When I first decided to dive into Mechajammer, I was excited. I hadn’t heard much about the game until that point, and when I looked at the screenshots, I saw a beautiful isometric roleplaying game dripping with cyberpunk aesthetics. Doing some research, I found out that the game actually started on Kickstarter, and before it was anything more than just concept art, it was already receiving praise and building a solid fan base for itself. Taking inspiration from other beloved titles like the original Fallout game, Meachajammer seemed set for indie greatness.
I’m honestly not sure what happened with Marchajammer, but that greatness it was building towards never happened. The final result doesn’t feel like a labour of love when you play it, rather one of hate. It’s like the whole game was specifically designed to make you, the player, suffer for your sin of buying it, and I’m well aware of how harsh and ridiculous that statement sounds, but honestly, it’s all that makes sense.
The future is bad
The story of Mechajammer is pretty straightforward. It takes place in the far off future, where humankind didn’t all perish to a never-ending pandemic and instead decided earth is a trash planet and began shopping around and colonizing other planets. The planet where the story takes place is called Calitana; it’s derelict, overrun by hostile mutants and rotten with pollution. So obviously, humans looked at this and went: yes! Our new home. You play as a soldier who is part of a ragtag crew who must try to survive after crash-landing on said new home planet.
One of the more exciting aspects of Mechajammer is putting together the party you want to die alongside. Instead of starting with a pre-decided party, you can recruit the NPCs you find along the way to join you. It’s like you’re a cult member, and these poor unsuspecting NPCs have no idea you’re about to lace their Kool-Aid. After you’ve recruited an NPC whose pixels called out to you, they become a member of your squad, ready to do anything and everything other than actually be helpful.
Mechajammer went for a uniquely hybrid battle system where you, your squad, and the opponents share turns. The moment combat is initiated, which is pretty much all the time, the in-game timer will freeze and only resume when the combat phase is over. Combat consists of you right-clicking on a target and then relying on a hidden dice roll system to tell you if you hit said target or not. The same principle applies to your squad. In theory, this concept could be fun and make for some dynamic fights. However, in practice, it’s not the best. Because of the fast pace and the dice rolls, there is constantly the chance you will repeatedly shoot yourself and your allies instead of a single bullet hitting the intended target, no matter how many skill points you’ve thrown at your character.
Roll of a dice
As a fan of tabletop games, one of the biggest draws to Mechajammer was its integrated dice roll system. Do you want to attack an enemy? Dice roll. Want to pick a lock? Dice roll. Certain choices during character creation will allow for modifiers to be added to your rolls to aid or hinder you along your way. This system closely mirrors the pen and paper roleplaying games from my childhood. Still, it somehow fails on the most basic of levels.
The standard and accepted way for a dice roll system to be implemented in modern games is by having prompts that let you know your current chance of success. For example, if I know I need to roll a 12 and my dice with my modifiers make my max roll a 16, I know my chance of success is slim, and I should decide if I want to take the risk. However, because Mechajammer lacks any feedback whatsoever, you can never really make an informed decision about initiating combat or developing strategies.
When thinking about a recent game that utilized a very similar system, Disco Elysium jumps to mind. In Disco Elysium, all your choices also come down to a dice roll, and likewise, choices you make while creating your character can aid those rolls. It’s a deep and intricate system that keeps the game entertaining no matter how many hours you’ve spent in it. In contrast, playing Mechajammer is like taking a trip to your local casino and just throwing down some dice on a random table, hoping for the best. Mechajammer also doesn’t try to limit you when it comes to dice rolls, so cut to me just standing by the door I want to lockpick spamming the action key until the game tires of me and lets me have my way.
Theoretically, there is a lot of fun to be had in Mechajammer. Unfortunately, that fun is so obscured by countless issues, bugs, and underdeveloped features that it’s hard to remember it’s even there at all. I went into Mechajammer expecting to love it. If lockdown has done anything, it’s made me yearn for a good old fashioned roleplaying game, and in theory, that’s what Mechajmmer was going to deliver, only bundled with a killer art style and some great synth-wave tracks. The reality of Mechajammer is not so bright.
A bit too clever
When creating your character, every choice you make gets accompanied by a negative side-effect that you carry throughout the game, a novel concept that the developers of Mechajammer might have taken a little too much to heart. In terms of character creation, if you choose for your character to be a soldier, there is a good chance they come bundled with a healthy dose of PTSD so during any particular combat there is a possibility of your character just randomly fainting. In terms of gameplay, it means that even though Mechajammer has a fantastic concept and art style, the mechanics are clunky and, as a whole, unpolished.
While the pixel art style is one I’ll always have a soft spot for and gravitate towards, it only works to hinder the general experience of Mechajammer. I spent more time playing a rather unsatisfying version of “is this the pixel you were looking for?” while clicking across the screen with reckless abandon, hoping to target the item I was looking for rather than getting to explore and enjoy the world around me.
It wouldn’t be fair to Mechajammer not to acknowledge everything it tries to do and bring to the table, but in a world where I’m spoiled for choice when it comes to roleplaying games, mediocre just doesn’t cut it. In its current state, mediocre is the best that Mechajammer can hope to be. On paper, Mechajmmer has everything it needs to be a sleeper hit, but in reality, the only thing it’s hitting is the very bottom of my Steam library, where games I don’t finish go to be forgotten.