FASA Interactive was onto something with MechCommander, which combined the complexity and detail of the MechWarrior simulations with the scope and style of an action-packed tactical real-time strategy game. Unfortunately, its unreasonable difficulty and other design oversights prevented MechCommander from being all it could have been. One year later, MechCommander Gold sets out to right those wrongs by adding more control functionality and other features intended to improve the game substantially. It also includes a new campaign on top of the original set of 30 missions. However, one year later, all its purported new features can be easily taken for granted, while its new campaign feels familiar enough that MechCommander Gold ends up just as frustrating as the original, if only because it still has so much going for it.
For example, MechCommander still looks fantastic - the six BattleMechs added in the new Desperate Measures campaign blend right in with the previously available models, and like all the rest, each one of these is precisely animated and articulated in spite of its small size onscreen. MechCommander's attention to detail - how the mechs topple trees, accelerate to a run, fall to the ground from an explosive hit, and detonate when they sustain too much damage - is still astounding. The new campaign spans a dozen missions on the planet Cermak, whose ominous cityscapes and industrial wastelands make a perfect setting for all these mechs, new and old, to do battle. However, the game's interface screens, in which you manage your mechs and purchase components, haven't stood the test of time quite as well and look cluttered and confusing.
Also, MechCommander Gold doesn't sound any different than before, and while the muted, bass-heavy weapon-firing effects still sound right on, your mech pilots' muffled and repetitive commentary will quickly grow tiresome once again. At least the game's dynamic soundtrack, which responds to whatever is happening onscreen, remains effective.
You'll be able to coordinate whatever is happening onscreen better than before, thanks to several notable control enhancements. Then again, all these enhancements seem like they should have been a part of MechCommander a year ago. You can now issue waypoint movement commands, order your mechs to attack with their energy weapons to conserve ammunition, and initiate artillery strikes with a hotkey rather than by clicking on the interface. You can also adjust each mission's difficulty by choosing from three different settings, which makes the game a lot less frustrating. Unfortunately, this doesn't help the game's replay value any since the settings merely adjust your units' weapon and armor strength, rather than the force and number of your enemies. In addition, players who were dismayed to find that they could not save their progress during the original MechCommander missions and that each of those missions was shrouded in a Command & Conquer-style fog of war for no apparent reason will find that these design decisions remain firmly in place.
Fortunately, many scenarios in the expansion campaign have on-site repair bays you can use to bring your walking tanks back into fighting shape on the fly, leaving you some room for error where there was little or none in the original campaign. This, along with the added control functions, helps make MechCommander more enjoyable and easier than before. If you're experienced with the original release, you'll find you can beat many of the expansion campaign's missions on the first try, whereas the original scenarios took ten times as long. Even so, MechCommander Gold isn't an easy game by most standards and still demands equal parts strategic planning, tactical attention, and luck.
MechCommander Gold's map editor enhances the game's value to whatever margin such supplements ever can, while its ten new multiplayer maps and handful of new weapons are more a footnote than anything noteworthy. As such, there's very little in MechCommander Gold to justify purchasing the game all over again. And the fact that the Desperate Measures campaign isn't sold separately suggests the game isn't intended for those who've already played MechCommander anyway, but is instead designed to appeal to those who passed up the original for one reason or another. MechCommander Gold is a subtle enhancement to a nearly excellent real-time strategy game. However, its limited scope will feel frustratingly familiar to MechCommander veterans, although newcomers should enjoy the game in its more refined state.