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The first MechAssault was used to launch Xbox Live!, but will Lone Wolf help drive the veteran BattleTech franchise forward…
When the Earth-shattering experience that is Microsoftâ??s Xbox Live! platform was launched, MechAssault was one of the first titles released that tried to give a flavour of what Live! was about; sadly, the game fell flat with a distinct lack of gameplay and, to be quite honest, good old-fashioned fun. Part of the 15 year old BattleTech universe, a franchise that has a future history plotted so detailed, and dare we even suggest â??retentiveâ??, that it would take months to even begin to understand, MechAssault saw gamers play the part of huge 40 foot tall Mechs armed to the teeth with a whole range of deadly offensive weaponry from your average cannon to plasma missiles.
Although it accomplished the mission that it was given, that is, to provide gamers with a taster of what was eventually to come in later released titles games such as Project Gotham Racing 2 and Halo 2, MechAssault had the gameplay of, well to be fair, it didnâ??t really have much gameplay. One of the negative points about the gameplay in MechAssault was that the combat system was just plain and dull; often you would find yourself running around in circles, blasting away as best you can whilst your opponent did exactly the same. The whole affair was akin to a robotic mating ritual satirically mimicking herons on a freshwater lake during the Springtime in Florida.
Not only was the gameplay nominal at best, making MechAssault seem more like a technical demonstration for Xbox Live! than an actual fully fledged game, the visuals were average and quite uninspiring, and the game plodded, much like the Mechs. Fast-forward 18 months, and the final disc of MechAssault 2: Lone Wolf lands on our desks at TVG Towers - cue much eyebrow rising amongst the team. Is this going to be Tech Demo 2, or have the developers been given space to actually create a game?
Well on first glance, Lone Wolf does seem to be an improvement, but it doesn't quite address all of the issues that have strangled Mech titles in the past...
Set after the events of MechAssault, the single-player campaign in Lone Wolf begins after the liberation of Helios, where the MechWarrior, one of the last remaining members of the Wold Dragoons, hence the subtitle "Lone Wolf" (as well as his companions Major Natalya and Lieutenant Foster) is registered as Missing In Action. Hiding out on the Planet Dante, the planet is besieged by a horde of Mechs. The new head of the fanatical Word of Blake, known only as the Nemesis, is changing strategies in the hope of finding Data Cores that may lead to the Word of Blake becoming the dominant philosophy in the galaxy; and it just so happens that your team's technical expert, the aforementioned Lieutenant Foster, has one of the Cores in his possession. Anyway, back to the Planet Dante...This first mission is essentially a tutorial that introduces players to many of the new features in the game, including the Battle Armour, a kind of prototype exoskeleton created by Foster from the Data Core, that the MechWarrior can use when heâ??s not controlling some of the 40 foot tall Mechs.
The BattleArmour is essentially a MechSuit and is fitted with basic weaponry and jetpack, allowing gamers to propel the MechWarrior through the air for a certain period of time. The Armour is also fitted with a giant claw so that the MechWarrior can leap up to a building or a wall and smash the claw into the side of it, enabling him to replenish power to the jetpack and launch up to a high altitude. Who needs to scale tall buildings in a single bound?
Although the BattleArmour is fitted with shielding, you wonâ??t last for long under a heavy barrage of missiles and bullets so being able to dodge the enemy shots by using the jetpack or hacking into enemy Mechs is essential in order to survive. Whats that? Hacking Mechs? MechWarriorâ??s BattleArmour enables gamers to 'NeuroHack' into enemy Mech systems, which means that for the first time ever you have the ability to Mech-jack. To do this does requires three things:
- Jetpack skills
- Memories of playing the electronic game â??Simon Saysâ? as a child
The ability to change Mechâ??s in the battlefield is one of the key improvements made to the franchise as it gives gamers much more freedom to develop a whole range of tactical options. For instance, gamers who prefer faster and manoeuvrable Mechs are able to jump into a Raptor and run circles around the more heavy yet powerful robots. It also means that it develops the idea in gamers that you play the part of a Mech pilot and not a faceless, mindless Mech, which in turn means that you get a sense of empathy with the MechWarrior as you would with most player controlled characters over time.
As in previous games most of the environments in the game are full destructible and after some battles, they resemble the sort of concrete wastelands that you'd expect to occur if you let a six year old take the control of some heavy duty demolition equipment. Piles of rubble and mangled ruins are strewn across the environments, and whilst this level of obliteration is satisfying for a short time, it doesn't quite manage to sustain a great level of excitement - if you've seen one ruined city, then quite honestly, you've seen them all. Not all of the game takes place in futuristic urban streets though, and there are occasions where you'll find yourself in swampy grasslands and cliff areas, which at the very least adds some variety; however even these environments are dull and like the cities, they just feel unrealistic - they feel like film sets, and you get the impression that if you stepped behind the facade, then you'll find the buildings are actually just made out of chipboard and a few nails. The cities just don't feel right, and you get the impression that you aren't really supposed to analyse the locations too deeply, because you should be just fixated on your opponent's inevitable destruction. Added to that the fact that the environmental textures are quite blurry and lack crisp levels of detail means that youâ??ll be glad to focus on the wanton destruction of enemy Mechs.
