Let's cut to the chase: This game rocks, and it rocks hard. It's got more than enough firepower to satisfy the run-and-gun crowd, but at the same time it has tactical and strategic aspects that appeal to sim fans, too.
One of the great features of Solaris (Solaris is the planet where battles take place) is that it's lean and mean: Log on to a Solaris provider and choose a handle, and you can be in the thick of combat a few minutes later. Just decide on whether you want to practice or fight sanctioned matches (which determine your ranking), then head to the appropriate arena, pick out a mech, and get ready for some major league destruction.
Another great quality of Solaris is that you can play it on different levels, depending on your personality. Some players really groove on the role-playing aspect of being a futuristic MechWarrior - you'll see many players with Clan designations by their names, for instance, and some of these guys take all aspects of the game pretty seriously. Others, more than happy with the white-knuckled thrill of combat itself, don't even try to immerse themselves in the game world. Either way, the game is a real blast.
The real beauty of MultiPlayer BattleTech: Solaris is that, like most great games, it's simple to learn but difficult to master. Learning basic navigation and weapons controls takes all of about five minutes, but if you think you'll be racking up kills with just that knowledge, you'd better think again. Each of the 80-plus mechs available has distinct strengths and weaknesses: Choose a mech that's speedy and can jump, for instance, and you'll have to settle for less armor and firepower.
Complicating matters is the issue of heat management. Everything you do - walking, firing, jumping - causes the heat levels in your mech to rise, and if the heat becomes too great your mech will shut down, leaving you defenseless and powerless (usually at the worst possible moment). Knowing which weapons to fire at particular ranges - and how often you can fire them without causing a shutdown - keeps Solaris from degenerating into a trigger-finger workout.
Though practice matches against computer-controlled drones are always available, they don't provide the pure adrenaline rush of competing against human opponents. The thrill of blasting an arm off a drone mech may be satisfying, but doing it against a fellow MechWarrior is downright exhilarating - it's the sort of adrenaline rush that will have you coming back time and again for more action. Add in some crunchy sound effects and an atmospheric soundtrack that changes to reflect the action onscreen, and you'll almost feel as if you really are inside one of these behemoths.
It's addictive, for sure, which brings up Solaris' single weak point: pricing. Depending on where you play, prices can range from around $1.25 per hour to as much as $2.75 per hour. These prices are offset somewhat by the fact that the game software is available via download free of charge - you can almost write off the first 20 or 30 hours of online time against what you would have spent for a retail game. And while most folks can deal with a buck and a quarter for gaming action this intense, things can start getting expensive at $2.75 per hour, especially since there's no option to practice offline.
But enough meandering. Download MPBT: Solaris and pick out a service to play it on. At worst, you'll be out some download time and four or five bucks to try the game - and that's a pretty small price to pay for a game that will probably get its hooks into you before your first battle is over.