Starting life as a tabletop gaming franchise, Battletech has a storied videogame history – it’s the “umbrella” brand that links Mechwarrior, Mechassault, Mechcommander and more. Now in 2018, how will the Kickstarter-funded franchise fare under the stewardship of developer Harebrained Schemes?
A story of political intrigue and betrayal viewed through the lens of your own created mercenary, Battletech’s campaign begins with a wonderfully crafted opening cinematic chronicling years of lore. It may not bring beginners or relative novices up to speed immediately, but it does a good job of touching on key concepts such as different factions and the giant hulking death machines they fight their wars with – Mechs. While dialogue is laden with exposition and voice-acting is hammy at best, the plot travels at such a speed that you’re never too far from something interesting happening – be that in the sorts of events you play through or behind the scenes in the political setup of the world. I won’t go into any spoilers, but long-term fans will find a lot to love.
Like the opening cinematic, the game’s story is told through “painted” artwork with a few animate touches that seem timeless, in conjunction with dialogue choices and conversations with crewmates on your ship. Perhaps most impressively, your custom avatar has a full backstory (decided by you) that opens up different conversational opportunities as the game progresses as well as affecting stat boosts.
Gameplay is king of Battletech, however, and in this regard it feels like a tabletop dragged kicking and screaming into the year 3025. Actually, it feels a lot more like the recent rebirth of X-Com – turn-based and complete with hit percentages. In fact, even a lot of the UI feels very similar to Firaxis’ alien-stomping effort. That isn’t to say there aren’t some neat twists on the formula, however. For example, targeting a specific limb or area on an enemy Mech can lead destroying valuable components that will affect its combat effectiveness. You’ll also have to monitor your own heat levels to ensure you don’t overheat, and walk through water to cool yourself down in order to prevent an enforced shutdown. While the game relies less on cover than X-Com, you’ll find yourself flanking often – Mech’s are very directional, and can only shoot at enemies within their vision cone. This makes things more tactical and works for the opposition too – be sure to get behind them to maximise your damage output.
Mission structures range from destroying every opposition Mech to dealing damage to buildings and other key targets, and while mission objectives change ad hoc in most missions, the interface is clear in presenting your current objective. Between missions, you’ll strike up conversations with your crew, tweak and repair Mech loadouts and hire and fire mercenaries. At the beginning of the game, your crew is in debt to the bank and it’s a while before you’re throwing the cold, hard cash around. In the meantime, you’ll have to scavenge – like that weapon the opposition has? Shoot it off and claim it for your own, but remember you’ll need to consider what you leave behind on the battlefield as well. AI is smart enough to punish your mistakes, and you’ll learn to sacrifice a Mech entirely in order to prevent weapons changing hands.
Customising Mechs is a delicate balancing act between weight and heat limits – do you pick a rocket launcher at the risk of being unable to add much else? These compromises mean you’ll want to build a Mech to order for the mission. Speaking of balancing acts, your motley crew of mercenaries will also squabble, requiring you to step in from time to time. Thankfully, if you’re not in the mood for playing as a peacekeeper between your crewmates, you’re able to take your tactical nous online and challenge others in skirmish combat. While thin in terms of modes, you’re free to select your group of Mechs from the entire array of options and outfit accordingly, with plenty of maps to stomp around on.
That isn’t to say everything runs perfectly – on max settings, Battletech is a great looking game with plenty of detail in foliage, rock faces and the Mech combatants themselves. However, there are times where Mechs will freeze in place for a period of time before eventually completing their actions – it isn’t game-breaking, but it is irritating. There are also some pacing issues – while the tutorial facilitates a slow start to the campaign, the game seems reluctant to trust players with any further concepts for a little while, having you take on opposition made up of tanks and turrets instead of Mechs. By the time you’re taking on larger groups of opposition Mechs, it feels like the learning curve wasn’t steep enough.
These are all small nitpicks, however – Battletech is an exciting reinvention of a classic built on concepts and ideas from other games in the genre but smartly twisted to suit the universe it is set in. It’s well worth your time, Mechwarrior.
** A code was kindly provided by publishers for review purposes**