MechWarrior 4: Vengeance Review

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Publisher: Microsoft
Developer: Microsoft

Platform: PC
Reviewed on PC

Windows System Requirements: Pentium II 300 MHz, 64 MB RAM, 8 MB 3D video card, 500 MB HD space, 4x CD-ROM

Released in November of 2000, MechWarrior 4 is the last computer game to be released before FASA Corporation closed its doors in January of 2001. FASA created the BattleTech universe, in which 31st century humanity is plagued by near-constant war dominated by bipedal war machines called BattleMechs. Elite soldiers called MechWarriors pilot the 'Mechs dominating the battlefield with their machines of war that mass up to 100 tons and stand as much as fourteen meters high.

In MechWarrior 4: Vengeance, the player is the son of Duke Eric Dresari, sovereign of Kentares IV, a planet with a strongly independent populace. When Duke Eric opposed the schemes of Archon Katrina Steiner, Steiner launched a brutal surprise assault on Dresari forces. Young William Dresari has been set up as the puppet ruler of Kentares IV, and Duke Eric's surviving brother, Peter, is leader of the remnant Dresari forces. As Duke Eric's son, you must return from the Clan Wars to lead the sparse Dresari resources against Steiner forces to depose the pretender William and restore your family to the throne.

Beginning with assaults on Steiner communication facilities on the moon, MechWarrior 4 takes the player through a variety of offensive, defensive and recon operations that cover Kentares IV from the arctic regions through desert, urban, and swap terrain, ending with an assault on the palace complex itself and the Steiner elite MechWarriors. MechWarrior 4 is a combination of action and flight/vehicle simulation, playable in single player campaign, instant action, and multiplayer modes.

Kyle Ackerman

MechWarrior 4 is an excellent game in isolation. The graphics are spectacular, creating an immersive and very realistic impression of piloting a gigantic battle robot across landscapes both alien and familiar. MechWarrior 4 has moved the quality of graphics to a higher level than previous MechWarrior games. The cinematic-like sequences that precede each mission are actually the in-game beginning of the mission, rendered using the game engine from a remote camera perspective. The graphics are so smoothly detailed that individual missiles are modeled, and players may need to examine screenshots or freeze-frame to fully appreciate the BattleTech universe. The sound for MechWarrior 4 is clear enough to identify weapons by the sounds they make exploding.

This newest MechWarrior game also fully addresses several complaints that surfaced concerning MechWarrior 3. Players complained that MechWarrior 3 had too few missions, and that the multiplayer functionality was executed poorly. MechWarrior 4 includes more than thirty missions, and several multiplayer modes. Multiplayer matching and gameplay are intuitive, and worked surprisingly smoothly with a comparatively slow connection. Not surprisingly, this game operates more smoothly in a Windows environment, installing and uninstalling easily, and even operating with many other programs in the background. Even the keyboard operations have been slightly simplified, when compared to previous generations of MechWarrior games.

It is, unfortunately, impossible to discuss this game without considering the many MechWarrior games that preceded MechWarrior 4: Vengeance. Where MechWarrior 4 disappoints, it is not due to low-quality production, but because the streamlined set-up eliminates much of what was engaging in the previous games. The greatest pleasure in the MechWarrior franchise, for the detail-oriented gamer, was the ability to micromanage the configuration and design of the gigantic 'Mech war machines in the MechLab. In previous games, it was possible to configure the precise location of weapons, heat-sinks, armor, engine type, and so on. If one desired, it was possible to reconfigure a Catapult chassis (a massive 'Mech meant primarily as a missile launching support vehicle) to carry a load entirely comprised of heavy laser weaponry, subject only to the limits of weight and space. For those less inclined to delve into the technical specifications of the 'Mechs they piloted, one could revert to preprogrammed default and alternate 'Mech builds.

In an effort to simplify 'Mech customization, MechWarrior 4: Vengeance adopts a hardpoint system, in which only specific weapons can be attached to particular locations on a particular chassis. While this simplifies the modification process and gives each 'Mech chassis more individual character, it does make the personalization of 'Mechs more difficult and less satisfying. That said, had MechWarrior 4 been a stand-alone game and not a late installment in an ongoing franchise, the new MechLab process would still offer more customizability in an accessible format than nearly any other game. The new process also has the advantage of retaining the character of the individual chassis.

The missions are easily the equal of the missions found in MechWarrior 3, and are comprised of a nice mix of assault, defensive, scouting and retrieval missions. Importantly, there are many more missions than in the previous installment of the MechWarrior series. MechWarrior 4 only compares poorly to its predecessor in the area of mission briefings. In Vengeance, the mission maps are not particularly informative, and the video and audio that precede a mission exist to further the story, and offer very little useful tactical advice. These movies can be long, and only the advice on configuring your 'Mech contains any useful information. All important strategic information is dispensed as a mission begins, or if new objectives develop during a mission. In MechWarrior 3, the mission briefing explained mission objectives using audio, video and maps. While the missions are as well designed in MechWarrior 4, and were usually easily completed on the second run, a first attempt was often necessary to fully understand the mission parameters and objectives. In MechWarrior 3, a MechWarrior was usually fully prepared for the mission by the briefing.

MechWarrior 4 also shares one of the main failings of the previous MechWarrior games. The AI governing the player's lancemates (the MechWarriors that accompany the player on missions), while adequate, is not up to the task of operating in complex environments. Frequently, lancemates get stuck on maps with impassible terrain. While this was an inconvenience in mountainous territory, it made group missions nearly impossible in urban terrain – lancemates have difficulty finding their way around buildings and narrow streets to support the player in difficult combats. Because the enemies are usually associated with specific regions, they are rarely subject to the same complex navigational requirements that affect your lancemate allies. In other words, mission design parameters make the AI good for enemy MechWarriors, but insufficient for allied MechWarriors, particularly in complex environments.

Fundamentally, MechWarrior 4: Vengeance is an excellent game, offering a superb fusion of action and flight/vehicle simulator-type play. This game may be a greater joy to play for computer gamers new to the MechWarrior series of games than for longstanding veterans of the franchise. In either case, MechWarrior is still a great opportunity to pilot 'Mechs for the greater glory of the Dresari, and enjoy every moment of the battle.






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This page contains a single entry by Editor published on October 9, 2001 7:51 PM.

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