Review: MechAssault 2: Lone Wolf (XB)


Platform: Microsoft Xbox
Category: Third Person Shooter
Developer: Day 1 Studios
Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
Release: 12/29/04

Ya know. I really tried to steer clear of games like these. Games where (I was under the impression) you were just randomly shooting at whatever came across your screen with little rhyme or reason. It just seemed silly, shallow, and stupid. Kinda like old issues of the Down-Lo.

So when Microsoft sent us the sequel to their 2002 Xbox Live showcase, MechAssault 2: Lone Wolf, I was SURE after my review I’d use the instruction manual as toilet tissue and utilize the spare game disc as my new cat litter liner. Oddly enough, this did not happen. Somewhere along the line I ended up actually liking the game. Apparently just because a game features tons of random violence and explosions doesn’t mean it’s devoid of all intelligence and or strategy. Pfft… who knew?

Let’s see why the last major Xbox release of the year is seriously worthy of your attention…

LET’S REVIEW



STORY:

In MechAssault 2’s Single Player Campaign, gamers will be in control of a human pilot known only as the Mechwarrior. He’s your everyday, generic, mute, one-man army capable of doing the impossible looking incredibly macho and effortless whilst doing so. You’re part of a small force of three Wolf’s Dragoon survivors floating around the universe doing their best to stay alive amid a constant onslaught from the evil Word of Blake organization. These guys are coming down hard not only on you but nearly every planet you seem to stumble across creating tons of random allies (Seeing as you’re all trying to keep from obliteration, might as well do it together, eh?). Primary objective changes from survival to pursuit however, after our heroes learn that the Word’s sneakily gathering five special data cores together that would add insurmountable power to new world devastating mechs, which they evilly plan to use for… uh, world devastationing. So our golden boy Mechwarrior goes around killing everything that moves to obviously stop the senseless violence. Makes sense to me.

Probably the game’s weakest area, Lone Wolf’s Single Player Campaign narrative is competent enough to keep the game moving forward but it’s hardly fulfilling and really only serves as an excuse for blowing more stuff up. Of course the blowing stuff up part is really good, but we’ll get to that in a second. Overall not bad for what it is, but not necessarily good for what it is either. Functional, not compelling.

Story rating: 5/10



GRAPHICS:

Graphics are good, but there’s definitive room for improvement. While the various worlds in the game are beautiful, within these environments landscapes often become redundant and monotonously colored. There are a few blurry textures in there as well. Add to that minor frame rate issues, and it’s not sounding too good on the graphical front.

These faults are forgivable however, especially compared with what the game gets right. Getting back to environments, there are plenty of destructible buildings and mountainsides to take down in impressive collapsible fashion. Nothing’s quite as entertaining as witnessing the demise of your opponent because you destroyed the sky scraper they were standing on. Additionally, I love the explosions, which are among the most mind bending-ly pleasing I’ve seen in a game such as this. Between mission cut scenes look stunning, sporting impressive light/shading effects giving everything a more lifelike feel. Character models too are especially gorgeous with detailed facial expressions and human looking responses. Appropriately enough in a game called “MechAssault”, the Mechs are no slouch either with great detail along with slick and situation appropriate animations. Particularly amusing to watch is a Mech attempting to walk (or crawl rather) after taking in severe damage. I’ve seen pimps walk with less pronounced limps.

Despite a few hiccups here and there, the game looks up to task. Not really pushing the Xbox to its limits, but it’s impressive on quite a few fronts.

Graphics rating (for a Xbox game): 7/10



SOUND:

A heavy metal musical score isn’t exactly an instant classic. But for a game where the majority of your time is spent shooting at random objects, it’s at the very least appropriate (What, we should be listening to Beethoven’s 5th symphony while blowing up stealth tanks? Actually, that’d be kinda cool.). The soundtrack does become a bit redundant, starting to blend together with other tracks you thought you’ve heard throughout the game. Though, there is some licensed music from Papa Roach and Korn played during boss fights helping to bring up overall quality.

Sound effects fair better. Mechs sound suitably cumbersome. And explosions notably sound quite cataclysmic further enhancing the devastating wonderment coming across your screen. A cool feature is some useful audio cues that alert the player to their craft’s status. For example when your craft is nearly at the point of becoming one with nature it’ll make some crazy noises that… well, let’s just say you’ll KNOW to get the heck out of it.

Things fall flat with voice acting, sadly. No it’s not Sonic Adventure or Resident Evil appalling, but at it’s worst it sounds generic and at it’s best it sounds… err, generic. Perhaps this was in part due to the script they had to work with, but very little life was brought to the game by voiceover work.

