MechAssault 2: Lone Wolf Single-Player Preview

The ambitious sequel to one of the Xbox's definitive multiplayer games is going to feature a single-player component that deserves your attention too. Read all about it.

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MechAssault 2 will still be focused on fast-paced, mech-on-mech mayhem, but it will also introduce some inventive and important, new mechanics into the mix.

GameSpot was fortunate to receive Denny Thorley, president of Day 1 Studios, at its offices today. Thorley gave us a complete demonstration of MechAssault 2: Lone Wolf and its promising, new features. Xbox owners of course know Day 1 as the developer of MechAssault, 2002's giant robot shooter that helped usher in the Xbox Live service as a definitively successful online multiplayer solution for console gamers. The original MechAssault was very well received--for instance, it earned GameSpot's Xbox Game of the Year award that year, and it was also embraced by legions of fans of the long-running Battletech franchise, which gave rise to the MechWarrior and MechAssault games. While it would be tempting for Day 1 to not fix what ain't broke with the upcoming sequel to the game, the company clearly has its sights set on delivering a brand-new, action-packed experience that--based on what we've seen firsthand--we think is going to greatly appeal to fans of the first game and new players alike.

In this preview, we'll focus on telling you all about the most-significant gameplay changes in MechAssault 2 and how they will affect the game's new single-player campaign. You'll be able to infer how some of the dramatic new moves and abilities at your disposal will, in turn, factor into the multiplayer portions of MechAssault 2, but stay tuned--we'll be delving deep into the game's multiplayer features next week and in the months to come. When you take it all into consideration, we think you'll clearly see why we named MechAssault 2 the Best Shooter and best Xbox Game of E3 2004 earlier this year. And the game has clearly been shaping up since then.

There's a lot to talk about already. MechAssault 2's storyline will be self-contained, but if you played and finished the first game, you'll recognize that this one is a direct continuation of that game's events. It's been two years since you acquired the powerful Ragnarok mech technology at the end of the first MechAssault, which has resulted in some important, new innovations and renovations to battlemech technology. This, in turn, has resulted in more warfare breaking out within the fragile political landscape of the MechWarrior universe's grim vision of the 31st century. In this setting, you'll fight your way through a campaign consisting of about 20 successive scenarios. These will be tied together with cinematic cutscenes rendered using the game's impressive 3D engine, which evidently does as good of a job portraying lifelike human characters as it does the 80-ton robotic monstrosities in which they wage war. We didn't get to see much of the storyline unfold, but that's fine--Thorley was eager to show off the gameplay itself, and we were eager to check it out.

The single-player campaign will let you experiment with the brand-new ability to get in and out of your mech--you can try setting traps or even jacking your enemies for their rides.
The single-player campaign will let you experiment with the brand-new ability to get in and out of your mech--you can try setting traps or even jacking your enemies for their rides.

The key, new gameplay feature in MechAssault 2--and it's something that distinguishes this game not just from the original MechAssault, but from pretty much all the dozens of Battletech-based games from over the years--is the ability to get into and out of your mech and other mechs in the heat of battle. For one thing, this helps deliver an excellent sense of the game's sheer scale--if you thought an Atlas- or a Catapult-class mech looked scary face-to-face, just wait until you see one face-to-toe. These things look positively huge, and when you're running about in just your skin, rest assured they'll be able to squash you like a bug if you're caught underfoot. As in previous Battletech games, the relative size of a mech is proportional to its power--but it's inversely proportional to its speed and maneuverability. While the single-player campaign itself will be linear in structure, its missions will have an open-ended design, in which you'll be able to make strategic decisions on the fly based on changing battlefield conditions. Most notably, should you find your mech in danger of being destroyed, well...maybe you should bail out and see if you can salvage the situation.

Mechs won't be the only vehicles you can pilot in MechAssault 2. The 12-foot-tall battle armor will be a key, new addition to the game's arsenal, since it will allow you to neurally hack into enemy mechs, scale tall buildings, and much more. You'll be able to turn the tables on the enemy like never before; find out how and why next.

