"Scratch him, I need a new target"
Comment by game character 'Paingod'
Microprose released Mechcommander In 1998, so this review arrive a bit late. This is a strategy, war and to some degree resource management game which found its way in to the top 10 selling list. And that despite the fact it was released at a time when it had to compete against Diablo, Final Fantasy, Riven, Starcraft and Unreal. All great games so it was released with a bit of bad timing indeed. The competition might be one reason this game got somewhat overlooked right then. Well when we finally gotten to see it we got a nice surprise!
Some games actually grown with time and this certainly are one of those, another sign that it was special was the fact that it did keep a well deserved position in the top 10 selling list for quite some time.
And this game certainly delivers, it even comes with an introduction flick with great acting - im not pulling your leg here!
With all the horrible acting seen in other games it was about time to see a good one, one can really hear the fear in the voice of the mechpilot saying 'ejecting' over and over when the Madcat tear his mech to shreds.
The graphics is outstanding, with detailed buildings and war machinery. Lasers and particle beams have different colours and the explosions are different depending on what you shoot on. Even for non military targets such as forests that will burn with one kind of flames, while a clan administrative building will have a certain eery light from within when its consumed in flames, if you for some reason target a fountain you will see it turn into a a smaller flood. Overall a sign that the developers have cared for details. Another such detail is that you need to develop your pilots skill to succeed, sure you can buy new pilots and in the later games even Elite ones. Yet with the number of heavy mechs you will need to use that wont be enough, and if you place one less skilled guy in one Assault class mech, you will get a penalty.
Some of the music score is somewhat weird with bagpipes! heard in some strategic situations, but the themesong is simply great.
The gameplay is sometimes difficult, with a steep learing curve at first, but certainly not so impossibly difficult that you need to grow a new nervous system before starting to play. Its always balanced, no lame victorys are seen anywhere! Replaying the campaign we've seen different mechs attacking in certain missions, so there seems to be some feature which match the attackers with what you deploy in each mission.
The last points in favour of this game is that it got online play via Mplayer, and that's where you will find the real fun after playing trough the campaign.
Yet it is in this part you find the only weak spot, the storyline is linear so you probably wont play the ordinary campaign that many times.
A victory often comes at quite a price however, which keeps the tension up. Same for the decisions you have to make between each mission, picking the right weapons and decide to rotate the duty for your pilots. This is one of the strategy elements, since you shouldnt use them in the best mechs every time, else you could find yourself with a bunch of rookies if something goes seriously wrong.
Its somewhat weird that Microprose released this game with a linear gameplay, especially if you consider the fact that the game was made several years after other game developers had shown how it could make a game much more interesting.
Take Wingcommader to mention one such example, (Had to check - game was made in 1990!) which got a bunch of devoted followers partly for that reason, the other being it was ahead of its time with true 3D space combat. Wing was in fact one of the few interesting games that was possible to play on my first real computer - a 386 clocked at 40 MHz.
On the other hand, many things do change depending on how you play, in several missions you have full freedom to take on the enemy and the objectives in the order you choose. And depending on your performance, the number of caught enemy mechs, and the number weapons retrieved from enemy storage will change what units you will bring to battle as well how you will attempt to win the missions. You will often have several tachtical options, without going into details one can mention that one can choose to scout, split into two teams or bring in jumpmechs to get into positions which the enemy is unable to. In most cases its best to take a roundabout approach, but in one case you will find that the recommention in the briefing is anything but good advice.
But you're in charge, use your own head, and well, you get this hint for free. This a mission where you abandon subtlety with lightweight jumpmechs and go in with full force and slug it out instead.
So the linear gameplay is a weakness, but not a major one since it compensated by the flexibility in the missions themselves. Replaying the game I discovered that the enemy units will try something completely different when I made a strong defence at one place on the map - guarding a narrow passage. Four units was left to slug it against agaist my main force while four others tried to get around on the left side to sneak away. Cant say how well the rules of engagement have been set up here, but the behaviour suggest one extremely good AI. Its a thing you simply wont see in other games! (See walktrough: Operation 4 mission 5, the bottom alternative for more info in case you are interested.)
The last pro points is the well written manual which also serves as an introduction to the 'mech universe' and finally that it doesn't require a supercomputer to run. The official minimum requirements is a 133 Pentium with 16 MB of RAM, with 200 Mhz and 64 Mb RAM that comes recommended. But we've tried playing this game on one AMD 486, 100 MHz and the game did in fact run well even though the screen did freeze briefly a few short times.
So isn't there any other cons? Well first off, don't dare to say 'robot' about mechs to a 'mech' fan, he might go looking for his gauss gun!
Well seriously, there's two and both rather minor, in the online version the game will cancel out from the logistics screen if any player loose their connection to the Internet. And the second also affects the preparation part of the online game. It seems that the game is sensitive for fast right mouse button clicking when you sell weapons or mechs, the game crash to the desktop, often leaving the host sitting there for several minutes not realizing that the playmate is gone. Another reviewer whined about in-mission saving, but im against that. It simply ruins good gameplay.
In my view, this is one of the very best games ever made. Yells of protest can almost be heard already, but well, we all have our favorites and this certainly is one of mine. With 30 missions, character developement, stealing and retrieving weapons. Even a bit of exploration on the large maps there's often is plenty to do, discover and not to forget, to blow-up!
The verdict for this game is a full score, and the first time we've given that to any game.
When this review was transferred to the new Gamespotter webmaster wanted to add the following:
A 'Gold version' of Mechcommander was released somewhat later with a few modification like setting for skill and a few new missions added. Mechcommander Gold can be found for sale at E-bay, a good choice for those who have an older computer or gotten interested in this game from our review. And yes! The online version of Mechcommander is now played on Gamespy, where up to 40 people, still in the autumn of 2001, can be found playing daily.
Have you enjoyed reading about this game? If so e-mail Webmaster so we could add other older reviews and walktroughs. We didnt bring some to the new Gamespotter since we need to know if there's any serious interest for older material.