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Reviewed by the jaded critic
Something inside of me always flinches when a license changes hands. Somehow the final product always seems lacking when it's taken from the hands of those who conceived the idea to begin with. Mechwarrior3 (M3) was no different. The Mechwarrior series and I go way back, and although I was aware of the hype around M3, I had my reservations, not any more.
The Mechwarrior series is an adaptation of FASA's Battletech universe in which the battlefields of the future are dominated by large robot-like war machines called battlemechs (mechs). (Imagine a 65-ton tank on two legs). The Battletech universe has been pretty thoroughly fleshed out over the years. FASA's original game has documented many hundreds of years of fictional history, and dozens of fictional books have been based upon this setting. Without going into too many of the grisly details, M3 takes place during the final stages of an assault upon a clan called the "smoke jaguars". Your mission is to incapacitate what remains of the jaguar leadership once and for all.
M3 is unquestionably the best-looking mechwarrior to date. The graphics are gorgeous. The attention to detail is unbelievable. The mechs are lovingly well detailed, and beautifully animated. Settings are vast and exceptionally well rendered, with all sorts of things ranging from wilderness to cities so impressive you might almost experience flashes of regret before you blast them into rubble. Machine guns will punch holes in your cockpit window, missiles will blast craters in the ground in front of you, and cannons treat you to a great muzzle flash right before they hit. The only thing more unbelievable then the graphics is the fact that M3 sounds almost as good as it looks. Turn up the speakers and the rest of the house WILL think there's a war going on in the living room. M3 is one of those rare and magnificent games that are nearly as much fun to watch as they are to play.
Veterans of the Mechwarrior series won't have any difficulty adjusting to M3's gameplay. M3 is very much consistent with its predecessors, although it does include a variety of unprecedented elements that do change the feel of the game. For example, field repairs are now an option, and M3 offers an optional mouse-driven weapons system. Despite the occasional curve ball, M3 serves up all the same great play that made the Mechwarrior series famous. The keys can be somewhat numerous and complex, but they are entirely customizable, and take very little getting used to.
Newcomers to the series needn't fear, there is a series of training missions available that will walk you through the basics of mech operation and piloting. (Expect to spend a little less then half an hour to familiarize yourself, and then you should be ready to hop right in and start blasting). Mech design, however, is more complicated. If you are familiar with Battletech, you can hop in and start customizing at your leisure. The interface is simple, and the design structure identical to Battletech. If you are not, the manual is fairly extensive, and covers just about everything you could want to know. Multi-player is available in modem, LAN, and via Microsoft's gaming zone (www.zone.com) on the Internet. M3's multi-player performance is impressive. Despite my modest Internet connection (56K), multi games were fairly quick with minimal lag, and a wide variety of options. (M3's graphics and sound are very conducive to some WILD free for alls). As always, lag is an issue and its effects are tangible, but the designers have done an admirable job of minimizing the wasted time. After all, since when has some lag not been an issue?
Regrettably, M3 is not without its drawbacks. M3 is gorgeous, but unless you're packing a fair quantity of computer muscle, you more then likely won't be able to appreciate it fully. That is the chief reason I listed the game's recommended requirements at the beginning of this review. Microprose's minimum requirements are laughable at best. (If this can run on a 166, I can't see it being worth playing). As it is, it retains a fair number of bugs, which are mostly evident on lower end systems and multi-player. My test system (300Mhz Pentium2) crashed several times, and couldn't handle the in-game voices. For this reason, I recommend a healthy size sound card be added to the requirements for anyone who's considering the game. Microprose is aware of many of these problems, and will probably patch some of them shortly.
Additionally, M3 consists of only 20 single-player missions. Although the missions are on the long side, 20 remains downright chinsy. Some consolation can be had in multi-player and skirmish modes, and there will more then likely be expansions, (I wouldn't be the least bit surprised if they're already in development), but, in the mean-time, M3 will more then likely leave most gamers in a peculiar Oliver Twist position. "Please sir, can I have some more?"
All in all, despite the change in developer, M3 is a worthy successor to the Mechwarrior line. If you have sufficient computing muscle to do the job, you couldn't ask for a whole lot more from a game. Though it is a little rough around the edges, it is a solid product. If you enjoyed the Mechwarriors, you owe it to yourself to check out M3. Even if you're new to the line, you owe it to yourself to take a look at what you've been missing. There's never been a better time.
(Afterword - Presently, there is a patch available (version 1.1) at support.microprose.com, which addresses a variety of sound and gameplay issues.)
Editors note: My thanks to PC Gamepro for the additional pictures
<< Score: 92 >>
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