Sound rating: 6/10



CONTROL & GAMEPLAY:

It’s just mindless blowing stuff up, right? That’s the bias I had against this genre. No thought. No strategy. Just run and shoot. This was gameplay for testosterone filled meatheads. But much like SEGA proved me wrong for Mech-based fighters with Virtual On, Day 1 Studios has proved me wrong for Mech action games with MechAssualt 2.

Lone Wolf plays near identical to the original third person shooter with a couple notable additions. While before you were confined to your vehicle’s reigns, now playing as the visible Mechwarrior, you’re able to psychically get out of and switch your Mech at any given time during the mission. Of course once you’re on foot, you’ll need to be extremely careful because one stray shot and it’s over, but more often than not you’ll reach another one of the game’s impressive 35 different vehicles. During your adventure you’ll commandeer VTOLS hover planes, battle armor, stealth tanks, and of course a variety of huge Mechs. All have their varied uses depending on the situation. If you need to sneak in somewhere relatively undetected the stealth tank is the way to go, whereas if you need to level an entire armada, the Mech may be just the ticket.

Funny enough the most versatile drivable addition isn’t a new Mech, but rather the just-a-little-bigger-than-human sized Battle Armor. In addition to having some hard hitting firepower and flying capabilities, it features the wicked ability to steal enemy Mechs by grabbing onto their backs with your claw and pressing a series of input keys neurohacking into them, ejecting the pilots and leaving the machine ripe for the taking. Sweetness.

What impressed me was the mission variety, particularly within the Single Player Campaign. The beginning missions have you running around mindlessly killing things, as I feared. But the game didn’t stay like that for long. One clever mission had me infiltrate an enemy stronghold and steal their Mechs by neurohacking into them and bringing each back to my base one by one, crippling their army, and leaving my computer controlled team mates free to jump in the stolen Mechs and wreak havoc on everyone alongside me. There were many ‘smart’ missions like this, and it wiped away the notion that this would be mindless repetitive drivel.

Everything is easy to control with a little bit of practice. Neurohacking takes some time to get accustomed, but once mastered violating your enemies in such sadistic fashion is a satisfying experience to be sure. My only true complaint is that it’s all kind of slow. The gameplay is fun, but it becomes all to evident especially during multiplayer matches amongst friends that this game is just kinda plodding along taking it’s time, while you’re ready for some faster paced action. Good stuff here, but somebody needs to start development on MechAssault 2: Lone Wolf EX Turbo Edition.

Control & Gameplay Rating: 7/10



BALANCE:

Only one glaring A.I. issue really creeps up. While on foot the enemy will often be completely oblivious to your existence, even if you’re standing darn near right in front of them. And at times when you WOULDN’T think the enemy should be able to notice you, they do. Weird.

Also, clever players are able to make things easier for themselves if instead of trying to destroy all the bigger Mechs out-right, they just went around and hacked into each of them rendering everyone out of commission. This isn’t always possible, but when it is the game drops considerably in difficulty.

Overall there’s very little to complain about, however. A first mission tutorial helps new players figure out the semi-complex control set. The game’s difficulty steadily increases, and the more you learn the better you become, and the better your digital competition becomes. Boss battles too, give you quite a run for your money. Even the neurohacking trick will only get you so far. MechAssault 2 is a decent, relatively tough game, with some wickedly hard boss battles, equating to a well-balanced experience.

Balance rating: 7/10



REPLAYABILITY:

Single Player Campaign replay value? Zilch. Nada. Zip. But that’s not the real draw here. Consider the campaign missions practice for split screen multiplayer and the worldwide butchering service, also known as Xbox Live.

The multiplayer options are extensive. You can play via system link, split-screen, or Xbox Live with up to 12 players. There are 10 different gameplay types including Destruction, Team Destruction, and Last Man Standing from the original MechAssault along with some compelling new game types. For instance among the newbies is my personal favorite, “Not It”, in which only one player is “it” at any given time and is the sole player capable of scoring points off kills. If you want to become “it”, you have to kill “it”. Get it? One can imagine the destructive scrambles that this brings about. Same goes for many of Lone Wolf’s new multiplayer additions, online and off.

But that’s LITERALLY only scratching the service. These are obviously some sick lunatics over at Day 1 because they must have lost insurmountable amounts of sleep and quality time with their families crafting one of the most innovative online features ever seen: Conquest mode. Imagine a persistent online war that continues on even while you’re gone. Imagine a never-ending battle for supremacy where players form clans and battle it out with other teams across an expansive grid based galactic map to claim planets as their territory for control of the entire universe. Then you’d just begin to understand the possibilities for what we have here. A constant day and night chess match of world conquering galactic melees among thousands of online players to control as much of the universe for your affiliation (known as Houses) as possible. When you log in and look at the conquest map, it’ll show you which planets are currently under attack and from there you can get involved in any of your house’s current conflicts. If it sounds wicked cool, it is. While yet unproven in its last ability (this does need to catch on first of course), I foresee this being the premier mode for hardcore MechAssault players.

