The Battletech universe is well established in the history of PC gaming. We have had four MechWarrior games that have all increased in quality which each sequel and now we have the second in the MechCommander RTS series. The original MechCommander was a good RTS game but wasn't widely accepted by the RTS community. The major flaw being that you couldn't save during a mission. Now we have MechCommander 2 and I can honestly say it is a huge improvement over the original game and should appeal to a greater range of gamers.
If you've played the original MechCommander the first thing that will strike you with MechCommander 2 is just how more graphically beautiful it is. The 2D isometric look is out and it is replaced with a very nice full 3D environment that allows you to move the camera to any angle you want. You can also zoom in and out with no degradation of the graphics. Usually I'm a bit wary of 3D RTS games because you end up struggling with the camera more than you actually concentrate on the game but with MechCommander 2 I found this wasn't the case and I never once lost control of the camera angle.
Like most recent RTS MechCommander doesn't contain any resource management and leaves your concentration solely on the tactical elements of battle. At the beginning of each mission you have to choose a set number of Mechs (the name of these giant robots) as well as a pilot for the Mech. The pilots gain experience from a mission and they benefit from taking part. You can go about choosing pilots in two ways. You can either have a small group of very experienced individuals who are always battling (if you should ever lose one of them it would be a massive blow) or you can share the experience about a bit and let every pilot take their turn (this would not give you so many experts but a loss would not be so catastrophic). The number of Mechs varies from mission to mission and can range from 3 to 16. As you can see self preservation is a top priority in MechCommander 2.
The absence of resource management means that support for your units has to be achieved through other means. You begin the game with a set amount of C-bills (the name of the currency in the game) and with this you can buy Mechs and equip them with missiles etc. before the mission starts. Whilst in a mission you can pay for a repair vehicle or salvage vehicle, amongst others, to come to your aid. You earn more C-bills for completing missions. It may sound simple but it is an effective method of avoiding resource management and allowing you to concentrate on more pressing matters.
As we mentioned earlier Mechs can be salvaged. Sometimes you will only partially destroy an enemy Mech and it will be salvageable. When this happens you can pay for a salvage vehicle to come out to you and make the Mech usable as well as providing a pilot for it. If you plan to salvage an enemy Mech then it may be an idea to cut down on the initial damage that you cause while still incapacitating it. This is possible through a 'called shot'. You can order your Mech to only aim at the head for example so when the Mech falls only the head is damaged. This is a very good feature and one that can increase your firepower which is essential in latter missions.
Strategically the game is on a par with the RTS big guns. You can place way points, have your Mechs fire from a safe distance, call in fixed artillery, use energy only weapons and many things besides. It is a shame though that there are no formations as this would have made it slightly easier to organise attacks. You can however make decisions whilst the game is paused which makes the game far more accessible to those who can't move the mouse like greased lightning.
The single player game has a campaign set on Carver V and a tutorial. Here you will notice the major downfall of MechCommander for the deaf gamer. There are no subtitles for the vocal instructions. The tutorial is practically useless for deaf gamers. However all is not lost. The manual is excellent and will teach you all you need to know. There are no subtitles in the campaign either which is a shame, however, this can be combated through the use of the mission objectives display (F9 key). The mission objectives are numbered and your radar shows the locations of the numbers so you always know where you are going and what you have to do there. This does not fully compensate for the lack of subtitles during a mission but it does mean that you can still enjoy the game. Before a campaign mission starts, the initial video clip is not subtitled but the mission briefing gives you all the info in text so you will not miss anything.
Should you finish the single player game (for which there are four difficulty settings) then you can either create missions with the included editor (a skirmish mode would have been welcome though) or you could elect to play the multiplayer game. Multiplayer games can either be played on a LAN, on the MSN Gaming Zone or directly against an opponent on the Internet. There are seven variants of multiplayer game ranging from Elimination to Last Man on the Hill.
MechCommander 2 is an extremely playable RTS and it is a shame that the verbal info is not subtitled. However as we have mentioned there are ways to work around it and only the tutorial is a complete loss. The manual and the Encyclopaedia, which details the military units, equipment and history of Battletech, have both been extremely well done and help to add background to the game. If you are a RTS fan then I would say that the game comes highly recommend as it is both refreshing and enjoyable and in a genre as cluttered as the RTS genre that really is saying something.
Overall Game Rating: 8/10 One of the best RTS games this year.
Quality of text: 5/10 Subtitle omissions are a disappointment but not a disaster.
Graphics: 9/10 Very good. A true 3D RTS that is both beautiful to look at and easy to navigate.
Interface:9/10 A nice clean interface that is instantly usable.
Gameplay: 9/10 Wonderfully playable. The missions have nice variation and will keep you interested until they are complete. The multiplayer side of the game offers plenty of variation whilst the editor allows you to create you own missions/campaigns.