On the whole Lone Wolf doesn't exactly leap out and stun you with amazing visuals; don't get us wrong, there is nothing wrong with them, but they don't offer anything too groundbreaking although when the Mechs do eventually (after a sustained level of heavy bombardment) lie down and die, the resulting explosion does satisfy with the a 'water ripple' sonic boom that would definately register on the Richter scale. The game features a wide range of Mechs split up into four different classes - "Light Mechs", "Medium Mechs", "Heavy Mechs", and "Assault Mechs", each class of Mech has it's own advantages and disadvantages, so whilst the Light Mechs, such as the Raptor of Stilettos, are quick and nimble, the 100 behemoth Assault Mechs like the Star Adder, have tremendous amounts of firepower at their disposal. Most of the Mechs have their own jetpack to fly around in, which is great if you want to traverse some of the cliff faces in the game, and they also have the ability to upgrade the weapons as the levels progress.
The HUD in Lone Wolf is fairly standard and very quick to understand; it does it's job and if you aren't sure as to what the various bars and symbols mean, then fear not as Foster will be quick to tell you in the initial mission. The control system in the game is also quite straightforward, with the left trigger changing weapons, right trigger firing the selects weapons, leaving gamers just having to remember to press the left thumbstick in to fire the Mech's jetpack when available. This is probably one of the things that doesn't quite work with the control system, as you'll find yourself having to fire the jetpack and move the Mech with the same thumbstick, something that does take time to get used to and is often a hit-or-miss affair. It is quite difficult to see how the control system could be improved since moving the jetpack switch to one of the buttons would mean that gamers wouldn't be able to control the camera with the right stick, while changing the control to one of the triggers would mean that the intuitive weapons change/fire controls would be disrupted - it's one of those cases where the developers have done their best and gamers will just have to adapt as best they can.
Music lovers will be content to know that Lone Wolf features in it's soundtrack music from those happy-go-lucky chaps, Papa Roach, and Korn...fabtastic mate. Away from the metal heavy soundtrack, the sound effects are pretty much standard fare and donâ??t really jump out at you â?“ much like the gameâ??s visuals. The voice artistry is probably about average and certainly nothing special â?“ this is hardly a cinematic experience and indeed the game does have a cartoony feel to it.
Away from the Single-Player campaign, MechAssault2: Lone Wolf also contains some Multiplayer optinons. Offline you can battle friends in the usual split-screen style, whilst the Xbox Live! mode in the game offers an exciting twist to the standard â??Capture the Flagâ? multiplayer matches that we have more than become accustomed to. Called Campaign, this clan based mode introduces you to the idea of colonising the Inner Sphere planets. The idea is to planet hop through the Sphere, battling through the standard multiplayer modes as you go.
Up to 12 people are able to battle it out on Xbox Live!, and whilst this would be somewhat impressive when the feature launched, with Halo 2 and Star Wars: Battlefront able to provide more online targets for you, a dozen is far from impressive. Multiplayer modes on Live! include the very standard fare of Destruction and Team Destruction (Deathmatch and Team Deathmatch), the afore mentioned Capture the Flag, Snatch It (where gamers have to take various objects back to their base â?“ kind of like multi-flag Capture the Flag) Last Man Standing and Team Last Man Standing (where a single player scores kills and the others have to do what they can to survive), Catch It (where gamers have to capture and defend various checkpoints), and Base War (where you must defend a generator in your base from being destroyed by the enemy.) For those of you without Live! wondering what the developers have included for you, there is a Grinder Mode, which is a multi-player co-operative mode where gamers have to survive waves after waves of enemies. As you can see, the options arenâ??t exactly groundbreaking.
As you progress through the mode, and hold more planets, you are increasingly likely to come under attack from other invaders so the art of defence becomes important too. Clans cannot attack a planet unless they have two direct routes to it, so you won't be able to jump from one end of the galaxy to the other. Each planet will have it's own particular game attached so for instance, one planet will be capture the flag only, which follows Bungie's strategy for Live! in Halo2 where gamers are expected to be skilled in a multitude of games and adaptation between matches is crucial. In order to conquer a planet though, clans will have to win multiple games over the defensive team, so spreading through the galaxy quickly like some kind of virus is also out of the question. Like Halo2, it seems that Lone Wolf's longevity will rely heavily on Xbox Live!, since the Single-Player game (like it's Microsoft Games Studio cousin) is overall disappointing. Although the developers have tried to build on the foundations of the previous title, something that they have undeniably achieve, you canâ??t help but see a game that at its heart has very repetitive gameplay where you have to obliterate everything in sight.