Game Description: Prepare to walk the walk, MechWarrior. The Inner Sphere's long-awaited counterattack against the vicious Clan Smoke Jaguar rages on, but the enemy isn't willing to lie down and die. On a world with the ironic name of Tranquil, one of the last ranking Smoke Jaguar star colonels is preparing a bastion for his clan to lick its wounds and prepare its vengeance. Your mission: conduct a high-impact commando raid on Tranquil and destroy its usefulness as a base of operations before the enemy has a chance to dig in. The tricky part is, MechWarrior, that the Jaguars know they're beaten and, honorable or not, they're going to try everything to see that they get their shot at vengeance against the Inner Sphere. You can bet they're going to start with the closest target—you.
It's pretty obvious that 100-story tall humanoid robots are an improbability. Duplicating the precise mechanics that enable mobility and balance in the human body utilizing machinery would take nothing short of a miracle. Paul Verhoeven's cyber-retro film Robocop played around with the idea and showed how impractical any attempt would be when the hulking security droid, ED-209, couldn't even negotiate a simple flight of stairs. Yet the male population (especially young boys) continue to be fascinated with this physics-defying notion that combines empowering size with a curiously complex control mechanism. In any case, pop-culture certainly hasn't missed a beat by continuously feeding our child-like fantasies with the likes of Gigantor, Transformers ("Autobots, Let's Roll!"), Voltron ("and I'll form the head!"), Robotech ("Minmei, Minmei"), Dangaio ("SideKick Wave!"), Power Rangers ("Go, Go" Crap), and, most recently, the Iron Giant. Computer games have had their share of representation in this arena as well with Earthsiege, Heavy Gear, and Shogo. But before all of them, there was my all-time favorite, MechWarrior.
I was a fanatic of the first-of-its-kind MechWarrior, but I didn't hold the sequel in such high regard. For all its cutting edge graphics, it lacked personality and character and took itself far too seriously. I'm happy to report that MechWarrior 3 doesn't suffer from the same dullness. From the action-packed opening title sequence to the chattery mission briefings, MechWarrior 3 bristles with life and excitement. Credit much of the liveliness to a proper usage of the Battletech universe. The game effectively sets up an engaging backdrop story about a separated task force from the Eridani Light Horse Clan looking to put an end to its war with the Smoke Jaguar Clan. The separation from the lance (due to harried insertion into the combat zone) is a stroke of design genius because it allows the player to progressively learn individual skills first and then incrementally develop squad-based tactics later (as the player is reunited with other lancemates one by one).
MechWarrior 3 is organized into a series of linear missions with primary and secondary objectives. Only upon completion of these objectives can one advance to the next mission. And in the process, I am allowed to salvage parts from opponents I had previously destroyed for new mechs and armaments. Failure sends me back to the mech labs to figure out what went wrong and to try again with a better-suited combination of mechs and weapons for that mission. Ordinarily this type of trial and error adds up to aggravation, but in MechWarrior 3 customizing my mech and tailoring it to my preferred style of combat is part of the very essence of the game. It's an overly complicated process and difficult to grasp, at times, but that's really my only complaint (that and the lack of a branching story arch). The salvaging aspect also makes for distinctly conservative tactics since it is not in my best interest to obliterate an opposing mech to shreds. Both features add layers of depth to the game and kept me more involved.
The intricacy of actually piloting a Mech is minimized through the use of its short, but thorough training mode. Inside the cockpit, the developers have included a few new features like the zoom reticule, crouching ability, and coolant flushing system, which actually add to the gameplay rather than needlessly complicate. Communication between lancemates has been nicely streamlined as well, so that giving orders is no longer a chore. In fact, everything about the game feels very polished. The detailed graphics, smooth mech animations, robust sound, active mission design, and solid game engine all feel convincing and tightly integrated.
Even after all the aforementioned positives, MechWarrior 3's most exemplary characteristic is its sense of fun and lively gameplay, which really made me feel involved. In the midst of combat, sometimes my mech would overheat, get knocked down, or have its appendages blown off. But these strikingly dynamic touches aren't circumstances that only I had to manage. These predicaments equally would befall computer opponents and it is a riot to observe how the computer deals with them. Sometimes I could almost sense the panic exhuming out of an opposing mech as if there were actually a little pilot inside "choking" under the pressure. I liked how the computer AI seemed to act more organically and it consequently made the game feel more alive. Another thing to note about the upbeat gameplay in MechWarrior 3 is that it doesn't take itself too seriously. That's best demonstrated in the jump jets enabled mechs, with their gravity-defying landings and the giddy MFB repair sequences where three supply trucks form around a mech and do pitstop style repairs. Since the idea of giant robots is so far-fetched, trying to make the game seem overly realistic would be a mistake anyway. Instead, MechWarrior 3 has embraced its child-like appeal and the result is far more successful. So while MechWarrior 3 maintains a sense of reality on the surface, at its core there is a feeling of fun and wonderment.
