So, MechCommander 2 has been on my EB reserve list since last year. I'd been eagerly awaiting this title, until I read a review in csipg.strategic yesterday from a fellow who claims to have finished the game already. Basically, he blasted the game for bad, bad, bad AI, poor pathfinding, a too-easy campaign, and lousy acting in the cinematic sequences. Now I find myself awaiting the phone call from the EB with a rising sense of dread. Is it really that bad?
By Robert Mayer on Thursday, July 19, 2001 - 10:39 am:
No. I like it--a lot. I realize different people have different takes on games, but I love this game. So does William Abner, our former sports guy and frequent contributor over at Computer Games, and a 'Mech fan. So does most everyone I've talked to who has played the game.
The AI is nowhere near as bad as it was in the first MechCommander, and at its worst is at least as good as most RTS AI. At its best, it's pretty solid--not brilliant, but the enemy 'Mechs, like yours, know how to use long, medium, and short range weapons, and they move pretty well. Sure, you can out think them--but in what came is that not the case? They use their jump jets pretty well, too. The only thing they really don't do well is break off and try to run away when damaged--but that would be pretty futile anyhow, given the game/map designs.
Pathfinding? No more problems than most real-time games. It's about as good as that in Baldur's Gate I & II, I'd say. You occasionally get a glitch where two guys ordered to move to the same spot will radio you saying their path is block, but you can get out of that by ordering them again--it doesn't happen that often. And if you don't watch what you are doing, you can easily give an order that will have pathfinding consequences you did not foresee--for instance, if you don't control the gates on a base, but you think you do, your guys could take the long way around, because that's the only way they know of to enter the base, etc. But overall, pathfinding is not a problem.
Too easy campaign? Well, maybe if you're a masochist. Playing on Normal (I'm about 2/3 done with the game) I find it challenging at spots, but generally somewhat on the easy side--but to me that's a Good Thing. I have to do things right to win (and to win cheaply), but it's never so frustrating that I throw up my hands in despair, something I did A LOT with the original MechCommander. There are no screw missions, no puzzle fests, no insanely difficult situations (yet), and again I'm happy about that. I've had to use the save and restore function a few times, but overall it's nearly the perfect blend of tension and satisfaction--not too hard, nor too easy. For me, at least.
The acting? Who the $&^# cares? It's ok. It ranges from bad and hokey to half-way decent. It's better than that in MechWarrior 4. But again, who cares?
Lee, the only caveat I can come up with about this game is that in big battles, even with a gigahertz-class system with 256MB RAM, at high-res you might have some sluggish performance at the height of the action, but other than that, and a few annoyances, this is one of the better strategy games I've played in quite some time. It won't last you a lifetime like Civ, but it's a beautiful thing to watch your 'Mechs fight in the 3D environments, you can use tactics and have choices to make in the missions, and it's FUN.
My $.02 worth.
By Lee Johnson (Lee_johnson) on Thursday, July 19, 2001 - 11:34 am:
Thanks for your response, Robert. I appreciate all of the detail, but I think the whole thing boils down to this little statement you make at the end: and it's FUN. and it's FUN.
Hmmm, I'm not sure they heard me in the back. Let me repeat that:
I mean, this is why we play games, right? At least, it's why I do. :-) I think some people get so wrapped up in the minutiae that they forget that games are meant to be entertaining.
Anyway, I was greatly encouraged by your reply. I liked the original MechCommander but found it extremely frustrating. It sounds like they've made some improvement on that aspect of the game.
As far as the acting goes, I only mentioned it because the author of the Usenet review did; for a game like this, the cinematics are somewhere near the bottom of my feature list in terms of importance. Your reaction was not wholly unexpected. ;-)
Moving on to the performance issues, what do you consider "high-res"? I have an Athlon 900 with a GeForce 2 GTS in it; however, I only have a 15" monitor, so I frequently play at 800x600. I suspect that most others are cranking it up to at least 1024x768, or even 1280x1024; at those resolutions, I wouldn't be surprised if things began to chug a bit.
As an aside, even Civ won't last me a lifetime. SMAC might, though--until something better comes along. :-D
By Mark Asher on Thursday, July 19, 2001 - 12:16 pm:
and it's FUN.
and it's FUN.
Bob, one of the things about the beta that got to me after awhile was how most of the actual fighting didn't take long. It reminded me of a typical RTS in that regard, one where you lasso units and point them at the enemy. The combat just wasn't all that much fun for me.
I also found myself using the same tactic over and over. Position my mechs and then use one to lure the enemy into my little deathtrap. It got kind of boring after awhile.
Still, I'm looking forward to the final, if I ever get a copy.
By Robert Mayer on Thursday, July 19, 2001 - 01:39 pm:
Lee: Your system is similar to mine. I run at 1024; at 800 it's probably smoother.
Mark: Well, what 'Mech game has their been where combat lasted very long? :-) Other than the table top game. MechWarrior 4 had some decent battles. I find, thought, that in MechCommander 2 the battles are pretty well paced. I see a lot of fairly drawn-out affairs, with the bigger 'Mechs taking a lot of damage before going down, and I've had a lot of very tactical fights, with me having to pause and order people around to be successful. So I'd say my experience has been a bit different from yours.
