A resurgent BattleTech has been making itself known throughout the internet lately. For old mech veterans, it heralds the return of the granddaddy of all mech entertainment. For younger folks, BattleTech might not be something they’ve heard of, but can certainly appreciate its influence on the mech genre.
For the uninitiated, you can find a rundown of the property’s history here. In a nutshell, much of what you consciously understand about the mech genre (although an amalgamation of various properties throughout time) can find it’s origin in BattleTech. But that discussion is best had between Mountain Dews and Doritos when there is time to argue the finer points of mech history. For now, we have a game to check out.
So there’s a beta out there in the wild. It’s only for financial backers at the moment (Backerkit & Kickstarter), but if you’ve got the green or a friend with some green, you can get in on the beta by backing at the $60 tier. At this level you get a few different digital goodies, such as some background stories in the form of novellas and high res game images for use as wallpapers. This is all in addition to the beta game key for your platform of choice and a manual. Me, I chose Steam.
Upon making your pledge you get all the items immediately and it took a little less than an hour to get my game key. You are prompted to register at the forum while waiting and once registered you get a special backer badge flair for your profile. Now it’s important to note that this beta is specifically for backers, and you will not be able to participate in any other form of testing via the backer channel. Once it’s done, it’s done, but backing at the $60 level does get you a release copy of the game once it arrives.
Upon receiving my game key, it was simple to log into Steam and get it installed. As I waited for the installation I skimmed the manual. I actually recommend giving the manual a good read-through to get the most out of your experience. There are some game mechanics that take some understanding before you can really get the hang of how the game works. Follow-up posts down the road here on MECH*SPECTRUM will go into that in greater depth.
Once installed, your options for play are limited to solo outings on a couple of maps against enemy AI players, though future updates will include multiplayer and other additions. I selected my video settings, but found I went a little too high at first resulting in a choppy frame rate. The game is not kind to Macs and their crappy Intel-based graphic chips. I jumped into my first game without customizing my Lance (squad of mechs).
At first blush the mood and setting was great, and I really felt like I was in charge of this group of mechs. Each pilot has their own personality and it is reflected in the dialogue. The game is turn-based, and each turn has multiple phases. A key element of play is balancing the heat your mech generates and the effect it has on your strategy. This was familiar for me having played the Wizkids MechWarrior Clix game. If you go too many phases activating and using your mech, they will overheat and eventually shut down, resulting in a future turn of getting them to start back up (pro tip: standing in water reduces this effect). Again, I’ll elaborate more on specific game mechanics in a future article.
Once the match begins and you select a mech, you have a variety of options based on how the mech is kitted out. For my first game I had mostly nimble light mechs, so I spent much of the time sprinting or jumping to get to the enemy. They first appear as generic icons on your HUD until they come into line-of-sight, and then you see what you are actually up against. Much like a tabletop game, your facing at the end of movement (90 degrees) is really important, and it took many rounds of getting shot in the back for me to learn this.
My first match largely served to have me get used to the controls and get my butt kicked. However, I had a great time. I got to use a Death From Above attack (a longtime classic maneuver where you jump onto an enemy mech), enjoyed close combat in a small wood, and got to stomp on enemies that I had knocked over. Once the enemy finished dispatching the last of my Lance, I returned to the lobby to peruse the manual again. My second game was more evenly matched and I spent the time better coordinating the members of my Lance and paying attention to heat levels. Basically the more you get used to being able to balance the economics of keeping your Lance in fighting shape, the better the game you will have.
Harebrained Schemes LLC has created a very cool, moody, and engrossing turned-based shooter so far. The in-game combat feels deep, but not complicated, and the graphics are gorgeous. I am really looking forward to story-based elements to be added, since that is one of the property’s great strengths and presents incredible possibilities for clan-based play. Player-versus-player mode will also be a welcome addition. In my next BattleTech feature we will dig deeper into the game mechanics with a walk-through of actual gameplay including video!