MechAssault Xbox Live beta impressions

We go hands-on with the online multiplayer component of FASA Interactive's upcoming mech game.

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We got a chance to spend some time with Microsoft's upcoming mech game, MechAssault, on the Xbox Live beta. We played against members of the FASA Interactive staff in several of the game's multiplayer modes, which include destruction (head-to-head deathmatch), team destruction (team deathmatch), "not it" (where the one "it" player may score points by destroying other players' mechs), grinder (a co-op mode, in which players fight together against hordes of enemies), and last man standing.

As we've mentioned previously, MechAssault's control scheme resembles Halo's--the right stick is used to aim, while the left stick is used to move your mech. If your mech is equipped with jumpjets you can press in the left stick to fly briefly; if your mech is equipped with a secondary defense system, you can activate it by pressing in the right stick. We were able to try out the Puma mech's secondary defense, which makes the mech's chassis temporarily invisible (though it won't cover up any trailing smoke or sparks if the mech is severely damaged), as well as the hulking Atlas mech's secondary defense, which is a radar beacon that draws away enemy missile fire.

As we saw, different mechs tend to work better in different situations. For instance, the agile Elemental, which is essentially a human-sized suit of armor that's tiny compared to the other mechs, is a formidable opponent in open deathmatch, since slower mechs will have a hard time zeroing in on it. However, in not-it mode, in which only the player who is "it" can score points, and in which other players may score points only by destroying the current "it" and becoming "it," the relatively weak fire of the Elemental isn't strong enough to take down larger mechs, while a larger, more heavily armed mech will be extremely effective once it becomes "it."

MechAssault's control setup is fairly intuitive and rather easy to pick up, though the larger mechs will probably be much more difficult to control for beginners, since they swivel and move so much more slowly. Faster mechs seem to have a definite advantage in some game types, especially since they can not only outmaneuver their opponents, but also have a better chance of making an instant kill by smashing an enemy's cockpit. Since each mech is controlled by a human pilot in a cockpit, each one can be instantly destroyed by jumping over the mech and landing directly on the cockpit, crushing the pilot and instantly destroying the mech itself. It's a difficult maneuver, but considering how much punishment some mechs can take, it seems like it's worth the risk. However, slower, heavier mechs can really dish out severe punishment and can take much more of it than the lighter ones.

Both light and heavy mechs drop salvage when destroyed. Unlike in the more-exacting MechWarrior games for the PC, in which specific mech parts can be salvaged for later use or for sale on the black market, MechAssault's salvage items are simple power-ups, like improved missiles or armor. Loading up on salvaged power-up items is a great way to tip the odds in your favor, but trying to swoop in and grab them can be a dangerous prospect, since all defeated mechs go down with a spectacular explosion that's highly damaging to any nearby mechs--if more than one damaged mech happens to be within the blast radius, they can and will set off a highly damaging chain reaction. The same applies to buildings in the game--many of MechAssault's buildings and scenery objects can be destroyed, but if the rubble collapses on your mech, you'll suffer serious damage. But unlike the MechWarrior series on the PC, MechAssault doesn't have a highly restrictive physics system. The game does show considerable differences between faster and slower mechs, but most new players will find it easy to get started in MechAssault, thanks to the game's slightly more-forgiving physics and its easy-to-learn control scheme.

MechAssault itself seems to work extremely well over Xbox Live. Setting up a game is simple, since MechAssault has a very basic player lobby with an "optimatch" option that will let you filter available online games by your own preferences, so if you want to play only last-man-standing games, or if you want to play only games that have seven or more players, you'll be able to filter the rest of the games out. Once you've selected a game to join, you simply choose your mech chassis, your team color, and the voice mask you'll use in the game. MechAssault will ship with about eight multiplayer maps (in addition to the game's 17 single-player levels) and will allow up to eight players to play in a single match over Xbox Live or via system-link cable. The game will also support split-screen play for two players. The FASA Interactive team is also currently working on a content addition for the game--players will be able to download new game types and new mechs via Xbox Live--and the team hopes to have the first addition ready at the game's launch so that players will have new mechs waiting for them when they first sign on.

MechAssault is currently scheduled for release this fall for the launch of Xbox Live. For more information about the game, consult our previous coverage .

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