For whatever reason, giant battle robots hold an inherent allure that makes them fascinating. Nothing can really compare to the image of massive robots smashing tanks and buildings like plastic toys. In a game, though, this doesn’t mean squat unless it’s done right. Knowing all of this, you will be genuinely pleased to hear that Metal Fatigue does an excellent job of capturing the appeal of giant robots, using the concept in your typical futuristic real-time strategy format.
Unlike FASA’s MechCommander series, Metal Fatigue from Psygnosis takes a more conventional real-time strategy approach, similar to Total Annihilation or Earth 2150. The most integral difference between the popular Battletech universe and Metal Fatigue is simple: melee combat. There are plenty of ranged weapons at your disposal, but heated combot battles inevitably end up as hand-to-hand confrontations, and the results are impressive. Combots are beautifully animated, with extremely fluid movement. Watching a melee battle unfold between two combots is just plain fun-they cross swords, knock each other back, and even hack off an arm on occasion. While the game’s graphics are standard fare otherwise, the detailed combots are unrivaled by any in other real-time strategy games.
If you’ve played any Command & Conquer styled strategy game, you know what to expect from the rest of Metal Fatigue. Explore, research, build, fortify, attack. Once again, however, the mecha element sets this game apart, adding an intriguing level of complexity. Each combot has four parts (two arms, legs, torso) and a crew. No standard bots are available – you must build the individual parts and piece them together. Destroyed combots will often leave salvageable parts, which can be carted off to your base for research and production.
Arm parts can even be immediately attached to one of your combots. A battlefield is still a combat zone even after the real fight is over, as each side will send hover vehicles scurrying to the site in a frantic attempt to recover enemy technology. In fact, researching technology is often critical to success. Every weapon does two types of damage-kinetic and energy, in varying amounts-while different parts deflect damage. An edge in either offense or defense could easily swing the battle in your favor.
Metal Fatigue offers three playable sides, each with its own spin. Rimtech serves as the beginner campaign, a semi-balanced side that has both kinetic and energy abilities for offense and defense. MilAgro is focused on high-powered kinetic weaponry, while Neuropa’s technology is energy-based. Neuropa also tends to be a bit frail, as they rely on the special abilities of their equipment, such as cloaking and automatic repairs. While each side can survive with only its own technology, capturing enemy parts will enhance the effectiveness of anyone’s ‘bots. Trendy marketing tool or not, the combots are more than just a cool gimmick-they can easily change the dynamics of a mission.
Unfortunately, combots have a major weakness. Apparently their crews suffer communication problems, as they have a tendency to ignore orders and behave in an irrational, often idiotic manner. Unless you can field an overwhelming force that does not need to worry about losses, it is necessary to micromanage every little battle to ensure that your carefully constructed troops don’t get themselves killed. This leads to excessively long missions and general frustration, which is too bad, because the other parts of the game are really pretty solid.
Each campaign follows the story of one of three brothers, Jonus, Diego, and Stephan. Initially, they work for Rimtech until things go awry-they encounter an alien combot during a mission and Jonus manages to steal one of its arms. He wants to sell the technology to Neuropa, but his lust for profit enrages Diego. A brief battle follows when a squad of bombers lays waste to the area, and the three are split up. Diego returns to Rimtech to search for his brothers, while Jonus defects and joins Neuropa. Stephan is, unfortunately, discovered by MilAgro, which reconditions his mind to force him to serve in their ranks. It may not be an epic, but it is a pretty good plot compared to the usual strategy game fare.
System Requirements: Pentium 166 MHz, 32 MB RAM, Win95