sobota, 29 stycznia 2011

Short Review #14: Mechwarrior 3

When I got a 'new', Pentium 2, computer around 1999/2000 I was re-introduced to video games. Before I only had an IBM 486 and, as you probably imagine, it wasn't able to run any new games of the period. Upon getting that new PC, I got three games. One was already on the hard drive (a left-over from the previous user), Quake 2 (a classic I still love to revisit from time to time and I'm currently eyeing the expansions for it), Colin McRae Rally and Mechwarrior 3. That, more than 10 years ago, was my first contact with that particular game and with the franchise. And I remember that I loved the game, but didn't get far into it, perhaps because of the control scheme, or perhaps, being a 12 year old, my attention span wasn't actually enough to finish a game once I started it.

I haven't played any Mechwarrior games until last year, when I bought Mechwarrior 4 and gave it a go. I did have a passing experience of Mechcommander 2, and I knew more about the Battletech setting than I did when I first played Mech3, so I knew it was something up my alley. I enjoyed the game and had some fun with it as you may have read in my first Short Review. I was instantly reminded of Mech3, and it was my no.1 lookout title in charity shops, entertainment exchanges etc. I finally got it this month via Amazon. The copy I bought didn't have a box, unfortunately, but I did get two booklets: the instruction manual and a 'Technical Reference' with 'Mech info.

First of all, it was bloody hard to get the game to work. Even when I did, it seemed to take pleasure is freezing and crashing on me in random moments during missions. Mech3 is one of the games where there's no such thing as a Save system, so that had me playing through some missions several times to finish them. So a word of advice for any of you who'd like to revisit or play it for the first time - it's kind of a bitch to run on modern PC's. However, as long as each session lasted, it was fun.

The Mechwarrior series assume you know your Battletech lore. There's no in-game encyclopedia, and the intro doesn't really explain much, rather it sets the scene for those of the players who know something about the setting. Well, I don't, to be honest, I have a very limited knowledge of it (mostly from the video games), so the plot here, however well executed, wasn't exactly clear to me at points. But the main gist of it is this: an operation to destroy Clan Smoke Jaguar has been planned, to punish them for some kind of offensive they took part in and to provide a warning to other Clans if they are tempted to do the same. The opening of the operation is disastrous though, with a large loss of personnel on part of the invaders. But you survived the drop, along with your Mobile Field Base, and you are hell-bent on completing as much of the objectives as possible.

This general vagueness of the setting in the game translates directly to the vagueness of some of the game's mechanisms. For example, you can equip items such as CASE, MASC, Artemis IV, ECM Suite... the list goes on. However, there's no explanation of ANY type in-game on what these items actually do. Luckily, I got the manual, so I could read into what each of them is used for. Woe to the players who don't have that option but still wish to play the game! Most of these are not things that are essential to getting through a mission, but a lot of them are quite helpful. The whole game has this underlying theme of complexity going on, which was, I think, somewhat dumbed down in Mech4 (or at least they had descriptions of the items in-game). Mech3 can be played as an Action Game, using a limited number of commands and controls, and this is how I played it. However there's no doubt in my mind that it's best when played as it was intended to be played - as a simulation game. Some games are flight simulators. This one is a 'Mech simulator. Basically the whole keyboard is used, and from what I know the game really benefits from having a joystick to play it with. I don't own one, though I'd like to get one just for Mechwarrior games (and a few space sims I'm hoping to pick up or play in the future).

Remapping the keys gives you an approachable control scheme, but it's not very satisfying, as you pretty much know that there's a large chunk of functionality you're just not using. On the Easy difficulty setting, the campaign doesn't present too many challenges with this scheme, but it's still interesting and rather gripping when the action comes in. Each 'Mech power-up detected' alert has you look at the radar searching for a new target, firefights are quite tense and sniping enemies from away with long-range lasers is very, very fun.

The graphics have, obviously, aged - but I think they aged pretty well. Sure, everything is blocky and there's no really shiny effects, but that gives the game a rough, bleak look which fits the setting perfectly. I could totally see, and play, an MMO game based on an engine similar to this one, and would not say one bad thing about the graphics. Looking at enemies from the cockpit gives a sense of immersion, while viewing your 'Mech from an angle with a cinematic camera just looks plain awesome. One gripe I have about the graphics is their poor variety in a way. During the course of the campaign you get through many missions divided into four chapters (Operations), but three of them look exactly the same: bleak, grey landscapes with clouded skies, some black and grey buildings and a tree here and there. I heard that many people said that Mechwarrior 4 was too colourful, but it's not the colour scheme that I found lacking. I think this totally fitted the game's themes and setting, but when it introduced snowy plains into the mix, stuff got interesting! Hell, even before, when the clouds parted to show a reddish sky and you heard thunder in the background, that was a nice mix of things! So it can be done, and I wish it was done more often with this game.

The sound in Mech3 is great, you can feel the stomping of the machines, and each explosion is quite satisfying, as are all weapon sounds. The music is also pretty good, but there's only a handful of tracks played at the beginning of missions, and when they finish, there's only silence to accompany you. Mind you, each missions doesn't take too long to finish. I think the longest I spent with a single mission was around 25 minutes, and that's only because I took my time with the advance. Usually, one firefight quickly brings you to another as you complete your objectives, so most missions take around 15-20 minutes. And there's only around 20 of them, so it's safe to say that the whole Mechwarrior 3 game can be completed in under 8 hours, provided you don't spend too much time agonising over different Mech configurations. To be honest, now that I think of it, it's not too bad, actually, but I could've sworn I've only been playing this game for a few hours before completing it... Well, at any rate, I had the feeling that the missions ended very quickly, and I was sorry each time I had to press Ctrl+Q to exit a mission once it was completed. Then again, without saving points, this is for the better I suppose.

In my opinion Mech3 is a game worthy of revisiting, especially if you're a simulator fan or if you found Mech4 to be too 'arcade'y'. I'm still hyping myself up for the upcoming Mechwarrior 5, since it looks great and the whole idea is still there. I'm kind of sorry that the multiplayer for Mech3 is non-existant, as it would be a lot of fun to fight a 3v3 or 4v4 match from time to time... Anyway, this is a solid 8/10, not taking into account the performance issues (because that may be only my laptop, who knows, and it is a 10 year old game after all). Play it if you like what Mechwarrior is, or if you enjoy combat simulators. And, of course, if you can run it at all.

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