Then again, I don't expect the actual firefights to last that long, because I never fight fair. I usually group my 'Mechs by class and function, and my favorite tactic is to group two or three Zeus or the equivalent and tarket them en masse on one enemy. With a little luck, the fight doesn't last long....
As for tactics, using a 'Mech to lure the enemy works a lot, true--if the bad guys aren't assigned to guard something. In that case they won't take the bait. I've also found that finding the right spot to set your ambush, and keeping track of the enemy in the 3D terrain, is challenging enough to make using this tactic pretty rewarding, for me at least. But different strokes, etc.
By TomChick on Thursday, July 19, 2001 - 02:59 pm:
Chalk me up as *not* being a fan of MechCommander 2 so far.
I haven't gotten very far into it, but I still have a strong sense that the missions are all very canned and rely heavily on scripting (note there's no skirmish AI for solo or MP games, which is always a bad sign).
This drives me crazy when it's so conspicuous. In at least two missions, I've essentially broken the scripting by doing the wrong things. It feels like the missions are precariously built to allow you just enough wriggling room with resource points to have a few minor choices (do I repair my mechs or try to salvage an enemy mech?). Perhaps this eases up in later missions, but considering how this sort of thing was central to the design of MechCommander 1, I'm skeptical that it'll get better.
The graphics engine looks and runs awful compared to something like Ground Control -- egad, the fogging, the fogging! I bumped it down to 800x600 even on my fast machines and the engine still gets a bit syrupy. The interface is too cramped. There's very little sense of taking advantage of terrain when your mechs are running all over creation to do the range dance with opponents. All that lovely, albeit streamlined, tactical detail goes right out the window when you're just trading shots with another mech for twenty seconds and then it's over. Why can't I get a sense for what's going on better? When would you ever target limbs? How powerful an effect is my pilot skill having? What's doing more damage, my PPC or Large Lasers? Why on God's green earth would you ever play with limited ammo (i.e. an important element of weapon balance in the BattleTech world) when it makes some of the missions all but impossible?
Granted, I haven't played as much as Bob and other than 'no it isn't', I have no counter to the claim that "it's fun" :). But so far, I'm not terribly impressed.
By Robert Mayer on Thursday, July 19, 2001 - 04:09 pm:
Well, Tom, that's a good illustration of how two people can have radically different impressions of a game. I play with limited ammo, and I've never come close to running out. I find the resource point choices to be pretty meaningful and not at all as tightly constrained as you indicate. Usually, I find more than enough RPs available to do what I want to do--and choosing whether to salvage or to call in an airstrike is a valid tension builder I think--IF you are willing to take the opportunity. I.e, most RPs are off the beaten path or guarded, so it does take some effort to dig them out.
As for the AI, it's true the game relies a lot on the hard-wired reactive AI of units. That's clear from looking at the editor, certainly. Personally I've found the enemy to behave pretty well--I win, without too much effort, but I have to work at it and if I don't scout, for instance, or charge in blindly I pay for it. The "range dance" is something I like, because unlike MechCommander where your units didn't even know what their effective ranges were, here they at least understand that using LRMs requires some room. You can't micromange the terrain usage, true, but short of a turn-based B'tech game (which I'd love) that ain't going to happen.
I've targeted heads, but not limbs. I agree that some feedback on damage and pilot capability would be welcome--perhaps "floating numbers" as used in some games, to show damage done, with an autopause round system from Baldur's Gate, maybe. On the other hand, when I watch a PPC hit, I see the enemy's status bar move down perceptibly, while I don't see that sort of movement from a medium laser hit. Rough, but it helps, and the overall dynamic "feels" right--pound something with a lot of PPCs and it dies about when you expect it to.
Flanking works, ambushes work, blowing up disabled 'Mechs works. True, most tactics involve how you set up before the melee, but again unless you go to a turn-based system, I don't see how you could control each 'Mech precisely and perfectly. At the game's level of control (you as commander) you have to let your MechWarriors do the fighting. I agree there could be better feedback to give you a sense of how your decisions matter, but so far I have had no real problems understanding cause and effect.
The only thing I absolutely agree with you on is the performance. It's sub-par, though the 'Mechs and objects in the world are excellent. The ground and overall lighting of the maps is substandard. Still, watching a gaggle of 'Mechs shoot it out is, to me, very impressive.
So I like it. Sue me.
By Jason McCullough on Thursday, July 19, 2001 - 04:51 pm:
Robert, if you're looking for a turn-based BT game go dig up Mission Force: Cyberstorm, and maybe the sequel (not as good as the first). The first was an incredible gem of a Battletech-ripoff game. Neato plot, too.
By Robert Mayer on Thursday, July 19, 2001 - 05:19 pm:
Played both Cyberstorms. Good efforts in many respects but I found the AI to be really awful (unlike MechCommander 2 ;-))--I figured out one way to kill everything and it worked all the time. I liked the first game more than the second, and actually got my money's worth out of it at least.