I've been aware of the MechWarrior series since it's inception. I was sans-PC at the time, but I lived a bit of that world through Chi. I was also a huge fan of giant robots, especially Voltron. Controlling a giant robot and taking on giant monsters was a dream of mine always and I was thrilled to hear that that was essentially what I would be doing in MechWarrior. Sure I was disappointed to learn that there was no blazing-sword nor any lion-head attacks available, but the concept of giant robots was still intact. Alas, what I saw when I actually started playing MechWarrior was anything but what was promised. The graphics were primitive and never played at a reasonable level on anyone's PC. All I was doing was trying to pilot big clunky blocks from point A to point B. I say "trying" because like all mech games following it, MechWarrior's controls were far too complex for me to get any sense of actual control out of playing. It was a total disappointment and I must say, this is one of the games that furnished my hatred of PC games. Looking back on it now, it's ironic that while the first game of the series turned me off from the mech genre, the third in the series has brought me back.
Things have changed since the release of the original MechWarrior. Powerful 3D video cards can be found in most gamers' PC's so graphics appear onscreen just as the original creators of the game envisioned them. Mechs come complete with realistic camouflage "skins" and they maneuver around ultra-realistic environments. Also, PC game controllers have evolved past the simple flightstick we used to have to contend with. Now we have gamepads that come with more than enough buttons to replace the keyboard as the control device of choice. In my opinion, this puts some dents in the genre's reputation for being too cumbersome for the casual gamer to get into.
I figure that that was Zipper Interactive's intention from the beginning. As a sort of running thread, I felt that they never wanted to overwhelm me. Linear by PC standards, MechWarrior 3 delivers a tight, evolving story. I didn't like the opening premise at first, it came off like the old lone-soldier-trapped-behind-enemy-lines-left-to-shoot-his-way-out gimmick. But after playing for a while, I too learned that this "plot device" serves a dual purpose. Not only did I learn to better control my mech on my own, but also by the time I ran into (literally, in my case) a lancemate, I was familiar with the mech and the new story elements. Mission briefings are also an example of this philosophy. While they look and sound authentic and are packed with information, it's all delivered in a way that is simple and quite entertaining. If I was ever confused about my objectives, an onscreen objective display showed me what I was supposed to be doing.
Chi brought up the AI in this game and I'd like to just say that it is about time. I have long wanted to see my CPU opponents and CPU controlled allies have the same problems that I did. In the past, battles were always skewed towards the CPU because of built-in cheats. In MechWarrior 3, however, it was normal during a battle to hear my ally shut down his mech because he was overheated, and just as normal for the enemy to do the same thing. It was hilarious watching the enemy mechs try to chase after me or run away on gimpy legs. It's a touch of realism that is greatly appreciated. And I hope this translates onto other games in other genres.
All the great games immerse the player in a digital world from the get-go and let the player play through the game thinking he or she is control. Alas MechWarrior 3 fails here, but that's not a major fault because the playing experience is so engrossing. The battles feel real, the mechs feel real, and the missions feel real. MechWarrior 3 does come out on top of all of them because it was fun to play. I was not concerned with control schemes (thanks to the Gravis Xterminator joypad) and the graphics were top-notched bar none. All of this comes together better than any mech game I've played with the exception of Heavy Gear. Add all this to the Battletech universe, and MechWarrior 3 is certainly the best all-around mech experience on the market.
According to ESRB, this game contains: Animated Violence
A fast 3D accelerator is a must for getting the most visually impressive Mech styling, but MechWarrior 3 boasts some incredible scalability as well for underpowered systems. I'm not crazy about the mouse and keyboard control scheme (popularized by first-person shooters) for MechWarrior 3 because controlling a mech requires a steady interface more than a twitchy one. So make sure you have nice programmable controller (my pick is the Xterminator), because there are plenty of commands that a player will be compounded with.
Hard-core simulation fans will feel a bit betrayed by the slightly more light-hearted style, but more casual gamers will be surprised at the dramatic Wing Commander-ish atmosphere and its ease of operation. While the game seems a bit complicated for younger gamers, I'm sure more inquisitive and robot-crazy kids won't have too much difficulty getting around MechWarrior 3, especially with its excellent training mode. Lastly, play-life has come into question because there are a limited number of missions. I personally am not bothered by it since I believe in quality and not quantity. Plus, there are instant action modes and standard multi-player features that help alleviate the brevity as well.
Die-hard fans of the Mechwarrior series will not be disappointed—I sure wasn't.