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Score: 9.1 / 10
Any Xbox owners who may have been sceptical
about the quality of online console gaming through Xbox Live only need
to try out the new Xbox bot-battler, MechAssault, to become believers in
PC-quality high-speed online gameplay delivered on a home console.
MechAssault is based on the BattleTech universe of big, bad, battling
robots and Microsoftís own PC offshoot of that cosmos, the MechWarrior
series of games. But Microsoft purposely made MechAssault more
console-friendly. They did away with having to worry about learning the
complexities of a simulation Mech game (that the MechWarrior titles are)
and instead gives Xbox gamers easier to learn arcade-feel gameplay and
controls while still requiring a level of strategic thinking on the
playerís part to be a successful BattleMech pilot. Consider it
MechWarrior Lite. The result is an extraordinarily fun robot fighting
action game that is easily one of the
best Xbox Live titles (and Xbox titles
period) available today.
There is a backstory that progresses your single-player missions. Your
mission is to work through 20 levels with the sole purpose of
eradicating the fanatical ďWord of BlakeĒ followers trying to take over
the planet. The story sounds a little silly (even more so after youíve
heard some of the over-the-top cutscene dialogue) but
fortunately, itís a non-relevant diversion to really enjoying the Mech
fighting that is at the heart of MechAssault.
A great feature of the Mech army that you can select from is that there
are 21 different Mechs, (some are a variation of others) and each has
strengths and weaknesses that must be taken into account when choosing
one for a particular mission (when you have a choice; some missions
require you to use a specific Mech). For instance, the Owens is fast and
light, which is good for quick hit-and-run tactics, but canít take a
heavy pounding. The Atlas on the other hand, can dish out some serious
damage, but is very slow and susceptible to attack by a few smaller
Mechs at a time. One of the nice graphical features of MechAssault is
how detailed the BatttleMechs are. The animations of the Mechs are
smooth and perfectly fit how you would imagine a 40-foot terror moving.
Speaking of movement, the controls of MechAssault are its biggest asset.
I could not believe how responsive the controls are and how easy they
are to master. Anybody that has played Halo will be totally comfortable
using the two thumbsticks to move the Mechs. The left controls the up,
down, right, and left movement, while the right thumbstick controls the
Mechís torso (depressing it operates the defensive weapon on Mechs that
have it). The other buttons and triggers serve as the weapon controls.
You can also customize the controls to your liking (I personally
appreciate the ability to change the Y axis controls). Controls are
never an issue in MechAssault, and thatís critical in a game that
features fighting against online human competition.
The interface that gives you all your Mechís data is also intuitive and
easy to understand.
Another part of the equation that adds up to MechAssault being a great
game is the vast array of weapons that comprise the Mech arsenal. This
being a more arcade-style Mech game, you never run out of basic ammo in
MechAssault. That changes for the upgraded weapons, where you only get a
certain amount of increased firepower. Weapons fire is another visual
treat. Realistic vapor trails follow the missiles shot from your Mech.
The most impressive eye-candy related to weapons fire is the awesome
fiery flames that are the result of an explosion of an enemy Mech or
Three power-ups are found in MechAssault: health, ammunition increase,
and weapon upgrade. Some are found hidden in buildings, but most come
from defeated enemy Mechs. Practically everything in the game is totally
destructible, by the way. You can annihilate whole cities if you want.
This can be used strategically to defeat enemies too. Rock bridges that
are part of the landscape can be destroyed at the right time to fall on
enemies, taking them out while avoiding unnecessary damage to your Mech.
In the sound department, MechAssault scores big too, especially the
reverberation of your Mechís running metal feet on the ground.
Musically, when the heart-pounding rock-tunage starts playing you know
you are in for a big battle any second.
If that wasnít enough, MechAssault is one of the online titles that
gives players access to free downloadable content in the form of new
maps, game modes, and Mechs through Xbox Live starting sometime next
month. Itís like getting an expansion packís worth of new and fresh
gaming goodies without having to actually buy an expansion pack. If
Microsoft continues providing new downloads for MechAssault, thereby
keeping online gamers from getting too bored with the same-old,
same-old, MechAssault could become the Xboxís biggest selling title on
par with Halo (until Halo 2 comes out that is).
This isnít a completely perfect title though, especially in regards to
single-player gaming. The biggest issue is the eye-assaulting fog and
dust effects that weakly serve as the gameís anti-aliasing and draw-in
masking function. Itís almost impossible to see too far in the distance
because of these effects, even though there are actually enemies that
you can barely make out shrouded in the fog and dust. Snow and rain
falling, however, actually does look good (while basically serving the
same function as the fog and dust). The environmental visuals consisting
of the land features and the buildings throughout the various cities and
bases arenít as sharp as I expected.
Donít get me wrong, they arenít terrible by any means but are just not
overly impressive. Particularly in light of the fact of how detailed the
BattleMechs and the various vehicles that appear in the game are.
But in a game that is designed primarily for online play, putting less
emphasis on the large environmental features means less chance for any
slowdown of the frame-rate during big battles or lag during Xbox Live
action. If MechAssault were an offline only title, somewhat weaker
visuals would be sort of unforgivable. But putting together solid online
play functionality is a totally acceptable trade-off for slightly lesser
MechAssaultís artificial intelligence is good, but not tough enough that
they will push your Mech fighting skills too hard. Some of the early
levels feel almost too easy. However, as you progress farther in the
game and reach the latter levels, having to fight off gangs of bruising
enemy Mechs at the same time can prove extremely taxing. But in
multiplayer online gaming, worrying about the gameís AI goes out the
window because the mediocre single-player AI is replaced by the
intelligence of up to seven other human MechWarriors. No matter how
good, artificial intelligence just canít measure up to human
intelligence. If there was any title that had to be chosen to showcase
Xbox Liveís fantastic potential, MechAssault is it. (By the way, thereís
nothing more humiliating to a 34-year-old video game reviewer than
getting blasted away and trash-talked down to by a punk 12-year-old on
Ladies and gentlemen of the Xbox community, console online gaming is
here to stay. Microsoft gets its Xbox Live service off the ground nicely
with the release of the stellar MechAssault, which has a 20-ton load of
great features. While itís an okay (albeit short) single-player game, it
is a heavy-metal-slamming great online (and even offline) multiplayer
experience. The ease of connecting to the lag-free Xbox Live servers and
engaging in Mech combat against other human competition, coupled with
hard-to-believe-itís-this-good controls (that anybody can pick up within
a minute of playing for the first time) help MechAssault more than live
up to expectations.
Simply put, if you have already done so or want to soon sign up for Xbox
Live, make sure MechAssault is part of your gaming arsenal.