Override: Mech City Brawl Review

Making wrecks with giant mechs.

There simply aren’t enough games revolving around giant robots and monsters crushing whole cities while raging against each other, which makes Override: Mech City Brawl particularly welcome for fans of large-scale destruction. Combining team and free-for-all multiplayer battles across a variety of open landscapes with the character sensibilities of a fighting game, Override is an interesting mix of familiar tropes from pop culture and online gaming.

It’s clear the developer, The Balance Inc., is a huge fan of the genre. The 12 base characters are a fantastic mix of designs that offer an artfully nostalgic trip through giant robot history. The majority of bots will instantly remind anime fans of any number of familiar Japanese designs from Robotech to Evangelion. There’s a hulking mechabeast that is more than slightly reminiscent of MechaGodzilla and mechs modeled after luchador and frog themes. Yet another could be Optimus Prime’s long lost brother.

The more original designs are actually even more impressive. The gorgeous deer-like Vidar, martial artist bot Shifu, and sleek Romanian sorceress mech Contessa all add their own distinct sense of style and combat. There’s also Vintage, which looks like an ancient NES system that evolved into a huge battlebot. The first downloadable character is a giant unicorn – so, in short, the character design is fantastic.

Every mech has its own combat style and particular moves, along with a powerful last-ditch super move. All the robots control essentially the same, however, and this control scheme takes some getting used to. Attacks are based largely on specific limbs. On Xbox, the LT and RT shoulder buttons will, respectively, kick the left and right legs. The LB and RB handle punches. There’s a distinct element of Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots with this configuration and it never felt comfortably smooth or combo-heavy enough to feel like a true fighting game.

Adding to the combat pacing issues is the heat meter. Every action generates heat. When the heat meter is full, your bot has to rest for the few seconds to cool down. While this was probably designed to add a strategic layer to the otherwise mindless bashing, it makes combat feel even jerkier.

Robots can jump, dash, dart through the air, and block attacks with an energy shield. Charging up any of the basic attacks lets you dole out bigger damage and break your opponent’s block. There’s also a countering system which requires painfully precise timing, making it frustrating to use effectively.

Override spawns in weapons on the battlefield, including freeze guns, a shield, and giant swords. While the melee weapons add some variety, the guns in particular feel slow and underpowered compared to normal attacks. When a robot is dangerously low on health, they can perform their signature super move that reigns down massive damage (usually in a wide radius). At launch time, these moves in particular feel imbalanced and, overall, some robots just seem to have an overt power advantage.

The other major issue in Override is the levels themselves. There’s a level for each bot, set in locations around the world and full of breakable structures. Each level has a very visible barrier around it, although for the four-way combat, they’re generally well sized. Crushing buildings along with each other should be one of the great joys of matches, but the structures here just fold like a house of cards with the slightest nudge.

Instead of being a viable part of the combat, buildings serve no purpose beyond the visual fun of seeing them fall. Matches would be a lot more satisfying had the actual landscape been an organic and integral part of the game play – like say, being able to smash an opponent into a building or even the ability to pick up pieces of the landscape to use as on-the-fly weapons.

Override offers both team and free-for-all matches for up to four players and has excellent split-screen support as well. There’s even a single-player campaign that lets you pick one robot and its pilot and get the backstory for all the destruction. The campaign pits you against giant monsters, including bosses, and is entertaining enough, if repetitive. Through the campaign, you’ll earn new skins, cosmetic items, and weapons, though any meaningful upgrades are strictly limited to the single-player mode.

Sadly, as yet there are no options to fight or actually play as the monsters in multiplayer, which is disappointing. There is a truly bizarre and potentially hilarious option for up to four players to control different parts of the same mech. As a party game-style option, this is great, but unlikely to be used much.

While there’s certainly room for improvement in Override, the game is undeniably fun in an old-school arcade way. It’s not as fast and fluid as classics like Sega’s Virtua On!, but the premise is excellent, the character designs are gorgeous, and the action is addicting. Override delivers on its promise of quick, pick-up-and-play matches for when you need a break from deeper games.

[Reviewed on Xbox One]