Looking back at the reviews of the original Xbox Live launch title MechAssault
, I realized something long-past forgotten: Day 1's mech series has a large, loyal fan-base that loves
to blow stuff up. Honestly, it's hard to be a guy and not
like watching something explode, and so it's a natural that the heavy sports, action, and FPS Xbox crowd would instantly embrace Day 1's simplified mechanized action-fest.
It's the same exact reason why players will adore MechAssault 2: Lone Wolf. Day's 1 sequel is, in almost every way, superior to its predecessor. The vehicle count reaches 35 units this time around, and the wide diversity of units enables players to play more distinct roles and diversify their play styles online like never before. The improved camera perspective and scale of the larger mechs against more detailed, more volumetric landscapes creates a better overall feel, and while the single-player campaign is uncomplicated and formulaic, it provides the perfect training ground for the game's real meat and potatoes, the Xbox Live component.
Day 1 has spent an enormous amount of time customizing and tuning the game around Xbox Live play, especially for clans. Online fans of the game are certain to have a blast. This progression toward a bigger, deeper online game is the perfect evolution for the series, with a greater cast of mech types, the inclusion of VTOLs, BattleArmor jackings, and tanks to spruce things up. But it does leave offline players with a short, simple game. So, when you walk into that EB with $49.99 in hand, ask yourself what you really want -- a short, simple offline mech-action game, or a deep, clan-friendly powerhouse of an online game?
The game's initial appeal is tremendous. MechAssault 2: Lone Wolf is a super looking game, with an excellent litany of special visual effects, terrific sound, and a diversity of mechs, mission types, and bosses that will put a fat dopey grin on anyone's face. Day 1's second iteration offers an evolution in mech design focused on animalistic and anthropomorphic builds that are cool looking but are nowhere near the imaginative cutting edge of other weirder mech games (see GunGriffon: Allied Strike). Of the 35-plus units, there are six new mechs (Raptor, Stiletto, Wendigo, NovaCat, Blood Asp, and Star Adder), three new vehicles (BattleArmor, Tank, and VTOL), plus the use of POV turrets.
In the single-player game, you'll become aware of the new mechs' powers as your team collects data cores and then synthesizes them for incredible new heights in power and destruction. You'll gain new tools such as stealth, shields, purple-black plasma, and the Alpha Strike, a powerful culmination of existing powers fired in one blazing shot. All of these create new wrinkles that diversify the often numbingly straightforward strategies of the first title. Players of the first iteration will also notice the mechs are even better balanced this time around, with support from a variety of shields, cloaking devices, and fire cannons. Also, using a combination of all your weapons at the right time and against the right mech type becomes a major factor now that you and your enemies have shields and cloaking devices.
The wider variety of mechs and vehicles means learning their strengths and weaknesses, and recognizing the litany of cool weapons, ammo, and special and defensive weapons that have been added. In tanks, players can use a zoom lens to pulverize enemies otherwise unseen. With turrets, players can use a defense shield and more importantly lead a first-person perspective missile into the lap of an unsuspecting enemy, bridge, or compound. Flying the VTOL takes some time to adjust to its rather wily controls, but it's damn fun and highly utilitarian, as you can pick up and drop salvage, BattleArmors and the like, and you can simply fly away if everything goes badly.
There are also a ton of little powerups, pickups, and specialty salvage units that will make the hardcore player super happy. There are the JumpJets, NullSigs (masks you while online), Target Jams, Active AIMS (anti-missile systems), Alpha Strike, and finally the Defensive Armor Mods. A blue mod is reflective and protects against energy attacks, yellow is reactive and defends against ballistic attacks, and an active defensive armor mod defends against BattleArmor jacking. Using the defensive and special weapons adds yet another layer of strategy, defensive measures, and depth to the game.
While the addition of the super-cool VTOL does create new diversity to the online game (and which I'll discuss a little later), the BattleArmor plays a pivotal role in both single and multiplayer design. The small vulnerable exoskeleton (which seems to be the natural evolution of the Elemental) is vulnerable because of its limited armor and weapon range (a laser shot and a mortar cannon), but it makes up for this with speed, agility, and the ability to jack enemies out of their vehicles. It's the most radical, risky, and most exciting addition to the game by far. The BattleArmor instantly provides new layers of strategy that add to existing ones, but it also fundamentally shifts gameplay.
