Oh boy, Mechs! I like mechs. I like some styles of mechs more than others, and I probably have the BattleTech series of books to blame. I say series because I only remember having one or two and finishing neither. I must have liked the cover art. Anyway, mechs are great, and MechWarror 2: 31st Century Combat is a video game set in the BattleTech world, so it's like I've come full circle or something.
Now, just because I like mechs, doesn't mean I have a clue what MechWarrior is. Never played it - can't say I've even heard of it. It's about time we change that by jumping into our gracefully lumbering hulks of metal armed to the teeth with rockets and lasers and setting off for... the mission objective, I guess. Whatever that is.
With seemingly every key on the keyboard being used to move our Mechs, you ought to drop into the tutorial to get an idea of just how these machines behave. Unfortunately for me, while they handle like a dream, the DOS version I'm playing had no instructor voice over, nor on-screen text to tell me just what the hell to do or even what buttons to press.
Still, I eventually cobbled together some sort of progress, but failure after failure (funny how the 'Mission Failed' audio still worked...) eventually lead to me blowing up the instructor out of disappointment. Well, no, trying to. He obviously blew me up first.
Failure aside, as I say, MechWarrior 2 felt really good to play. It was awkward, don't get me wrong, but it was Mech-like. Turning your Mech is not the same as moving your targeting reticule, so already you can see how the gameplay is going to keep you juggling with the controls.
Moving your Mech at all is different to what you might expect, as the 1-9 keys are mapped to the throttle, the higher the number, the faster your speed. Again, awkward to use, but it gives the Mechs a sense of weight that they desperately need for players to get swept up in the scene. You reach your desired speed pretty quickly, but of course slowing down from that speed means you won't be stopping on a dime, and once again, you can see how the gameplay might bring that up as a factor in missions.
Not to be deterred by blowing up in the tutorial, I tried out the PlayStation port, where I assumed I'd be more at ease with the controls.
And I was, to a point. Again, the mapping is a little awkward, with your throttle stuck on the triangle button, and brake/reverse on the cross button. It makes some sense, certainly, but I'm just not used to it. I'm not used to piloting a Mech either, so that's fine - it probably does a pretty good job with the hardware available, eh?
While I was using an Xbox controller, I was having a god-awful time with the aiming. Every little nudge of the stick was a nudge too far, and it felt like the firing range targets were blowing up out of pity rather than as a result of anything I did to them. Again, I failed the tutorial, but I had a much better grasp of the controls and so off to the campaign I went.
There are two clans to play as on their own campaigns. I have absolutely no idea of the plot beyond that there are two clans. Even the introductory videos to set the scene didn't clue me into what was going on.
Mission briefings give you a bit more to go on, but seeing as many a game can be reduced to 'go to the blip and do a thing', it doesn't really matter what lore or world fluff there is, I'm just going to follow the blips. You can also choose your Mech, each with their own strengths and load outs, and this is probably quite important depending on what each mission tasks you with.
Mission: Blow up some buildings. Sounds easy enough.
Your weapons can be grouped to fire in various ways, but a simple system of cycling through them worked for me. Some rockets into the side of the first building let me know I was doing the right thing, and then it was just a case of keeping an eye on the radar for threats and moving onto the next objective. And drowning out the absurd amount of warning sirens and weapon sound effects that were going on...
I set it on Easy because that's how I roll (or waddle, when in a Mech, I suppose). Easy is probably actually easy if you pay attention to what you're doing and what you're being surrounded by. However, MechWarrior is not a game where you can charge in and tank all the threats.
It's a game where you can selectively target individual limbs on an enemy Mech in order to render various systems useless to its pilot. Generally speaking, removing the arms removes the weapons, and crippling a leg slows it down for an easier time of things. While I did get to see a harmless armless Mech, I was under so much incoming fire that the first mission ended swiftly in a bloody explosion and a stern mission debriefing.
You don't charge into things, you take it slow and steady, picking off your targets one by one, as they appear, in the order of their threat level to you, or their importance to the mission. As much as you might want to be the coolest, most indestructible Mech pilot ever, you just aren't, and MechWarrior will remind you of that.
MechWarrior 2 makes the 1001 list for its technological successes. It looks fabulous, even though you could argue that it looks simple or empty. Well, yeah, it kind of does, because it has to - and yet it can scale all the way up to 1024x768, from the usual 320x200 resolution, should you have an absolute beast of a PC to get that working for you.
It's got so much going on that it's hard not to like it. External cameras to capture all the action, targeting the limbs in order to force the advantage over differing enemy types, factoring in overheating weaponry and balancing weight limits to make sure you can equip the fancy weapons in the first place... all of that - and more I'm sure - over two campaigns of 16 missions each.
Yeah, alright, I still don't know the plot or why you're doing anything you're told to do, even when watching some of the game on YouTube, but you can't ignore just how giddy you'll feel when stomping around the map in a ruddy great big Mech - it's lovely.
Try MechWarrior 2 in some form. Don't expect to get too far unless the controls are right up your alley, but enjoy it nonetheless.
Online multiplayer means that the very dedicated can and do still duke it out in MechWarrior 2.
MechWarrior 2: 31st Century Combat, developed by Activision, first released in 1995.
Versions played: DOS, 1995, via emulation.
PlayStation, 1997, via emulation.
Version watched: DOS, 1995 (L-1001 Widebody)