A decent romp which occasionally takes the mech.
There’s a small, popular cafe located on the lower end of Stuart St in Dunedin. Its red, neon sign hums with arrogance. Fueled by the inherent tall poppy syndrome embedded within myself and all New Zealanders I wished this self-proclaimed ‘Best Cafe’ to be rubbish but, annoyingly, it isn’t. The shop reasonably attracts its fair share of patrons who are coaxed into the tiny room from the cold, winter air by the whiff of fish and batter frying.
The Best Cafe has a reason to be so boastful with its fish and chips being some of the best in New Zealand’s southernmost city. While cramped in the tight room the other day, waiting for chips and a fish sarnie I couldn’t stop thinking about mechs, intergalactic warfare and long, frustrating loading times. I knew within hours I’d be exposed to the information-heavy world of BattleTech again and the only response I could muster was ‘ugh’.
Harebrained Schemes’ attempt at a well-tuned turn-based strategy game has produced a complicated creature which provokes conflicting feelings. It’s a game which blends exceptional design decisions with just as many ‘oh dear God, why am I doing this!?’ moments.
Set in 3025, players are thrust into the middle of a royal coup where battle takes place almost immediately. Given that it’s the future, these take place inside Big Metal Bastards (or BattleMechs, to give them their Christian name). As far as openers for a strategy game go, BattleTech does a solid job.
After allowing players to create their character through basically a series of questions and fixed answers, it evokes about as much pressure as being on Who Wants To Be A Millionaire, patiently listening to
Chris Tarrant Jeremy Clarkson waffle on. Instead of money or a wrong answer, though, the pressure comes from knowing whichever background you choose you’ll hate it and have to begrudgingly live with it.
Once you’ve gotten through the initial character-choosing torment, BattleTech does a decent job of easing you into its features and storyline within the first couple of missions. It portrays the coup, exile and redemption plot with some stunning concept art to pique your interest, followed by lovely voice acting to keep you going – even if the characters aren’t particularly unique or engaging. But enough about the story, what about those BMBs/BattleMechs?
For those who – like myself – love the XCOM remake series, you’ll be familiar with the idea that great stories don’t have to be scripted. Although BattleTech does have a main campaign and story, as with XCOM, the real investment comes with the small stories you create. Being the big cheese in a mercenary outfit gives you plenty of opportunities to have these special moments as you load up and send forth your BMBs on countless missions, scraping together enough money and materials to keep your company afloat. If you don’t, your pals will get fed up and leave.
During these missions, it’s possible for mechs to be damaged and pilots to be hurt or, on some occasions, blown up and killed. The injuries and damage sustained take a bit of time to heal which means BattleTech forces you to send in a crew, knowing full well it’s a group of battered soldiers and mechs you’re forcing to fight. It’s about making the best of a bad situation.
On some missions you expect it to go badly – that’s not your prime team after all – until, somehow, you play a blinder and they all make it through. From then on you dub that team as The Best. These little parts of the game shouldn’t be overlooked; they’re what make each playthrough different and personal to you.
There are four types of BMBs to use: Big Metal Bastards, Tanky Big Metal Bastards, Big Quick Metal Bastards and Even Quicker Big Metal Bastards. To no-one’s surprise, the BMBs end up acting like your hand in a hulking, alloy version of rock-paper-scissors. Fighting with these BMBs is competent, if on the over-complicated side of things. There’s the occasional moment when you fire All Of The Missiles, striking enemy mech A exactly where you wanted, but more often than not, the missiles will either miss or hit the wrong area. It’s by no means bad, but with each BattleMech having individual limb damage, it feels a bit clunky and becomes a nuisance – but it’s not half as annoying as moving the mechs.
Drawing from its tabletop roots, in battle each mech feels like a piece from a board game as you move then decide which direction it should face, a cone of sight indicating what/where you can see and hit. It feels rough. I often found it difficult to understand the positioning and line-of-sight of enemies, with the mechs feeling exposed a lot of the time, turning them into bullet sponges. Combine this with long load times, menu upon menu filled with information (seriously, there’s so much HUD and so many numbers to look at), BattleTech ends up being extremely, unnecessarily complicated.
Like the previously mentioned fish sarnie, BattleTech is tasty and filling but fell apart in my hands.