In the 26 single-player missions, you'll encounter a handful of on-foot stealth missions, objectives that require you to steal a stable of enemy mechs while faced with formidable odds, and missions specifically designed to jack enemy mechs to survive. Online, watching someone play in the BattleArmor is like watching a wily flea madly hopping in between an army of mechanical Godzillas, straining to aim, target, and defend themselves from the potential threat of being bitten. Aiming the mortar shells with precision and effectiveness takes time, to be sure, and some players will simply not like it. But by putting focused time in, you'll realize how powerful a well-aimed mortar shell can be (like say, with the final boss).
Speaking of the single-player campaign, for someone who came late to the MechAssault party, I beat MechAssault 2 in less than seven hours the first time through. Real short game, and the second time through I breezed through it in four and half hours. If you're already deft from months of online MechAssault play, the single-player campaign's brevity, ease and linearity are disappointing.
The level design holds its own for the most part, switching things up between collecting new Data Cores (thus new weapons), using tanks, VTOLs, turrets and getting on foot, and engaging in solid boss fights. (SPOILER: The first major boss, a mechanized spider, is not only cool looking, but a great boss to fight.) But the story is led by a formulaic collection of dull cutscenes filled with empty words that inevitably lead to the not-so-surprising reemergence of the Word of Blake. OMG! It's him again! To add insult to injury, there is no absolutely character nor story development, and while your nearly wordless grunt of a MechWarrior beats the crap out of everything, Major Natalia becomes strangely irritating and even surprisingly bitchy. Who would have thought anyone would put such a harsh, unlikable female lead as the narrator to a game? She's no Cortana, that's for certain.
In both single and multiplayer games, you'll find that the BattleArmor and on-foot missions pack many plusses and minuses, which generally balance themselves out. In the BattleArmor, you're able to jumpjet buildings. Using a claw, you clamp into the buildings' side, wait for the boosters to top out again, and then jumpjet again to reach the top. The claw also enables you to jack enemy mechs while in the midst of battle. Using a Simon Says-style format, players grab onto their enemy, follow the button patterns (A, B, X, Y, L and R), and either crack their enemy out like a crab, or are rejected in a heap on the ground. This is incredibly, incredibly fun in both single and multiplayer modes. You can also hitch a ride from a VTOL, shooting enemies as you fly over, jumping off at the press of a button. This too is great fun especially in a capture the flag game. It's going to be sick online, I tell you.
One of the game's biggest weaknesses concerning the on-foot missions is, not surprisingly, while you're out of the mech. The crude control is forgivable, and so is the clunky collision detection. But waiting for the animations to finish while getting in and out of the mechs is unduly tortuous. You don't just zip in and out with arcade simplicity. Your Mechwarrior must find the single entry point to the mech (or the small illuminated circle around it), press a button, and then watch as he approaches the ladder, and slowly climbs up it. In a heated battle this takes eons, and it puts you in harm's way where one good shot is the kiss of death. Day 1 turns this vulnerability to a positive in a few of the multiplayer games (Check it! for example), but for the most part, it's just a huge, unavoidable, and often frustrating part of online play. On the other hand, your unarmored little mechwarrior, if far enough away from trouble, cannot be seen on radar, which can be very handy. So there is the good and the bad.
Like the first game, the Xbox Live component in MechAssault 2 is where it's all at, straight out. Day 1 has done a superb job of creating a massive new set of mechs, game types, and balanced strategies that genuinely make this puppy a serious online contender for Xbox online game of 2004.
There are a couple of ways to go about playing multiplayer games. You can vie against one other person using split-screen mode, you can connect via System Link for up to 12 players, or you can battle via Xbox Live with up to 12 people. There are 10 game types: Grinder (a survival mode); Destruction (Deathmatch); Team Destruction (Team Deathmatch); Last Man Standing (one life to live, no re-spawns, so live it well!); Team Last Man Standing (Last Man Standing with teams); Not It! (When you're it, you can score points, when you're not it, you kill the "it" guy so you can become it and kill more!); Capture the Flag, Team Capture the Flag, Check It! (Try to control all five control points or score the most points to win); Snatch It! (Capture all the data cores and return to them to your base first); and Base War (Destroy the enemies' base generator before time expires while defending your own).
