Gen Con 2002MechWarrior 4: Mercenaries hands-on

We hop into a MechWarrior pod to do battle--and get slaughtered pretty badly.

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Microsoft was on hand at this year's Gen Con gaming convention in Milwaukee showing off its upcoming stand-alone game MechWarrior 4: Mercenaries. The company actually had the game set up in large stand-up "pod" booths, each configured with simple controls: a controller joystick armed with three buttons (weapons and jump jets) on the right for swiveling and a throttle on the left for accelerating and stopping. Even though many GameSpot staff members enjoy a good game of MechWarrior, not all of us are as well practiced as we might like to be. Microsoft had a four-player games going, and we ended up barely scraping into second place.

The game itself seems to be coming along nicely. Though we were only able to try it out in multiplayer deathmatch, the MechWarrior 4 engine looks as good as ever. Beam weapons look colorful and can be extremely deadly when locked in, while missile weapons leave behind whirling smoke trails and connect with a satisfying concussive blast. And much like MechWarrior 4, Mercenaries seems to do a good job of conveying the sense of piloting a huge, lumbering mech. As you might expect, lighter, less top-heavy mechs have an easier time of swiveling and circle-strafing opponents, but they can't take as much punishment as larger mechs, which turn more slowly and tend to have a bit more trouble climbing hills.

Yet despite the slight difficulty a new player might encounter in getting used to the game's control scheme and physics, Mercenaries seems to be attempting to strike a good balance between realistic-seeming physics and fast-paced, action-packed gameplay. Though we had a chance to do battle at a distance and make use of hills and terrain as cover, we also had several opportunities to battle at close range, and despite the relatively slow moving and turning speeds of the mechs, these close encounters were exciting--even frantic--since good mech pilots have to keep their head and continue maneuvering just outside of their enemy's range of fire while making sure to swivel just enough to lock on to their opponent.

MechWarrior 4: Mercenaries is looking extremely solid and is already very playable in its current state. We'll have more on the game before it ships later this year. For more information, take a look at our previous coverage of the game.

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