Fifteen Years of Giant Robots

by Chase "Scharmers" Dahl

I. Introduction
II. Mechwarrior
III. Mechwarrior 2
IV. MetalTech
V. Heavy Gear

VI. Mechwarrior 3
VII. Heavy Gear 2
VIII. Starsiege
IX. Mechwarrior 4
X. Scharmer's Choice

Set the Wayback Machine (2 LRM-20s, 6 MEDLAS) to the decade of Bad Hair…

It’s the mid-80’s, a couple of weeks after Christmas. A teenager stands in a game store, deciding what he wants to spend his gift money on. Eventually, the decision boils down to two games: the first is SSG’s Europe Ablaze, a computer-based wargame covering the air war over Europe in WW2. The second is a cardboard wargame calling itself Battledroids. This one is pretty neat. It features big robots, with guns, pounding the crap out of each other. The back illustration has robots running around a swamp. It looks cool, but the teenager has never heard of “FASA” – the game’s publisher -- before. It sounds cheap, like one of those fly-by-night Microgame companies. He doesn’t want to get burned on his rare shopping opportunities – his family is fairly poor – and so picks up Europe Ablaze instead. The teenager likes airplanes. He plans on joining the Air Force when he gets out of High School.

Yes, we know it's the wrong Ralph Reed.

It wasn’t that bad of a decision. Europe Ablaze was another example of SSG’s mastery of cramming a decent wargame into a 64K Commodore. It’s funny how things turn out, however. This teenager ended up joining the Navy, instead, when he was eighteen; he also ended up buying Battledroids (now BattleTech, thanks to the lawyers at Lucasfilm, who claimed Lucas owned the word “droid”) that same year. While he never got as addicted to it as some of his friends, he spent a great many hours tracking heat, damage, and movement points; he also threw quite a few pairs of dice lengthy distances when they betrayed him on piloting rolls.

What they did instill in the teenager was the desire to actually drive one of these robotic beasts. Naturally, he wasn’t the only one who felt this way – and, even better, the computing gaming market responded. Since the late 80’s, there have been many ‘Mech simulations, and the previously-mentioned teenager (who is, obviously, this writer) has now played just about all of them. This retrospective covers the major releases, and finishes up with a quick review of MechWarrior 4:Vengence.

What will not be covered are the numerous non-simulation ‘Mech games. This includes what is perhaps the best BattleMech conversion ever created – BattleFort, a shareware game created by Ralph Reed for the Amiga, many moons ago. BattleFort is a flawless conversion of the pencil-and-paper BattleMech rules, with the added improvement of a phased movement system. (The legal spats between Mr. Reed and FASA are also legendary, but, alas, this is not the forum to talk about them). Other worthy ‘Mech hex-based games include the seminal Crescent Hawk’s Inception (1988, Westwood), and MissionForce: Cyberstorm (1996, Sierra/Dynamix), but, again, will not be covered here.