The online multiplayer games are absolutely devastatingly fun. And they become increasingly more addictive when you team up with other people. Like I referenced before, this is where the VTOL's importance makes itself way more apparent. A good player behind the VTOL can make or break your game. The VTOL can act as a fighting force, but it's far more beneficial as a support player, dropping off salvage to its troops, laying down turrets, or speeding across the landscape with a BattleArmor in tow, grabbing a flag and then bolting for the win. Plus, if used extremely well, the VTOL can work as a scout, and thanks to the Xbox Live communicator, players who talk well with one another can beat a more skilled team using coordination or adopting new or flexible strategies. The VTOL is a crucial part of the online team game, and one that adds a tremendous new layer of strategy, gameplay depth, and tactical thinking to what was once considered a pretty straightforward online game.
Like the VTOL, the diversity of mechs in MechAssault 2 create all sorts of online roles. If you have a fast, light mech (a Raven, Owens, Hackman or Cougar, all of which were in the first game), you can streak out to capture a flag quickly. But faced against some of the more heavy weight mechs (the Blood Asp and Star Adder), you might think twice about that initial run. The tank proves to be a good long-distance weapon, too, using long-range shots to distract and break down an enemy that cannot see you.
Online, we played Day 1 online twice in the last four months, each time with about 10 people. The game holds its own visually, with all of the warping effects, particles and the like spraying all over the place. The framerate is generally solid, with a few slips here and there. There is some slowdown, but it's hardly noticeable in the heat of a battle and it's less significant, less noticeable, and less annoying than in the first game. Jumping online is better this time around, as players find a game (there are the standard set of QuickMatch, Optimatch, etc. options), and then hang out in a circular port lobby while waiting for the leader to start up a new game. Creating and maintaining a clan is easy (press Y); you can create it, recruit, generate a motto, icon, and send clan messages.
The Conquest mode is potentially awesome. Or a potential nightmare. You form a clan and fight across an interconnected web of planets for territorial domination. You start with a home planet and aggressively force the closest enemy off their planet. The game could potentially be great, since it's persistent in a sense, and it encourages team and clan play for long periods of time. But, there are a lot of questions unanswered. And since we haven't had the chance to play it for a substantial length of time -- given it requires a clan, and several days or even weeks of online play-time with a healthy body of players to fully assess this particular part of the game -- we'll have to see how this works out over a month or two.
There is so much more to tell about online, but the basics are evident. It's prettier, faster, supports clans well, and the variety of mechs creates more assorted strategies and tactics. The new game types also create a superb variety of online choices.
Visually, Day 1's game is a system-pushing graphic workhorse. The game doesn't deliver the best looking environmental textures, but what it lacks in variety, it more than makes up for it in particle effects, special effects, explosions, heat blurring, smoke, smoke trails, fire, mech animations, surface warping effects and more. MechAssault 2 is easily one of the most special effects-laden games on Xbox in 2004, and it will simply bring tears to your eyes when you all these things happening simultaneously. And though there is a little bit of slowdown, it never once distracted or bothered me, which means there is very little indeed. This goes for both off- and online modes.
Other less obvious things make this a better looking game, too. The mechs all feature more interesting, physics-enriched animations. You'll see a greater variety in the way mechs move, as they lean toward moving like birds, raptors, and funky contraptions, rather than just simple machines. The amount of parts per mech is also impressive, with each unit showing off a lot of body details, ornaments and distinct features. It's also incredibly fun to see a mech take damage, slow down, start to catch fire, smoke and sputter, crackle with those last flickering jolts of energy, limp like it's a hurt animal, and finally explode into bits. MechAssault 2 also supports widescreen and progressive scan modes.
Just like its predecessor, MechAssault 2 creates an immense and booming set of sound effects that will show up quite powerfully on your Xbox given the right stereo equipment. So, you'll want to have a stereo that supports Dolby 5.1. The separation of sound was executed efficiently. You'll know when you hear a large mech go down and power through your subwoofer, or you hear missiles whiz by your head, or when a zwillion little spider mechs cling to your mech's visor. In short, just like the excellent graphics and premiere online play, the sound is top notch too.
And if you like heavy metal with a tinge of industrial sewn in, you're going to like this. The music is never too much, as it dynamically changes depending on whether you're fighting or exploring. Korn and Papa Roach both contributed songs ("Right Now" and "Getting Away with Murder," respectively) to the soundtrack, giving it a rich, distinct and hard-edged flavor.
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