Mech Commander

This strategy-fueled MechWarrior has its share of pros and cons.

15The action in the licensed Mech Commander revolves around a decision by the Great Houses of the Inner Sphere to put aside the differences that have kept them divided for hundreds of years and form the Star League Defense Force. If you’ve understood any of that, congrats – you’re definitely a BattleTech nerd! The Star League’s first order of business: the liberation of planets occupied by the Smoke Jaguar Clan. As a Mech Commander in the First Davion Guards, you’ve been assigned the task of reclaiming the planet of Port Author – a role that gives you complete and total control over your Mechs.

It’s up to you to purchase Mechs, pilots, weapons, and other components from Battalion Command; once you’ve outfitted your Mechs, you issue commands for movement and attack from an overhead perspective. Just deciding on which Mechs to deploy, what weapons to equip them with, and which pilots to use is enough to make a BattleTech newcomer’s head start spinning. After you’ve been through the process a couple of times, though, it really does become second nature. Even so, you can easily spend a good 15 or 20 minutes trying to get the most bang for your buck because the combined weight of your Mechs and ancillary vehicles can’t exceed a certain tonnage limit.

It’s this component of MechCommander that really sucks you into the game. Because pilots improve their skills over time, you’ve got to make sure you don’t let your best ones die needlessly and, consequently, you begin to care for these guys. During combat, you need to capture any available resources and try to disable enemy Mechs rather than destroying them so you can salvage them for parts. The addition of artillery support, sensor probes, and camera drones add even more to the sensation of commanding units from a remote location.

During combat, however, you’ll run into various annoyances that detract from the experience. The biggest problem is that it’s almost impossible to stay on top of what your pilots are doing: they might be wasting precious missiles on minor targets, standing stock-still in combat when they should be on the move, or utterly annihilating a damaged enemy Mech rather than disabling it in order to salvage parts.

Of course, you can always step in and take control of them yourself — there are options that allow you to aim at the legs or head of an enemy Mech in order to disable it, and by constantly moving your Mechs you lessen the damage they take — but that’s an extremely formidable task. It’s one of those rare instances when you wish for a turn-based strategy game instead of a real-time one, or at least a pause feature that lets you assess the situation and give new orders.

7Those are the most obvious flaws with combat, but there are others. Units are placed in groups at the start of missions, but you can’t reallocate them into new groups once they hit the planet: If I’ve only got four Mechs, I’d sure like to be able to divide them in two groups for flanking purposes. Here’s another puzzler for you: why can you see a map of the entire area before a mission, but not after the battle begins? Thanks to that “fog of war” and the lack of in-game saving, most players will spend the first couple of attempts at a mission simply exploring the map to discover the lay of the land and location of enemies.

But in all fairness, I’ve got to admit that even with these frustrations, I still found myself enjoying Mech Commander in spite of the myriad problems with its combat.

System Requirements: Pentium 166 MHz, 16 MB RAM, Win95

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