MechAssault 2 Multiplayer Preview

Following our look at the single-player portions of the next game featuring everyone's favorite futuristic walking tanks, let's talk about where most of the real action is going to be: the brand-new multiplayer modes.

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Multiplayer MechAssault 2 might just cause you to kick that Halo 2 addiction you know you're gonna get.

Recently, GameSpot was fortunate to meet with Denny Thorley, president of Day 1 Studios, the company that delivered the Xbox's first definitive online action game: MechAssault. Presently, Day 1 is hard at work wrapping up MechAssault 2: Lone Wolf, which will deliver the same sort of pick-up-and-play shooting action as its predecessor, while at the same time building on and greatly expanding on the impressive presentation and excellent gameplay that made the original a big success. We got to see some of the game's dramatic features firsthand as Thorley gave us a tour of what we could expect from MechAssault 2's single-player mode, which we described to you last week. However, we also got our hands on the game's multiplayer mode and were able to compete against reps from Chicago-based Day 1 and Seattle-based Microsoft over Xbox Live. Yeah, sure, we figure those guys were probably instructed by their bosses to go totally easy on us so that we could win the day and regale you with tales of our glorious not-at-all-beginner's-luck victories. But the way we figure, regardless of whether we won or lost, we still would have come away genuinely excited about MechAssault 2's multiplayer potential.

MechAssault 2, of course, takes place in the Battletech universe, a grim vision of the 31st century in which wars and skirmishes frequently erupt and tend to be dominated by walking tanks bristling with energy and ballistic weapons and weighing in at many tons. As a mechwarrior, you'll get to pilot many variations of battlemechs during the course of MechAssault 2, and one of the great things about the game (and key differences between the sequel and the original) is that you're no longer stuck with whichever mech you choose to take into a mission. Now you'll be able to exit your mech (or vehicle) at the touch of a button and hop into any other nearby weaponry that might be better suited to your situation. This new twist on the gameplay, which will figure prominently both in the single-player and multiplayer modes, seems like it will give MechAssault 2 a feel that has as much in common with the original MechAssault as with the extremely popular Battlefield series of vehicular PC multiplayer shooters. What makes the Battlefield games so great? Not to put too fine a point on it, but the fact that your role during the course of a grueling multiplayer match can dramatically change depending on which vehicle you choose to operate definitely has a lot to do with it.

In the original MechAssault, multiplayer matches were basically slugfests--you'd pick your mech of choice (most likely one of the bigger, heavier ones) and have at it against up to seven other human rivals. There were different modes of play to choose from, but there wasn't much in the way of built-in team-based strategy to consider; coordination between team members was basically optional and not necessarily expected. Yet, true to the roots of Battletech, players quickly found themselves working together to form competitive "clans," within which they'd strategize and coordinate like a sports team might before a big match. Essentially, MechAssault 2's multiplayer will be rebuilt from the ground up to capitalize on the popularity of coordinated, team-based multiplayer action, and it will give players in-game tools to assemble themselves into clans and thenceforth hash it out against their team's rivals. Specifically, clans will be able to apply custom colors and logos to their mechs, to make themselves easily identifiable--and, hopefully, feared--on the battlefield.

MechAssault 2's 3D lobby will keep you in the context of the game experience even in between multiplayer skirmishes.
MechAssault 2's 3D lobby will keep you in the context of the game experience even in between multiplayer skirmishes.

Between battles, players will congregate in lobbies in which their personas will be represented by actual pilots (and you'll be able to choose from several different types of characters here). You'll be able to use emotes, much like in an online role-playing game, to wave to your friends or maybe taunt a buddy into a duel. This "3D lobby" system is certainly more impressive than the typical menu-based Xbox Live lobby and should serve to keep players fully immersed in the experience of the game.

Of course, it's the action on the battlefield that matters most. We'll tell you all about it next.

Battlefield 31XX

In addition to the ability to get in and out of your mech on a whim, one of the most important changes to the gameplay of MechAssault 2 is that now you'll be able to pilot various vehicles and other defenses in addition to battlemechs. Worry not--those lovable walking tanks are still the stars of the show, with their powerful assorted weapons and thick skins. However, MechAssault 2 will introduce a number of interesting, new support vehicles that should make multiplayer matches far more strategic, and, hopefully, even more exciting.

