MechWarrior is a curious historical footnote. It spawns the defining series in 3D real-time giant robot simulators and is itself one of the first PC attempts at 3D graphics. But a few flaws keep it from being the great game it could be; instead it ends up being a foreshadowing of great things to come.
Released in 1989, MechWarrior's graphics are quite impressive. During mission screens you're treated to a first person perspective of the battlefield with flat shade 3D mech models moving about. The terrain basically consists of simple representative shapes like pyramids for mountains and the mech models are just detailed enough for you to be able to tell them apart. The game represents one of the first PC games to make a serious foray into the 3D world and, as such, it is quite successful given the limitations of PC hardware in 1989. Because of its usage of basic geometric shapes, though, the game manages to maintain a smooth frame rate during combat even with large groups of four or five mechs on each side. The between-mission screens aren't quite as impressive and for the most part consist of decently drawn static scenes with textual descriptions to let you know what's going on.
On the other hand, MechWarrior's sounds and music are disappointingly sparse. There is little or no sound at all during the between-mission scenes. In combat, all you get are a series of cheap internal PC speaker beeps played at different tones to reflect different events. The game does include a MIDI music sequence that starts playing when you go into a bar. It's not a bad song but since you won't be spending very much time at the bar you won't be hearing much of it. Given that the game does have MIDI music, it must be questioned why all the other parts of the game are so barren aurally. Perhaps the bar MIDI sequence was just some sort of experiment?
The game tries to combine real-time, 3D-mech battle action with an RPG storyline and ends up with mixed results on both fronts. Generally, the battle sequences are very enjoyable and a fairly good attempt at bringing the complex Battletech rules system to a real-time fight. MechWarrior allows you to use jump jets on mechs that are equipped with them. They don't work out very well in practice but it's a good idea nonetheless. You can aim at different parts of mechs to go for body specific damage; aim at the head to go for an easy kill or aim at a leg to cripple a mech. Again, in practice this doesn't work out as well as it should. While you can turn your mech from side to side fluidly, you can only move your targeting crosshairs up and down in discrete and very large steps. This sometimes makes it difficult to target things with small vertical footpads like heads.
The biggest problem is with enemy AI as it has no strategic depth at all. Most of the time, the AI will just move all its mechs straight towards the biggest "baddest" mech in your party in an attempt to shoot it down. It even breaks formation by having each mech move at top speed, a ploy that has two implications. The first is that a lot of times enemy mechs tend to arrive individually instead of in waves, making it much easier for your mechs to gang up on it and blow it to scrap. The second is that, if you take a light mech out, the AI will all but ignore you. One classic MechWarrior strategy is to park your hired help with their heavy mechs at the starting spot while moving out to intercept the oncoming CPU mechs with a light mech. Once you overtake them, all simply fall behind one and blast its legs out from under it, then repeat the process as many times as necessary.
The game's RPG aspect is just too underdeveloped to really contribute to the game. MechWarrior does do some interesting things like keeping track of each house's attitude towards you and adjusting contract availability accordingly. But generally, the RPG part of MechWarrior is just a "follow-the-breadcrumbs" sort of exercise. You go to one planet to find one plot piece and then find out where the next plot piece is and go there. Haggling for better contracts basically involves raising your demands repeatedly until you get bored or tired. The contract agents never get angry at ridiculous offers from you and seem to have infinite patience.
Graphics: Mechwarrior's 3D world and mech models are quite impressive (circa 1989).
Sound: Why does this game include only one music track? What little sound effects there are come from basic PC speaker beeps.
Enjoyment: Combined elements of gameplay (a staple in the MechWarrior series) get their start in this title and, despite a few flaws, make this game quite enjoyable.
Replay Value: The basic storyline remains the same through each replay but the game mixes things up, such as where you need to go to pick up clues.
People who downloaded Mechwarrior have also downloaded:
MechWarrior 3, MechWarrior 2 (Limited Edition), MechWarrior 4: Vengeance, MechWarrior 2: Mercenaries, Mechwarrior 4: Mercenaries, MechCommander Gold, Battletech 1: The Crescent Hawks' Inception, BattleTech 2: The Crescent Hawk's Revenge
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