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Giant robots and especially mechs are still the coolest thing in the world for
me and if there is one game franchise that defines them it is MechWarrior.
If you didn’t grow up playing these games, let me give you the quick rundown. They are set in a universe known as the Battletech-verse, as named after the original release of the board game titled Battletech in 1984, which later went on to spawn numerous offshoots such as a collectable card game, a table top game and what I am here to talk about specifically, a video game series.
The "Mech Warrior" name as some people may have assumed does not relate to the walking vehicles themselves but rather the pilots of them. The entire point of the games was to feel as if you were that 31st Century pilot, with a walking death machine fully at your control.
Since I’m a huge nerd, I generally like my science fiction to make as
much sense as possible and there isn’t a single other popular
franchise of mech-related content that truly makes the concept of a mech
more believable than MechWarrior. These
games were notoriously famous for their complexity as at their core they were
simulation titles. Like Flight Sims you
had to use a large series of keys on your PC to control almost
all the aspects of your vehicle simply to play the game.
I imagine this style of design is what kept the series relatively niche and prevented it from ever truly being embraced by the larger gamer populace. The closest thing to mass success was two brief spin-off titles on the original Xbox known as the MechAssault games. They were part of the same universe but essentially entirely different genres.
What MechWarrior always did well was place value on good weapon outfitting and management. The games never allowed you to equip anything without there being some consequence. Your mech always had a heat threshold, weight, armor, speed and unique ability slots that could make or break your overall load out. The mechs came in various classes ranging from super light and speedy to very heavy and very slow but brimming with power.
The most iconic mech from the series was called the
Timber Wolf, also known as the Mad Cat, pictured below:
Just looking at the thing you can see a big part of what made the mechs cool was their design. Unlike the Japanese concept of mech design where weight, form and function are secondary to visual aesthetic, the mechs in MechWarrior were very representative of a more Westernized take on the idea with real military hardware and relatively real-world-based laws of engineering and physics having big impacts on the look and style of the mechs, making them much more believable. Though obviously in cases such as the Timber Wolf, certain elements are exaggerated for coolness alone.
Your primary point of view in the series was first-person
as it was the best for keeping track of all your various bars, gauges, targeting
data, heat, radar and so on, so you were essentially playing a first-person
shooter but at a much slower pace and with a considerable amount of management required
to survive and be successful. Every weapon generated heat and the faster you reached your heat threshold the
higher the chances your mech would require coolant to be flushed or to be
shutdown for a few seconds to cool off; a mechanic that is at the center of
what needs to change if the games were brought into the modern age.
The only way I could see MechWarrior working today is if the heat element was removed entirely and the controls much more simplified. In the old games you had acceleration, deceleration and even the ability to toggle between walking forward or in reverse as well as setting your run speed on the fly. Add to these elements jump jets that determine whether or not you could jump that may or may not be equipped on your mech and you have one complex means of simply moving around on top of the heat management mini-game. This would be a daunting and scary undertaking for the modern twitch gamer.
The MechAssault titles on Xbox are a good example of how over-simplification ruined what made the original games great. They were okay as standard third-person arcade shooters, but MechWarrior they were not. The appeal of the series wasn’t the complexity per se, but the feeling that simply running around and clicking a mouse Quake-style wasn’t their thing. Instead MechWarrior was about understanding the systems to the point you stopped seeing them and in turn your game experience would improve, adding true value to learning how to be a good player overall rather than how to kill the fastest. A new title would benefit greatly from the sort of systems now present in most modern online multiplayer shooters, those that feature perks, weapon load outs and character upgrades, all of which determine how your game plays and feels. Things like this could replace the more spreadsheet-like design of the 90s that is clearly unmarketable beyond a certain audience today.
A light mech in a new MechWarrior could specialize in recon and get bonuses to their radar and battlefield information gathering abilities that in team game modes would be very useful. And like a heavy weapons class in Battlefield or Team Fortress, a heavy weapons mech would be no different, sporting the most health and most firepower but very slow moving, and if left alone becomes a giant easy target for faster moving players.
A big focus on co-op and team-based multiplayer would be
essential to any potential reboot and while the fiction of the universe was
somewhat interesting, it was never the big selling point. I would be genuinely happy to see a new MechWarrior release that is purely a multiplayer and co-op focused
experience. It was never a series that
needed a cinematic story-driven campaign or anything similar; the gameplay was
what made it good and the dearth of options in how and with what you played
with kept it highly replayable. Replace all the old systems with modernized more streamlined takes and you have a sellable modern mech sim, though without a doubt the old-school purists would rage no matter the outcome.
There have been rumors of a MechWarrior reboot for some time now, and as recently as last year a full-on teaser trailer was released showing off just how a new entry in the series would look today. Add to this indie projects like Hawken, a simple but absolutely stunning looking MechWarrior-esque title, and the numerous mech games that have done decent enough numbers this generation and there is clearly a market for mech games yet. Still for some reason the biggest franchise by far is nowhere to be seen. As a diehard MechWarrior fan I really hope we see something from the license in the not-too-distant future.