Game Over Online ~ MechWarrior 4: Vengeance

GameOver Game Reviews - MechWarrior 4: Vengeance (c) Microsoft, Reviewed by - Pseudo Nim

Game & Publisher MechWarrior 4: Vengeance (c) Microsoft
System Requirements Windows, Pentium II-400, 64MB Ram, 3D Accelerator, 4x CD-ROM
Overall Rating 69%
Date Published Tuesday, December 12th, 2000 at 02:04 PM

Divider Left By: Pseudo Nim Divider Right

I don't think any license has changed so many hands as MechWarrior has in recent years. The original MechWarrior was made by Activision, as was the second game along with all its derivatives and add-ons. The third MechWarrior title was made by Microprose and this fourth instalment was done by Microsoft. The first and third titles were quite enjoyable, even though I felt the second one dropped the ball, but this fourth one… is a whole new story.

Without much ado, let's jump right into the impressions I got from the game. The first and foremost thing that disgusted me was the new mech slot assignment system. You cannot equip your mech as you want anymore. In the interests of I don't know (user-friendliness?), everything has a visual icon now, and only fits into its "predetermined" place. So if something takes up two slots, it looks like two little units stacked on top of one another, and you cannot put it into a one-slot opening. Also, equipment is coloured now: red means energy weapons, green - missile projectiles, yellow - machine gun-type projectile weapons. They are COMPLETELY NOT INTERCHANGEABLE. As a result, you may no longer have a mech outfitted with a dozen machine guns, or a couple of ER lasers, a few PPCs and an array of SLAS units. There are "omni" mount points, but, like everything good in this life, there are very few of them. In general, after using the interface for a little bit, I have a strong feeling that it has been significantly dumbed down.

Another problem I have with the game lies with the distribution of salvaged equipment. Why do you get infinite ammunition? The way I see it, if you are out in the middle of nowhere on a battlefield, whatever you scavenge is yours. It doesn't make sense to pick up a LRM20 unit and have an infinite supply of missiles for it available for loading onto your mech. That completely unbalances the game - if you happen to scavenge an Ultra AC/20 somewhere, just drop everything, put two of those, and load up a crazy amount of ammo. It won't work for every mission, but it will for others - and quite improperly so. You don't seem to lose equipment, either: I played through a mission where most of my mech got destroyed, but when I was back at the bay, all the weapons were back - I lost nothing in that mission. Similarly, what happened to salvage? You just grab everything from a battlefield. Where is the limit? Where are the fine management options? Why can you drag around a couple billion tons of useless junk just because the designers thought it would be user-friendly to do it? Speaking of weapons, some new weapons have been added. One of the more interesting ones is the "Bombast Laser" which is a laser that charges up and releases a charge when you want it to. The more you charge, the more powerful the laser discharge. The description of the item says that it charges and, when fully charged, fires. That sounds logical - that actually requires you to have a bit of control over it so that it doesn't fire at the wrong moment. What's the "but"? Oh, but it doesn't work that way. The way it works is like this: push Fire, walk around searching for targets. Found target, push Fire to do damage. Repeat. Notice how time is not mentioned in this: that's because it charges infinitely. That is, it charges up to max and then just sits there spinning a cute pink presence on whichever side of the mech you have it installed. What, no auto-aiming? Come on!

While I'm on the whining train, here's another one. Mission briefings. It seems like the times of Wing Commander are coming back (i.e. when companies throw big money at making FMV briefing sequences). The thing is, Wing Commander had some very good acting talent. It also fit the theme VERY well. In MechWarrior, I fear there is no real talent at play. Westwood is smart: when they couldn't find any cheap acting talent, they got a few pornstars, dressed them in tight leather, and solved the problem. In MechWarrior, that didn't quite work out. The mission briefings are postage stamp-sized "video transmissions", complete with authentic flicker, interference and the occasional jamming. The information that you get is incredibly useful, too. Example: "Hey, we just picked up this great mech on salvage. I suggest you use it! Don't forget to try this new laser we grabbed, too. To use it, do ." Or you get lancemates telling you they want to be on your team.