Hats off to Day 1. They created a multiplayer frag-fest of such variety and creativity that I’m in literal shock at it’s ambitiousness. They have in effect crafted the “MMORPG” of real-time action games and that’s on top of an already competent core multiplayer experience. All right, that MMORPG crap may be a bit of an exaggeration. But still, bravo Day 1. Bravo.

Replayability rating: 8/10



ORIGINALITY:

A personality-less one man wrecking machine. Giant Mechs shooting at one another with a bland heavy metal back beat and little to no plot of importance. And a sequel to boot? This isn’t just unoriginal; it’s the stereotype for all bad Mech action games.

But Lone Wolf ISN’T a bad game. And on top of that, unique multiplayer options and particularly Conquest mode alone is inspired enough to save this game from being labeled just another bland shoot em’ up. While no barriers were broken, one or two key strides are made for the genre giving players at least a couple of major new experiences.

Originality rating: 6/10



ADDICTIVENESS:

Believe it or not, you’ll get hooked. It starts off slow. I hated even touching the thing at first. Coming to grips with the control scheme, learning some basic combat techniques, and figuring out what weapons to use and when require patience but yield truly rewarding results. What can I say? Blowing stuff up is fun when you get the hang of it. We’ve all known this since Galaga, right?

But beyond the carnage… and even after realizing this simply wasn’t some bonehead destruction-fest, I began to understand the true draw of Lone Wolf. Incredible variety. A large amount of diversity is prevalent in nearly every facet of the game. From the amount of options available for online play to the single player campaign’s intrigue of what new suicide mission your Mechwarrior is to encounter next. Just the fact there’s so many different ways to play makes things quite gripping. For it to in any way hook me, an admitted skeptic of the genre, is an achievement in of itself.

Addictiveness rating: 7/10



APPEAL FACTOR:

Ok. Here’s the problem. MechAssault 2 came out at the end of 2004: Year of the over-rated, big-budgeted, hype so all-encompassing even Chuck D and Flava Flav believe it, sequel-fest. In other words, this isn’t the biggest fish in the pond. Timing is a major factor for a game’s appeal and sadly this isn’t this game’s time to shine. Halo 2 is currently blowing up the scene as the premier shooter for Xbox, first person or otherwise, and that along with all the other major holiday releases leaves MechAssault 2 in a position where it could get lost in the shuffle quite easily.

This title also has a somewhat niche appeal. Sure, there’s the Single Player Campaign, split screen and multiple Xbox system hookup multiplayer options. But again the Campaign is short lived and the multiplayer options are nowhere near as extensive if you’re not online. Basically the very best parts of the game are inaccessible unless you have Xbox Live, making it almost mandatory to derive maximum enjoyment.

However, fans of the genre that are setup to go online and can see past the holiday hype fest far enough to find it, will be hard pressed not to find something to enjoy within MechAssault 2.

Appeal Factor rating: 6/10



MISCELLANEOUS:

Special editions of games have become very popular as of late. Mortal Kombat: Deception Kollector’s Edition, Madden 2005 Anniversary Edition, etc. So it’s little surprise that a limited edition of MechAssault 2: Lone Wolf is dropping as well. This version of the game features two exclusive Xbox Live maps, along with a ‘Making Of’ documentary among other things. Nothing monumental; cool stuff nonetheless. But whereas other companies make you pay extra for the additional features, the MechAssault 2 Limited Edition will be launched on the same day and for the same price as the standard version.

I love this. This is fan service of the best kind and works both ways. It helps to generate interest for the game, while at the same time rewarding early adopters. They didn’t make you pay a crappy 10-20 extra bucks for it. They just gave it to you. Few companies do that outside of Nintendo, and if Microsoft Game Studios wants to join that list then they’ll get my adoration too. (*thumbs up, smile with teeth showing*)

Miscellaneous rating: 9/10



THE RATINGS:

Story rating: 5/10
Graphics rating: 7/10
Sound rating: 6/10
Control & Gameplay Rating: 7/10
Balance rating: 7/10
Replayability rating: 8/10
Originality rating: 6/10
Addictiveness rating: 7/10
Appeal Factor rating: 6/10
Miscellaneous rating: 9/10

Short Attention Span Summary
Needless to say the success and main appeal of MechAssault 2: Lone Wolf, much like its predecessor, is largely dependent on Xbox Live. Without it this depreciates into nothing more than an above average yet fleeting shooter that I wouldn’t recommend for purchase without first giving a rental. But with Xbox Live and its numerous innovative features in-toe, the replay value skyrockets and it’s hard to be disappointed with the complete package. Featuring dozens of multiplayer options together with a persistent online forever-waging war, massive unadulterated destruction never felt so satisfying.