Mechwarrior 4: Vengeance
If there has ever been a series to bridge the gap between first-person shooter and traditional space simulation, the Mechwarrior series has been it. For the last ten years, each incarnation of the series has induced a 'mech-stomping frenzy, winning awards, grabbing fans by their jumpjets, and inducing dozens of high and low quality imposters. Through it all though, including four different publishers, three scrapped and remade products, the Mechwarrior series has remained strong.
Mechwarrior 4 began its life as Mechwarrior 3, being created by FASA Interactive and being published by Microprose, Unfortunately, when it was reasoned that the project was too complex and had too far to go until completion, Microprose brought in Zipper Interactive to create an entirely different MW3, with the existing development being pushed back to the fourth revision in the series.
So, after a long three-year wait, the game we had originally wanted as Mechwarrior 3 is here in the form of Mechwarrior 4: Vengeance, now published by Microsoft (who purchased FASA Interactive late into Mech3's development). Is it what hard-core BattleTech fans and adventure gamers alike have been clamoring for since 1997? Keep reading to find out.
Basics & Installation
Mechwarrior 4 comes on two CDs, and is accompanied with a rather detailed instruction manual and control-reference card. The installation process is pretty straight forward, giving you a nice background on the game's plot during the install and allows you to perform a standard (about 300mb) or full (about 1.1gb) install. I performed a full install, as this allows all the contents of both discs to be copied to the hard drive and saves loading and accessing time. This may seem a little steep, but for most games today, it seems pretty average, and the load time saved by doing a full install is worth the hard drive space.
Vengeance allows for multiple control setups, being pre-set for mouse/keyboard and joystick/keyboard layouts. If you want to use a joystick in this game, I highly recommend the use of a digital joystick with a Z axis, which will be used heavily while in-game for the torso-twist function on your 'mech.
For those unfamiliar at all with the Mechwarrior series or the BattleTech universe, the basis of the game is you pilot a 40-70 foot tall walking tank called a BattleMech, which is loaded out with quite the arsenal of destructive weapons, ranging from long and short range missiles to all sizes of lasers as well as the shotgun-like AutoCannons.
In Vengeance, like all Mechwarrior games before it, you are given a multitude of 'Mechs to choose from, ranging from the small and fast 35-ton Raven to the 100-ton behemoths Atlas & Daishi. Again, in true Mechwarrior fashion, you are also able to customize each 'Mech to your heart's content in the MechLab, being able to swap out weapons and armor as you see fit, as well as adding in specialized equipment for each mission. This is a tactical decision, because its not always the best idea (or even possible) to take out the heaviest, largest, and most loaded out 'Mech when you need to be speeding along at 100kph buzzing targets so they won't be able to get a target lock on you.
The MechLab in Vengeance is quite different from most of the 'Mech games before it, allowing for a very easy swap of weapons and equipment using a simple drag and drop interface that makes customizing your 'Mech easy and quite enjoyable. This is a nice switch from some of the earlier 'Mech games, where customizing your 'Mech required a bit too much time and thought for my liking. Purists may disagree though, as the new system does limit you a bit more than the older games, but it ultimately makes for quicker variants in 'Mechs and better competition both on and offline.
A nice change in Mechwarrior 4 is that there is actually a fairly solid plot for the single player campaign. The game opens with a beautifully rendered cinematic, which features, for the first time, real actors and actresses portraying roles of your fellow comrades in action. The game puts you as a royal, whose family has been killed by a rival government, House Steiner, who has also plundered your worlds and your cities. From the title of the game, I assume you can follow through what the point of the game would be after that. For those who don't follow, I suggest you play and find out.
The campaign is fairly linear, being presented through a series of missions, in which the plot is progressed through out of mission video clips as well as in-game objectives. There are some twists, however, where decisions you make in-game will alter the course of the game and how your fellow Mechwarriors will respond to you and your actions. The campaign is sufficiently long enough to enjoy most casual gamers, although most hard-core gamers could probably finish the game in two days or less.
Fortunately, even after you have finished the campaign, there is plenty of replay value left in Mechwarrior 4. The game allows for different difficulty levels, as well as an Instant Action mode where you can choose to replay your favorite mission from the campaign, a "wave" mode where you and your lancemate (MW4's version of a wingman) can take your 'Mech variants up against wave after wave of computer-controlled 'Mechs of varying difficulty. There is also a challenging Master Trials mode of Instant Action which puts you in a randomly-chosen 'Mech one-on-three in multiple waves of random combat.
Once you feel you've mastered the single player game well enough and feel like taking your favorite 'Mech variants out on the world, the Multiplayer mode in Mechwarrior 4 does not disappoint. There is an in-game browser which scours the network or the internet for current servers and games, which allow for up to 16 players each.
There are several modes of multiplayer in Vengeance, including Destruction (basically DeathMatch), Attrition (same as Destruction only you receive points for damage), Team Destruction, Team Attrition, King of the Hill, Capture the Flag, just to name a few. All are quite enjoyable and provide for whatever type of fun you may be in the mood for. Online play style is dependant on your 'Mech loadout and location, as well as your opponent's 'Mech loadout. A game in a large city with large 100-ton assault 'Mechs will be slower paced, but more destructive and furious, than a fast game in 35-ton light 'Mechs set in the Desert or the Forest. Once again, Mechwarrior 4 offers plenty of variation for nearly endless replay value.
Graphics, Sound & Music
Simply put, Mechwarrior 4 is beautiful. Everything from the terrain to the buildings to the 'Mechs themselves is rendered in fantastic detail. The terrain is littered with lush trees, tall mountains, and even the occasional bird flying through the sky for the extra touch, giving the world the feeling of actually being alive.
You have to be careful though, because taking too long to survey your surroundings could be your undoing as your opponent lunges at you with 60 tons of destructive power. Even then, you'll be stricken with the beauty of seeing the steam rise from the 'Mechs after an AutoCannon blast, or the glare and streak of missiles flying across the sky, right at your face. Its all quite an incredible sight, and screenshots can not do it justice.
You would expect such lush graphics to take their toll on your system, and they can, to an extent. As stated earlier, you can choose from varying detail levels, ranging from Low to "Ultra High", which will help out performance by quite a bit. Fortunately, even lowering the detail level still does not prevent Mechwarrior 4 from immersing you in its lush, beautiful world.
The sound enhances the immersive factor that Mech4 presents, presenting satisfying footsteps that boom through the speakers with each step, and that particular *whoosh* as a barrage of missiles flies right past your head. When you are hunting through a complex environment in stealth mode, listening for the sound of footsteps or weapons fire will tell you where your target lies ahead--or in a dangerous scenario, behind you.
Music is scattered throughout the game, providing a decent ambience for the action, often times starting out slow and calm to emphasize your peaceful location, and then speeding up other times as you plunge into battle.
Overall, the graphics and sound help to make Mechwarrior 4 a very immersive and enjoyable experience.
Mechwarrior 4 has been the game fans have been waiting for since Activision published Mechwarrior 2: Mercenaries in 1996. It provides an almost unlimited gameplay experience, allowing you to go back into the action again and again with nearly unlimited options on what you may do or how you play.
Even for those who have no idea what BattleTech or Mechwarrior is, and just want a good action game, I highly recommend this title. You will not be disappointed.