Wednesday 6 November 2013

Achtung! Doppelgerschtompen

I’ve been a fan of BattleTech games on the PC for a long time; my original 8086 wasn’t quite up to running BattleTech: The Crescent Hawk’s Inception or the first MechWarrior game, but I played through BattleTech 2: The Crescent Hawk’s Revenge (a splendid early top-down real-time tactical game) and the two MechCommander games that came later, and the excellent MechWarrior 2, 3 and 4 plus expansions. A couple of years ago MechWarrior Online was announced, last June they put Founders packages up for sale, and I was rather tempted.

The trouble with pre-launch offers such as Founders packages is that if you plunk down a wodge of cash on an amazing never-to-be-repeated offer then Murphy’s law dictates you’ll end up not really liking the game (or the company implodes before launch, or they offer the same benefits for half the price later, or…) Course if you cunningly sidestep that issue, by ignoring pre-launch offers entirely, Murphy still gets you, as you wind up trying the game sometime later, you find it’s amazing, and bitterly regret missing out on a great value offer that will never be made again. Still, reasoning that I liked both the previous MechWarrior games and also World of Tanks (which MechWarrior Online broadly resembles, only with Mechs instead of tanks oddly enough) it seemed like a fairly safe bet, and I opted for one of the packages.

Needless to say I’ve hardly played MechWarrior Online, only clocking up a few hours of giant robot gerschtomping in the past year.

Perhaps it’s not so much Murphy’s law as expectations (cf. David Mitchell), if you’re excited enough about something to have been gathering every stray snippet of gossip and publicity, constructing visions of the Best Game Ever in your head (aided and abetted by the PR department), even Quite A Good Game can seem something of an anticlimax, whereas if you start playing Quite A Good Game with no preconceptions you’ll probably find it Quite Good. Or perhaps it’s just fate – monstrous and empty, you whirling wheel, you are malevolent, well-being is vain and always fades to nothing. Anyway…

The path of development doesn’t seem to have been completely smooth; a slashdot article suggested discontent within the community over features such as the introduction of a third-person view. I suspect it’s something of an overreaction from highly invested fans to decisions made by Piranha Games trying to balance sometimes mutually exclusive requirements of disparate elements of the player base (and potential new players), perhaps exacerbated by poor communications. On the Internet in general though, and with gamers particularly, a Cyclops suffering from Alice in Wonderland syndrome looking at an M C Escher picture has a better sense of perspective (typical starting point: minute adjustment to the reload speed of a gun = LITERALLY WORSE THAN HITLER), so without deeper involvement it’s hard to distinguish between brave consumers standing up to malicious or incompetent developers, a bit of a storm in a teacup based on some genuine concerns, or the deranged rantings of a tiny group of lunatics (and that’s before bizarre comedic-perfomance-art-installation-protests confuse matters still further).

MWO was officially released in September after a year or so in beta, and the PC Gamer review certainly chimes with my admittedly limited experience, solid mech-on-mech action but a lot to get to grips with and a rather clunky out-of-combat interface. Not insurmountable issues by any means, but with a plethora of other drop-in vehicular combat options like World of Tanks, Planetside 2 and War Thunder, MWO hasn’t really hooked me in yet. Apparently there’s going to be a “UI 2.0” revamp, hopefully that might make it a little easier to get into.

There’s also a giant stompy robot rival in the shape of Hawken; I first heard about it during last year’s E3 where MWO had a crazy controller, the Razer Artemis, and Winged Nazgul pointed out the Rogue Mek-Fu for Hawken in a comment (sadly the controllers don’t appear to have made it to market). Seeing as I already had one Mech game I wasn’t playing I didn’t see much point in trying another, but in its most recent patch Hawken introduced a co-op mode against AI bots, which got Melmoth interested (despite being terrifyingly lethal in Planetside 2 with a k/d ratio to match, he’s not such a big PvP fan), and he extolled its virtues so I thought I’d give it a shot.

Hawken takes a different approach to mech combat, somewhat stripped down (e.g. two weapons per mech, a health bar rather than armour and damage per location) at a much faster pace, lots of dodging and boosting. It’s very straightforward to hop in and get to grips with. I’m sure there are plenty of forum and comment skirmishes between advocates of the two games putting forward balanced, well-considered and rational arguments over the pros and cons (ha!), the Ten Ton Hammer comparison seems well balanced. I think I might drop in to Hawken now and again for a spot of high tempo robo-blasting, and if War Thunder starts to pale then maybe take a closer look at Mechwarrior Online again in the future.

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