The VTOL can slip behind enemy lines and deploy friendly forces, but watch out--that thing's pretty flimsy.
The VTOL can slip behind enemy lines and deploy friendly forces, but watch out--that thing's pretty flimsy.

We spoke a lot about one of these--the battle armor--last week. It's a relatively diminutive vehicle, standing at a tiny 12 feet tall, but it's got decent weapons and the ability to neurohack into (or, to use the contemporary vernacular, "jack") enemy mech pilots, causing them to involuntarily eject...so that you can take over where they left off. The battle armor's plenty of fun, but that's not all. MechAssault 2's VTOL (vertical takeoff and landing) vehicle is going to play an exciting, new role in multiplayer skirmishes. Not only can it whisk friendly forces about the map, perhaps dropping them straight on top of their foes for a classic death-from-above kill, but it's got a respectable array of weapons and also packs the ability to deliver power-ups to allied forces on the battlefield. So it's kind of like a combination transport/medic, and some players are going to love flying the thing around. Incidentally, the flying mechanics are simple--a couple of buttons let you raise and lower your altitude, and you just steer normally from there.

Another new vehicle is the tank, which packs thicker armor and better weapons than the pathetic things you might remember stomping on in past Battletech-based games. The tank's most interesting ability is how it can temporarily cloak itself in a Predator-like light-refracting shroud. In so doing, the tank also vanishes from enemy radar, allowing the pilot to creep up on the enemy. Another devious radar trick involves the VTOL, which has a single radar signature regardless of whether it's carrying a payload or not. And we're superexcited about the possibility of using the VTOL to pick up enemy forces. That would make a wonderful present to bring back to your clanmates. For good measure, the VTOL will also be able to drop powerful bombs on enemy forces. The tank was pretty fun, but the VTOL and the battle armor seemed like the most interesting, new additions to MechAssault 2--of the ones that we got to try, anyway.

So is everyone going to be flying VTOLs in multiplayer? Well, no. One of the other significant changes in MechAssault 2 is that vehicles will be defined by the map, so you won't expressly get to choose what to bring into battle. In fact, you'll start out each battle on foot and will need to clamber into one of the various vehicles at your base. (These automatically respawn a short while after they're destroyed, so don't worry if one of your teammates snatches that Atlas you wanted.) Having predefined vehicles on each map does a number of interesting things to MechAssault 2: One is that it facilitated raising the number of players per match from the original MechAssault's eight up to 12. Two is that it helps to automatically balance the competing teams. Three is that it encourages collaborative effort between team members. Sure, a player can grab a VTOL and try to go at it lone-wolf-style, but it's not going to get him far. He'd be better off using it to ferry another player's catapult mech behind enemy lines.

Besides vehicles and mechs, you'll also get to use some stationary defenses. The most entertaining of these is probably the point-of-view missile, which, as the name suggests, lets you control its powerful guided warheads from a first-person perspective. One or two hits from these suckers will seriously put the hurt on any victims unlucky enough to get in the way.

This star map presumably ties in with some to-be-announced multiplayer features for MechAssault 2. Think of the possibilities...
This star map presumably ties in with some to-be-announced multiplayer features for MechAssault 2. Think of the possibilities...

We experienced smooth, responsive gameplay from what we played of MechAssault 2 online and enjoyed the distinctive feel of each of the different vehicles available to us. We also noticed that the gameplay took place on a nice, large battlefield, complete with plenty of strategically positioned hills, valleys, foliage, and buildings to make things interesting. We didn't get a chance to explore all of the game's various modes of play, but we learned that we should expect some exciting announcements on that front.

MechAssault 2 seems to be coming along very well at this time and promises to deliver accessible yet strategic team-based action online. We're eager to bring you more details on the game, if only because we're eager to play more. For now, we invite you to learn more about MechAssault 2's multiplayer component straight from Day 1 Studios president Denny Thorley in our exclusive video interview.

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