need to be running one way while shooting another. It can be disorienting however. Luckily, the game gives the player multiple ways to re-center the camera in order to re-orient to the action. In the end, the complex controls add a little to the role-playing aspect of driving a giant mech. It is easy for me to see why so many fans of the genre are excited over the ridiculous Steel Battalion (XB) controller.


Though I enjoyed most of the missions in the game, it would be unfair to say that they were original. Any experienced game player will be familiar with the kind of jobs required of them in Mercenariesóescort a convoy, seek and destroy, scout ahead, scavenge for parts. Though many of the missions are linked together by a loose back-story, the non-linear nature of the action makes that element insignificant. If you think the idea of being a gun for hire in the Battletech universe is appealing, then the game is for you. If you are looking for a deep, involving sci-fi story, you need not apply here.


Graphically, Mercenaries is a mixed bag. On the one hand, the levels are bland and sparsely detailed, looking little better than those of the Tribes spin-off mech game, Starsiege from many moons ago. But, the mechs are gorgeous. They are colorful, high-polygon models that are animated to perfection. Combine the amazing mechs with some pretty good particle effects and use of lighting and the combat in Mercenaries is visually stimulating. Some of the mechs are so colorful that a few people viewing me playing the game thought it was cell-shaded.


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Technically, Mercenaries is pretty impressive. On my test system (1.8 gz, 256 meg, 64mb Geforce 3) the game ran smoothly with only the slightest drop in frame-rate when action became very intense. Kudos to the developer for the fact that the game ran trouble free without a patchóonly the third game Iíve played in the last month for which that was true.


Game play involves leading a team (up to two four-man lances) or fellow mercs through combat heavy missions. No mysteries, no puzzles to solve, just load up on ammo and blow stuff up. Players can give rudimentary commands to characters in the lances, but I found that most levels were easy to complete without bothering. I mostly let the guys do their thing while I took out as many of the enemy as I could with my mech. This worked surprising well as I rarely had to restart a level because of a mission failure. After completing a mission or a section of a mission, the members of the players lance scavenge the area for parts they can sell at a profit, which usually results in as much cash as the bounty for the missions themselves.


The game modes in Mercenaries are pretty standard stuff with single-player action focused on the stair-stepped mercenary mission that slowly ramp up in difficulty, but I especially liked the quick start option that let you jump right in to a randomly created mission. That mode gives the game replay value missing from the very basic, drab online multiplayer modes.


At the end of the day, Mercenaries has a hard time standing out in a tremendous crowd of great PC games currently on the shelf. Had I not been asked to review this, I doubt it would have dragged me away from Warcraft 3 or NOLF 2 or MOH: Spearhead, or 1942 or even Tiger Woods 2003. Still, the time spent with Mercenaries was enjoyable and has me looking forward to the upgrade in graphics and options expected in the upcoming MechWarrior 5.


- Tolen Dante

(February 2, 2003)


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