By Mark Asher on Thursday, July 19, 2001 - 09:01 pm:
I'll vouch for Cyberstorm 1. That's one of my all-time favorites. I enjoyed the single-player game, but multiplayer is really where it shone. That was a great turn-based multiplayer experience. I'd love to see a similar Battletech game.
By Jason Levine on Thursday, July 19, 2001 - 09:43 pm:
I agree regarding Cyberstorm 1, but I thought 2 was a horrible mess. It suffered badly from being in development right at the time that the wave of RTS games hit in 97/98 and so somebody at Sierra decided that it had to offer both a turn-based and a real-time game. Neither one worked very well, and I thought the graphics were actually a step back from Cyberstorm 1.
By Aszurom on Friday, July 20, 2001 - 12:28 am:
I think what NEEDS to happen is for the Combat Mission engine to be adapted to Battletech. In fact, call the damn game Battletech.
10 second turns played out in real-time, a wide variety of units, a decent campaign, tcp multiplayer with 2-4 people. I'd pay $200 right now for that game.
That is all.
By Lee Johnson (Lee_johnson) on Friday, July 20, 2001 - 12:42 am:
All this talk about Cyberstorm sent me diving into the archives. I had two difficulties getting it to go:
First, the Sierra installer crapped out. However, one can just copy everything out of the CSTORM folder and subfolders on the CD into a separate folder on your hard disk.
Second, the game wouldn't run in 32-bit colour; I had to set my desktop to 8-bit colour first--then it seemed to run fine! And somewhat smoother than I remember, too. ;-)
By Jason McCullough on Friday, July 20, 2001 - 12:25 pm:
Make sure to recycle a few monkey pilots for me.
Did anyone else use to create pilots and recycle them over and over just to hear the ridiculous screaming?
By Greg Kasavin on Friday, July 20, 2001 - 03:12 pm:
"Did anyone else use to create pilots and recycle them over and over just to hear the ridiculous screaming?"
What are you, some kind of monster??
I really liked Cyberstorm also. The game even had an interesting story to it. I was rather disappointed that the bioderms in Tribes 2 just turned out to be big werewolf-looking guys rather than monkey men and brains in jars and that sort of thing. Cyberstorm was surprisingly creepy for a game of that sort.
By Mark Asher on Friday, July 20, 2001 - 03:29 pm:
The monkey pilot ruled! He was always in my scout herc.
And no, I didn't recycle them to hear them scream. They were my boys. I hated to recycle them.
There was one bioderm who wouldn't self-destruct if you ordered him to. That was kind of funny. A bioderm rebel.
By Alan Au (Itsatrap) on Friday, July 20, 2001 - 06:42 pm:
All this Battletech talk has me thinking of Crescent Hawk's Revenge, one of those games that I remember fondly due to sheer nostalgia factor (as opposed to actual quality). It was basically an RTS without tile transition animations. Kind of spoils the whole RTS genre when you think about it that way.
By William Abner on Sunday, July 22, 2001 - 08:39 am:
Mark, I had that same fear after the first few missions, but the "send all my guys at the enemy" tactic fails to work as the campaign goes along. I'm finding myself looking at each mission from a stealth POV now rather than a 'toss my Atlas in and watch the fireworks' POV. I actually won a mission last night and destroyed maybe 2 Mechs and used stealth and blasted sensor towers. I love the fact that you can approach a misison and use different tactics to succeed. I could have loaded up a fully armed Thor and a Highlander and I may have been able to win, but using a sensor killing Raven and a Razorback with an Elite pilot was more fun.
I also agree with Bob that if you pay attention you can tell which weapon is having the most impact during a scuffle. I suppose the game could give you more precise detail, but when a Gauss blast knocks a Mech's health down a third, I have a pretty good idea what caused it.
I dunno..I'm having quite a bit of fun with it. Sue me, too. :)
BTW, I'm playing on an 800MHz machine with 256 RAM and it chugs at times to keep up during big fights. I tried on my 450 machine w/ 128 RAM and it wasn't a pretty sight. I think you can totally ignore the sys requirements for this one.
By Robert Mayer on Monday, July 23, 2001 - 11:03 am:
Finished it. Overall, I'm pretty pleased. The downsides? Performance, even after nerfing the Direct Sound hardware acceleration, is still sluggish at times, too sluggish for a 1gig machine with a GeForce 2 Pro. Combat can at times be more muddle than melee, largely because the real-time system doesn't give you a great deal of feedback (as others have mentioned). Having to enter a mission, then load a quick save rather than loading from the main menu also bites.
OTOH, I had a real fun time with this. I only found one or two enemy 'Mechs who stood around as if their scripts were broken--in nearly every mission I was able to attack it in any order of objectives with zero problems. I didn't use the MechLab much, because I found many of the default configs ok, but it was still fun to tinker. I found tactics to be useful, and fun--I liked figuring out how to get a fast 'Mech in to take a turret control and then lure the bad guys into the LRMs, for instance.
Multiplayer works, but like the original is only fun if you play with serious players. Too many of the Zone (yes, the matchmaking system is through the Zone, ugh) games are max resources, no limits--I really prefer limited tonnage/RPs.
Overall a good game if not a great one. Fun, worth the money (I would say) and a nice way to spend a week or two of gaming.