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Platform

Xbox

 

Genre

Action

 

Publisher

Microsoft

 

Developer

Day 1 Studios

 

ESRB

T (Teen)

 

Released

Q4 2002

 

 

- Unbelievably smooth controls
- Great Xbox Live action
- Good selection of Mechs

 

 

- Fog and dust are a weak attempt at anti-aliasing effects
- Single-player gaming not as much fun (but really how could it?)
- Environment graphics pale in comparison to Mechs

 

 

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MechAssault

Score: 9.1 / 10

 

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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

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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

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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 vehicle.

 

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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 graphics.

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 Xbox Live).

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.

- Lee Cieniawa
lcieniawa@armchairempire.com

(December 20, 2002)

 

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