MechAssault 2: Lone Wolf Hands-On

Jack yourself a mech and join the fight in the sequel to one of the first hot Xbox Live games, MechAssault.

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As one of the first games released with Xbox Live support, MechAssault left a long-lasting impression. The fantastic mech combat game had a strong single-player mode and an even stronger multiplayer component. Downloadable content and the addictive nature of the game kept players interested for a long time. In January, Microsoft and Day 1 will release their follow-up, MechAssault 2: Lone Wolf. From what we've seen so far, the game offers most of the same features from the original, as well as some interesting expansions and redesigns that should make the game even deeper.

The big deal in MechAssault 2 is that instead of simply selecting a mech before a battle begins and sticking with it for the entire match, mechs are instead treated like vehicles. You spawn out as a very vulnerable pilot, and from there it's up to you to acquire some armor. The new-and-cool armor option this time around is battle armor, which isn't much larger than your pilot is, but it provides some weaponry and some better protection. More importantly, the battle armor gives you access to a large, multipurpose claw. The claw can be used to grab onto walls and the sides of buildings to allow climbing. It can also be used to attach your armored unit to one of the game's new VTOL transport ships. But the most interesting use of the claw is mech jacking.

Mech jacks are performed by jump-jetting near a mech and hitting the A button. Once you're latched on, a jack display pops up on both players' screens. This display shows buttons on the Xbox controller, and when a button lights up, it's a race to see which player can press it first. Pressing the proper button first fills or drains a meter. If the meter fills, the jacker steals the mech, killing the other player in the process. If the jack move fails, the battle armor-clad warrior is flung away from the mech, taking 50 percent damage in the process. Since lowly battle armor wouldn't be able to step to a full-sized mech if firepower was your only weapon, this makes for a very interesting equalizer.

Of course, you can also just hop directly into a mech and get moving. The game's mech count hasn't been nailed down yet, but the game will feature most of, if not all of, the mechs from the first game, as well as some new models, loadouts, and weapons.

The first MechAssault had some nice graphics and explosions, but the sequel takes everything up to the next level. The game's explosions are beautiful, fiery blasts. Mech explosions are much more dramatic now, sending rippled shockwaves along the ground that also give you a good sense of what the safe distance from a mech explosion is. Buildings fall apart in grand fashion, as well. In some cases it's a two-stage process. The first blasts leave behind a smoking, flaming foundation. But after some more dedicated pounding, buildings simply explode into rubble and dust. It's really quite amazing to see in action.

On the gameplay side, MechAssault 2 may be slightly more complex, but that doesn't mean that it's lost its playability. The game's controls offer a great deal of responsiveness without bombarding you with any needless control options, and the game runs at a solid speed.

MechAssault 2: Lone Wolf already looks like it's prepped for success, but it won't be out until January. It will be interesting to see how the game's five planets and multiple environments develop in the coming months.

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