Quick note: I backed this on Kickstarter!
Giant stompy robots are awesome. How is it that there aren’t more games featuring giant stompy robots? There are tons of games for being a soldier person. Heaps of games about throwing fireballs at large people. There’s even a good dollop of games involving impressing scantilly clad ladies by combining 3 similarly coloured objects! Why then are there so few games about robots stomping other robots? Sure, there are some with flying robots shooting at other flying robots, but I want lumbering robo-tanks blowing each other up! Thank heavens for BattleTech making a comback.
Originally a tabletop game, my biggest experience of the BattleTech universe was playing the MechWarrior games on PC in the mid 90s. These were similation games in which you ourfitted your Battlemech of choice with weapons, and marched out into combat to destroy you enemies in slow, deliberate combat that involved as much managing of your systems as it did maintaining your aim. They were tough, but well made games, that really don’t hold up very well today. Then there were the MechCommander games, that were real time strategy games, with you commanding a lance of Battlemechs in combat. Then the series practically disappeared for a long, long time. Other than the free-to-play MechWarrior Online (which was fine but had a horrible business model if you wanted to have a chance), the series has been dormant. Then Harebrained Schemes took to Kickstarter with BattleTech, a turn based strategy game that I backed with less than half a second’s thought. Two and a half years after it was funded, it finally arrived.
And it’s awesome. If you imagine XCOM but with giant stompy robots, then you’re in the right ballpark. You lead a mercenary group charged with restoring the rightful heir to the throne of their region of space. The story is not really important, but it does tie things together well, and is well told during conversations and cutscenes. Anyway, you take missions for various factions to earn money, which allows you to build your team of Battlemechs and Mechwarriors, as well as upgrade your ship to allow for more storage or greater morale. As you gain power, more challenging regions of space with their own mercenary contracts open up, allowing you to face new opponents, gain the trust of new factions, and maybe discover new ‘mechs to add to your roster.
Combat is turn-based, and works in a similar way to XCOM. You can order your (up to) four ‘mechs into position, before firing or using an ability to end the turn. Positioning matters, as does trying to flank your opponents due to armour tending to be weaker on the sides and back. Where it differs though is in the way you use your weapons and defenses. Moving your ‘mech around increases its Evasion stat for the remainder of that turn, making it harder to hit. The further you move, the greater your evasion. This means that using lighter ‘mechs is actually a viable option against heavy opponents, as they’re unlikely to be able to hit you as you dance around chipping away at their armour. There are ways to remove evasion, by concentrating fire, or using the Sensor Lock ability though, so it’s a risky move.
When firing, you need to think carefully too. You’re firing weapons from a giant chunk of metal, meaning that heat can become something of an issue. Firing your weapons (lasers especially) increases a ‘mech’s heat level. If it overheats, it will start to take damage, or even shut down for a turn, leaving you quite vulnerable. This leads to a lot of tactical depth. Do you fire more often and take the heat damage in exchange for potentially taking out a dangerous opponent? Do you position your ‘mechs in water leaving them more exposed but allowing them to cool quicker? Maybe you’ll use heat to your advantage by fitting close range flamethrowers to your Battlemechs to close in and overheat your enemies! There are a lot of options here, and this is only one aspect of the game’s combat.
New ‘mechs are gained either by purchase, or by salvage. At the end of each mission you will be able to select a certain amount of salvage, with the rest being assigned to you randomly (this is based on how you negotiate your payment pre-mission). The options for salvage will be based on the enemies you just faced, meaning you could gain a powerful new ‘mech that you defeated in the last mission, depending on how you put it down. If you utterly destroy it, there won’t be much left for you to take, but if you kiled the pilot, or crippled the ‘mech leaving it mostly in-tact, you’ll be able to take all the parts you need to add it to your team. This gives you a crucial risk/reward decision to make in every encounter with a new machine. Either you try to take it out efficiently by destroying its core, or you risk those lower percentage shots to destroy the cockpit or legs. Every turn has a wealth of decisions to make that decide not just the outcome of that battle, but what sort of overall progress you’re going to make.
I love it. There’s so much to consider at every moment. How you spend your money, what contract to take, which enemy to prioritise, how to manage your heat, where to fire each weapon. Each mission plays out in a fairly similar way (although story missions tend to mix things up a bit) but I did not get bored for a moment during the 35+ hours I played through in the campaign. Every mission, whether a story one or otherwise, was challenging and the chance of failure was always there. There were a few difficulty spikes early on which might put off some players (there aren’t any difficulty settings for some bizarre reason), but it’s possible to overcome them by taking on some contracts to earn money and new, more powerful ‘mechs.
BattleTech looks great, with the ‘mechs being quite detailed and the environments making good use of lighting. The sound is equally solid, as every laser and missile sounds powerful, and the impact the ballistic weapons being meaty. It doesn’t run all that smoothly though. I found the framerate dropped sharply whenever a part of a ‘mech was blown off, but was quite stable when firing all kinds of different weapons. Whilst not crucial in a turn based game, a smooth framerate is something I would expect for a game that isn’t all that visually intensive considering I was running it on a fairly powerful machine.
There are further irritations in that missions can take a very long time. This wouldn’t be so bad if it weren’t for the fact that the ‘mechs are incredibly slow when they move. It makes sense seeing as they are huge lumbering walking tanks, but it really slows the pace down. An option to speed up the movement speed is in the pipeline for a future patch, but it did mean the game dragged occasionally whilst you waited for the computer to move a group of enemies. The only other thing that annoyed me was when high percentage shots missed, leading to a mission going to a certain win to a potential failure, but that’s just the nature of this sort of game. The RNG gods will always screw you over at the worst possible moment!
BattleTech was developed by Harebrained Schemes and published by Paradox Interactive. I played the game on PC, and would recommend it. Strongly. To pretty much everyone. It’s a fantastic strategy game with as much depth as you want, along with a huge amount of content thanks to the campaign, post-game, skirmish, and multi-player modes. If you have any interest in strategy games or big stompy robots then you really owe it to yourself to give this a go.