It's pretty obvious that 100-story tall humanoid robots are an improbability. Duplicating the precise mechanics that enable mobility and balance in the human body utilizing machinery would take nothing short of a miracle. Paul Verhoeven's cyber-retro film Robocop played around with the idea and showed how impractical any attempt would be when the hulking security droid, ED-209, couldn't even negotiate a simple flight of stairs. Yet the male population (especially young boys) continue to be fascinated with this physics-defying notion that combines empowering size with a curiously complex control mechanism. In any case, pop-culture certainly hasn't missed a beat by continuously feeding our child-like fantasies with the likes of Gigantor, Transformers ("Autobots, Let's Roll!"), Voltron ("and I'll form the head!"), Robotech ("Minmei, Minmei"), Dangaio ("SideKick Wave!"), Power Rangers ("Go, Go" Crap), and, most recently, the Iron Giant. Computer games have had their share of representation in this arena as well with Earthsiege, Heavy Gear, and Shogo. But before all of them, there was my all-time favorite, MechWarrior.

I was a fanatic of the first-of-its-kind MechWarrior, but I didn't hold the sequel in such high regard. For all its cutting edge graphics, it lacked personality and character and took itself far too seriously. I'm happy to report that MechWarrior 3 doesn't suffer from the same dullness. From the action-packed opening title sequence to the chattery mission briefings, MechWarrior 3 bristles with life and excitement. Credit much of the liveliness to a proper usage of the Battletech universe. The game effectively sets up an engaging backdrop story about a separated task force from the Eridani Light Horse Clan looking to put an end to its war with the Smoke Jaguar Clan. The separation from the lance (due to harried insertion into the combat zone) is a stroke of design genius because it allows the player to progressively learn individual skills first and then incrementally develop squad-based tactics later (as the player is reunited with other lancemates one by one).

MechWarrior 3 is organized into a series of linear missions with primary and secondary objectives. Only upon completion of these objectives can one advance to the next mission. And in the process, I am allowed to salvage parts from opponents I had previously destroyed for new mechs and armaments. Failure sends me back to the mech labs to figure out what went wrong and to try again with a better-suited combination of mechs and weapons for that mission. Ordinarily this type of trial and error adds up to aggravation, but in MechWarrior 3 customizing my mech and tailoring it to my preferred style of combat is part of the very essence of the game. It's an overly complicated process and difficult to grasp, at times, but that's really my only complaint (that and the lack of a branching story arch). The salvaging aspect also makes for distinctly conservative tactics since it is not in my best interest to obliterate an opposing mech to shreds. Both features add layers of depth to the game and kept me more involved.

The intricacy of actually piloting a Mech is minimized through the use of its short, but thorough training mode. Inside the cockpit, the developers have included a few new features like the zoom reticule, crouching ability, and coolant flushing system, which actually add to the gameplay rather than needlessly complicate. Communication between lancemates has been nicely streamlined as well, so that giving orders is no longer a chore. In fact, everything about the game feels very polished. The detailed graphics, smooth mech animations, robust sound, active mission design, and solid game engine all feel convincing and tightly integrated.

Even after all the aforementioned positives, MechWarrior 3's most exemplary characteristic is its sense of fun and lively gameplay, which really made me feel involved. In the midst of combat, sometimes my mech would overheat, get knocked down, or have its appendages blown off. But these strikingly dynamic touches aren't circumstances that only I had to manage. These predicaments equally would befall computer opponents and it is a riot to observe how the computer deals with them. Sometimes I could almost sense the panic exhuming out of an opposing mech as if there were actually a little pilot inside "choking" under the pressure. I liked how the computer AI seemed to act more organically and it consequently made the game feel more alive. Another thing to note about the upbeat gameplay in MechWarrior 3 is that it doesn't take itself too seriously. That's best demonstrated in the jump jets enabled mechs, with their gravity-defying landings and the giddy MFB repair sequences where three supply trucks form around a mech and do pitstop style repairs. Since the idea of giant robots is so far-fetched, trying to make the game seem overly realistic would be a mistake anyway. Instead, MechWarrior 3 has embraced its child-like appeal and the result is far more successful. So while MechWarrior 3 maintains a sense of reality on the surface, at its core there is a feeling of fun and wonderment. Rating: 9.5 out of 10

Chi Kong Lui
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