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Written by  :  Jackson Schwipp (20)
Written on  :  Oct 12, 2010
Rating  :  4.43 Stars4.43 Stars4.43 Stars4.43 Stars4.43 Stars

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Summary

The best of the MechWarrior series

The Good

MechWarrior 4 falls somewhere between the stark realism of MechWarrior 3 and the pyrotechnic comedy of MechAssault.

It strikes a very good balance between the two. For MW4, a completely revised weapon loadout system was invented, in which 'Mechs have points of varying size upon which weapons can be mounted. Although simplified from the MW2 and MW3 systems (which are about as close to Classic BattleTech rules as you can get without pulling out a pen and paper), the system is limiting in a way that makes sense. Missile boat 'Mechs, like the Catapult, should never be able to mount Autocannons on their missile racks. Some 'Mechs have 'Omni' points which can mount two or three different types of weapons - this is the clear distinction which makes Clan 'Mechs better when stripped of equipment.

Yet, on the subject of Inner Sphere versus Clan technology, the game designers decided to blur the advantages a bit. In MechWarrior 2 and 3, as well as MechCommander, Clan weapons were simply better versions of Inner Sphere weapons. In MW4, there is a trade-off that must be considered. While there are direct Clan revisions of Inner Sphere weapons (like the Ultra Autocannons and the missile weapons), most of the Inner Sphere weapons are favorites at close range due to favorable damage to heat ratios, while the Clan weapons typically extend range at the cost of increased heat output. Inner Sphere has the Medium Laser, while Clan has the ER Medium Laser. The Clan version has 33% better range and 20% better damage for the same size and weight, yet it creates double the heat of the Inner Sphere counterpart. Which is better? It depends on the mission.

And the missions are very well crafted. The terrain in MechWarrior 3 was, for the most part, horribly flat and boring. With all the attention spent on terrain detail - buildings, trees, roads, bridges, et cetera - there was very little attention paid to topography. The terrain in MW4 is, by contrast, varied greatly. There are dense urban landscapes, rolling plains, mountain passes, tropical peninsulas, and more. And since the terrain affects the range at which you're bound to engage the enemy, it also affects how you load out your 'Mechs between missions. Stacking up with ERPPCs and Gauss Rifles is no longer an end-all solution.

Maxing out your weapons payload at the expense of speed is no longer useful. I mentioned in the MechWarrior 3 review that 'Mechs weren't allowed to twist their torsos (or at least, not using the mouse), and as a result, fights played out more like turret matches. There was no point in being fast because strafing was not an option. MW4 has fixed this in a very simple way - the mouse controls aiming AND twists the torso. And since the enemy is going to engage you as such (light 'Mechs tend to be frustratingly fast and dodgy, as they should be), you'd better learn how to do the same. Hooray, a 'Mech game in which piloting matters!

My final and biggest praise of this game has to be in the mission progression. From the start, you get to choose between multiple planets upon which you can run your missions. Eventually, missions will favor either Steiner or Davion, and inevitably you have to choose a side to fight with against the other in the FedCom Civil War. Though this conflict is central to the game's plot, you have other choices to make as well - play arena matches on Solaris? Fight the Clans? Join the Clans? There are rewards and costs to every decision you make along the way. But you can definitely expect to play through this game at least three or four times before finding yourself bored. Replay value is a great plus.

The Bad

I mentioned before that the slight loss of realism between MechWarriors 3 and 4 was an acceptable loss. But there were still some things lost that I would've liked to keep.

Weapon effects, for starters, are either just as nice or downgraded from MW3. The Autocannons, Gauss Rifles, and Lasers are virtually identical in graphic. Yes, you do notice that Autocannon and Gauss rounds don't travel instantaneously, but that boring beam graphic really doesn't do justice to a 180mm slug smashing into your opponent's chassis. I greatly preferred the 'burst of fire' style graphic seen in MechWarrior 3, though I hated the way recoil would throw off the bulk of the burst.

Every 'Mech blows up. I'm pretty disappointed by this because MechWarrior 3 got it right: Most 'Mechs are disabled when the pilot either ejects from the 'Mech or is killed in the 'Mech. You can cause a 'Mech to explode in MechWarrior 3 by grossly overheating it with flamer weapons, but the resulting explosion is exactly what it's supposed to be - a small thermonuclear detonation, and as such, it cripples anything within a large radius. In MechWarrior 4, every 'Mech explodes when it is killed, regardless of whether you did so by blowing off both of its legs or busting the engine. And the explosion is so small that you have to be at spitting range to be affected by it, but this is still frustrating when the AI decides to hump your leg (as the light 'Mechs are bound to do). It's neither realistic nor fun: It's just frustrating.

I only have one gripe about the missions: They're too easy. Yes, the end missions can be difficult, but there's no curve. There's just a flat line of 'pew pew, everything's dead' up until the end of the game, and then suddenly things get ugly. This is because the Solaris matches can be played to generate as much money as you could possibly want or need for the best 'Mechs, pilots and guns, and you can do this very early in the game. If you want a challenge, you can ignore the Solaris missions, avoid using Clan tech, play with one hand tied behind your back, etc. But I like a game which can reward me for being resourceful while still presenting a challenge. The reward for being resourceful in this game is a cakewalk.

The Bottom Line

This is definitely my favorite MechWarrior. It's not perfect, but it gets about as close as possible without alienating either arcade FPS players or hardcore BattleTech junkies. Plus, nowadays you can download it for free from Mektek.net, and it gets patched frequently with new 'Mechs and features. So not only is it a good game which stands alone; it's a good game which is still getting better.