MechWarrior 3 – Second Opinion

I've been aware of the MechWarrior series since it's inception. I was sans-PC at the time, but I lived a bit of that world through Chi. I was also a huge fan of giant robots, especially Voltron. Controlling a giant robot and taking on giant monsters was a dream of mine always and I was thrilled to hear that that was essentially what I would be doing in MechWarrior. Sure I was disappointed to learn that there was no blazing-sword nor any lion-head attacks available, but the concept of giant robots was still intact. Alas, what I saw when I actually started playing MechWarrior was anything but what was promised. The graphics were primitive and never played at a reasonable level on anyone's PC. All I was doing was trying to pilot big clunky blocks from point A to point B. I say "trying" because like all mech games following it, MechWarrior's controls were far too complex for me to get any sense of actual control out of playing. It was a total disappointment and I must say, this is one of the games that furnished my hatred of PC games. Looking back on it now, it's ironic that while the first game of the series turned me off from the mech genre, the third in the series has brought me back.

Things have changed since the release of the original MechWarrior. Powerful 3D video cards can be found in most gamers' PC's so graphics appear onscreen just as the original creators of the game envisioned them. Mechs come complete with realistic camouflage "skins" and they maneuver around ultra-realistic environments. Also, PC game controllers have evolved past the simple flightstick we used to have to contend with. Now we have gamepads that come with more than enough buttons to replace the keyboard as the control device of choice. In my opinion, this puts some dents in the genre's reputation for being too cumbersome for the casual gamer to get into.

I figure that that was Zipper Interactive's intention from the beginning. As a sort of running thread, I felt that they never wanted to overwhelm me. Linear by PC standards, MechWarrior 3 delivers a tight, evolving story. I didn't like the opening premise at first, it came off like the old lone-soldier-trapped-behind-enemy-lines-left-to-shoot-his-way-out gimmick. But after playing for a while, I too learned that this "plot device" serves a dual purpose. Not only did I learn to better control my mech on my own, but also by the time I ran into (literally, in my case) a lancemate, I was familiar with the mech and the new story elements. Mission briefings are also an example of this philosophy. While they look and sound authentic and are packed with information, it's all delivered in a way that is simple and quite entertaining. If I was ever confused about my objectives, an onscreen objective display showed me what I was supposed to be doing.

Chi brought up the AI in this game and I'd like to just say that it is about time. I have long wanted to see my CPU opponents and CPU controlled allies have the same problems that I did. In the past, battles were always skewed towards the CPU because of built-in cheats. In MechWarrior 3, however, it was normal during a battle to hear my ally shut down his mech because he was overheated, and just as normal for the enemy to do the same thing. It was hilarious watching the enemy mechs try to chase after me or run away on gimpy legs. It's a touch of realism that is greatly appreciated. And I hope this translates onto other games in other genres.

All the great games immerse the player in a digital world from the get-go and let the player play through the game thinking he or she is control. Alas MechWarrior 3 fails here, but that's not a major fault because the playing experience is so engrossing. The battles feel real, the mechs feel real, and the missions feel real. MechWarrior 3 does come out on top of all of them because it was fun to play. I was not concerned with control schemes (thanks to the Gravis Xterminator joypad) and the graphics were top-notched bar none. All of this comes together better than any mech game I've played with the exception of Heavy Gear. Add all this to the Battletech universe, and MechWarrior 3 is certainly the best all-around mech experience on the market. Rating: 9.5 out of 10