When Head Meets Foot

We got a chance to see the nimble, new battle armor in action. It's maybe not much to look at next to a towering Madcat, but you won't need much time to see how this diminutive weapon can still make a huge difference on the battlefield. The battle armor does provide a considerable amount of protection, since it envelops you completely in its steel hide. It also features jump jets, a powerful shoulder-mounted mortar, and a respectable laser cannon. Perhaps best of all, though, is the battle armor's claw--something that could easily rend an unarmored target in half but can also be used to latch onto vertical surfaces or jack into enemy mechs.

"Bigger is better" is a mantra among many Battletech enthusiasts, but we think the small-but-versatile new battle armor is going to change many of their minds.

Climbing around is at least very cool if not strategically viable in some of MechAssault 2's dense cityscapes. The battle armor cannot climb, per se, but it can stick to walls and then use its jump jets to gain more altitude, until it finds itself on top of buildings that are much taller than the tallest mech. Just watch out, since much like in the original MechAssault, skyscrapers aren't exactly safe havens here. A barrage of missiles or a few well-placed PPC blasts will cause buildings to start shedding their masonry like mad, until the entire building eventually starts to crumble and then dramatically collapse. It's an effect that looked great in the original MechAssault, and looks even better here--so rest assured that, regardless of whether you're fighting from the confines of the battle armor or a gigantic mech, you'll be seeing the consequences of your errant gunfire all around you in the midst and the aftermath of a heated skirmish.

As mentioned, the battle armor's claw can also be used to jack into enemy mechs and cause their pilots to involuntarily eject. You'll need to rapidly punch a series of buttons on the gamepad in proper sequence to bypass the enemy's defenses, but if you succeed, his mech may be yours to command. Just make sure the coast is clear as you run for it.

For that matter, don't expect your enemies to just hand you the keys to the car, so to speak. The enemy artificial intelligence we noticed seemed to put up a fully competent fight, by doing its best to maintain optimal weapons range while also dodging fire as best it could. At times, the enemy even seemed to try to go for a classic Battletech death-from-above attack, which is what happens when the top of your head meets the bottom of a jump-jetting battlemech's foot.

We also got a chance to see how the battles in the game will take place across all manner of terrain. While the dense urban environments will certainly remain a highlight, we got to see mechs take it to the seas, as a lone battle-armor-clad warrior stood tall against a couple of powerful battleships, and we also witnessed a confrontation taking place in a dense jungle, filled with tall hills and trees. These environments aren't just window dressing. The foliage can serve as effective cover for smaller mechs and vehicles, though a larger mech's weaponry can just as easily blast the greenery into smithereens.

An enhanced single-player campaign will only be the tip of the iceberg in MechAssault 2: Lone Wolf.
An enhanced single-player campaign will only be the tip of the iceberg in MechAssault 2: Lone Wolf.

From a presentational standpoint, MechAssault 2 is clearly shaping up well. Since it will be exclusive to the Xbox, the developers are focusing on making the game push the system to the limits in terms of graphics and sound. The mechs exhibit a fine level of detail when viewed from afar or up close, such as stepladders leading up to the cockpit areas on unmanned mechs. Weapon effects burn hot and bright--lasers sizzle, massive shell casings pour out from ultracannons, and smoky contrails mark the paths of long-range missiles. The audio accompanies all of this with flair, though we hoped to hear the footfalls of the gigantic mechs resounding even louder--especially when trudging around on foot.

You'll be able to quick-save your progress at various points throughout the campaign missions, and during the course of the single-player levels, you'll attain some mastery over the significant, new gameplay mechanics introduced in MechAssault 2. These will surely help you when you delve into the game's greatly expanded multiplayer component, which we'll tell you all about next week. For now, we invite you to take a look at some direct-feed footage of MechAssault 2: Lone Wolf's single-player campaign in action, examine some brand-new screenshots, and also watch our exclusive, free video interview with Day 1 president Denny Thorley, who'll tell you about the game in his own words. Stay tuned for much more on MechAssault 2.

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