The story of MW4 is just funny. In the intro movie, the main character's father dies. Not to insult the talent of whomever the actor is, but I think I was more grief-striken than he appeared to be. Remember Homer Simpson? "Don't say revenge... don't say revenge... REVENGE!" Welp, that's about all there is to MW4's story. Revenge. A dude killed your whole royal family (please, nobody wants to play a grunt) while you were out training somewhere to be somebody; so now you mourn for a few minutes, and decide to go whip the bastard's ass. Fear me, Bob! (Or whatever his name is). Conveniently, there are a couple of sidekicks that appear, and you pick up more along the way. You can actually choose from several lancemates for a given mission, depending on their skills. The hilarious part is that until all lancemate slots are unlocked, you will always have one or two more lancemates than you can actually take on a mission. The thing that will really bake your noodle later on is "Why is it that I have an idle lancemate, a fully functional, idle mech, but I can't have him accompany me? And where is my cookie, anyway?" (Speaking of damage: mechs get automatically repaired when you come back to the bay. I know it's been like that since MechWarrior II. But I never said I liked it.)

Not everything about the game is bad, of course. It does have its redeeming features. The graphics, for one, are very good. The amount of detail on the mechs, the environment niceties like birds (which you can't kill with a laser blast, unfortunately - it would be funny to see them crash and burn) and trees (which do crash and burn). The laser blasts are very, very nice and the smoke effects, the visible damage on other mechs and such is very nice. However, here's another point about damage: old-timers in MechWarrior will, undoubtedly, *love* the new design element that no longer disables a mech when you destroy its leg. You will see the leg as black on the damage monitor, and yet the mech will still go hopping around crippled, so you'll have to slice off its right leg as well before it will truly and completely die. Basically what this boils down to is that you load up on LRM20 with lots of ammo, lock on the mech and just fire without really caring where it hits. Torso is usually a good target, because once you're past the very thick armour, you're SURE to kill the mech, unlike via the leg method. Then again, hey, it doesn't really matter - you know how it actually paid off to cleanly "nullify" mechs in previous MechWarriors? You salvaged nice equipment from them, and (in MW1) the mechs went on sale with minimal damage. Here, it doesn't matter. You can kill them however you want, they're all yours, and so is the equipment.

The mission structure is not bad. It's believable, in any case. You have to go through a number of areas, each of which is split into several (usually 3 or 4) missions. There is an actual variety of things to do, which is neat: sometimes you must be stealthy, sometimes you have to do S&D (search & destroy), sometimes reckon, sometimes defensive. Anyway, it all boils down to killing other mechs in virtually all the cases. It's especially fun when you're outgunned and outnumbered, like in one of the early missions where you get a couple of medium mechs and two Arguses taking you on. Even if you're driving a Catapult, you're still no match for two Arguses with support (even though you have two lancemates). The lancemates actually do their job surprisingly well, though, and I haven't got much to complain about on that front (amazing, is it not?).

The control is fine, as well, with one huge mindbogglingly humongous exception. I have a throttle control on my Sidewinder Pro Force Feedback. It works well, I love it. But the game tries to be smart. It figures I'm too stupid to know that I can shift into reverse on a mech, so it just lets me use the upper 50% for forward throttle and the lower 50% for reverse throttle. The first problem with that is that in battle, you will frequently switch into the wrong direction. The second problem is that shifting into reverse from forward and vice versa takes a VERY BLOODY LONG TIME. For several seconds, you are just standing in a wide open area looking stupid and surrounded by enemies. In multiplayer, I cannot possibly fathom how this could not be exploited left and right. It's ridiculously useless, annoying and frustrating; I fail to see why we can't just have the old-fashioned way, where you have to press a button to switch into reverse. The force fedback effects are pretty good, though. Another commendable addition is the torso twist/pitch scale: it shows how off-center you are. Quite useful.

That having been said, I feel like the ball has been dropped quite heavily with MechWarrior 4. The graphics have been prettied up, but the rest of the game has been completely moronized and user-friendlized to foot the bill of I-don't-know-who. The interface (especially mech configuration) is abysmally bad; I'm surprised there is still a per-mech tonnage limit (at the rate things are going that'll go away in MW5); the mission briefings are junk (you actually don't want to watch them after a while); the story is useless; the actual mech combat is much more difficult because you can't disable certain body elements to achieve a quick kill; and so forth. The gameplay is significantly worsened because of this, and this game lowers itself to the level of Heavy Gear and such. It's not a bad big robot fighting game - I would definitely recommend it for someone looking for a cool game with big robots and lots of explosions happening. But this is a really bad MechWarrior incarnation. I hope the license moves back to Activision or Microprose next time. It'll probably suck less.


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