The first single-player Mechwarrior game since 2002 (the series itself dates back to 1989 with the original game being designed by legendary Red Baron creator Damon Slye, who we interviewed in Issue 4), Mechwarrior 5 Mercenaries puts the player in the role of a mercenary Mechwarrior (Mech’) commander. As the commander, it’s up to the player to run the band of mercenaries. This is far more complicated than just selecting which mission the player wants to do next and what they want to blow up (though there’s plenty of that). It also involves a fair dose of management, and always keeping one’s eye on the bottom line. Pilots have to be hired and their wages paid. Mechs’ need to be repaired, damaged weapons need replacing, and ammo needs to be replenished (don’t make the mistake of installing a new gun, and forgetting to load the relevant ammo into your Mech’). Contracts need to be negotiated, and chosen with care as to how they will affect your standing with other potential clients (prospective clients don’t like it when you work for their rivals). Pilots and their Mechs’ need to be assigned, and consideration needs to be given to whether the mission is stand-alone or part of a chain (giving you no chance to repair inbetween missions).
Even selecting missions forces players to be aware of the state of their finances. Travelling throughout the game’s massive, and I mean absolutely massive, star system (there must be well over 100 planets) in search of contracts costs both time and money. The further away the planet in question, the longer it’ll take to get there and the more it’ll cost you. Taking on a mission which pays 200,000 c-bills (the Mechwarrior currency) is absolutely no use, if it cost 150,000 c-bills to get there, and then causes over 50,000 c-bills worth of damage to your Mech’. Careful management of finances, however, will allow players to gradually acquire bigger and better weapons, and, of course, bigger and more stompy Mechs’ (everything from super fast and nimble light Mechs’ complete with jump-packs, all the way up to massive and slow moving Assault-class Mechs’ sporting tons of armour, and multiple weapon mounts).
So what of the Mechs’ themselves? Firstly, if players are familiar with Titanfall or Titanfall 2, forget everything you’ve learnt. Instead of the fast and graceful Titans, which handle more or less exactly like any character in any first-person-shooter game, the machines which inhabit Mechwarrior 5 Mercenaries are basically large, stompy tanks. For example, your forward and back controls actually set the speed of your Mech’ in either forward or reverse. The torso can be rotate independently of the legs, and legs and torso can be made to align with each other upon giving the relevant command.
Make no mistake, Mechwarrior 5 Mercenaries is more a simulator than anything else. Firing weapons causes heat-build up, which must be managed so as not to cause your Mech’ to temporarily shut-down (a disaster mid-combat). Head, torso (centre, left and right), legs, and arms all record damage individually, and whether that damage is done to more heavily armoured front, or lightly armoured rear or the section in question. While destroying the cockpit or torso results in an instant takedown, Mechs’ can also be crippled. Take out a leg, the Mech gets slowed. Both legs, and it’s incapacitated. Arms, and their weapon mounts are also favourite targets. Indeed, the first few missions I played, the AI seemed determined to knockout my ballistics capabilities, and my trusty Centurian (a mid-weight Mech’) would often limp back to the extraction point minus its right arm.
The missions in which players will find this type of damage routinely inflicted upon them, come in a number of forms, including defensive missions, raids, targeted eliminations (assassinations), and wanton damage to property. In practice, these all play fairly similarly. Land on the map, travel to the waypoint(s) and engage the foes (a range of tanks, airborne enemies, and, of course, enemy Mechs’). While this is enjoyable in itself, it’s taken to a whole new level by the sheer amount of destruction. In games like Titanfall 2, even the most humble concrete-and-corrugated-tin shacks are invincible structures, capable of supporting even the largest of towering machines standing on them. In Mechwarrior 5 Mercenaries, walking your Mech’ into a building will (provided the Mech’ is heavy enough), result in it plowing straight through, leaving a trail of destruction and shattered structures in its wake. Indeed, the base destruction/defense missions revolve around the player either inflicting this type of damage, or preventing the enemy from doing it. (Here the AI can be rather stupid – it’s possible to see one of your squadmates happily walk through a line of buildings he was supposed to be protecting.) All these missions can be played as part of the campaign, single-player custom scenarios which allow you to dive right into the action in the Mech’ of your choosing, or multiplayer co-op mode.
While this may all sound a bit daunting and overwhelming, it’s worth persisting. There’s tons (pun intended) of old-school simulator goodness to be had here. ■