For years we waited patiently (and sometimes not so patiently) for Activison to finish the sequel to the original MechWarrior, watching them sack one development team after another until, finally, they got it right.
And oh man, did they get it right.
Starting as a series of non-computerized RPG-like games, the MechWarrior 2 story, set in the 31st century, revolves around warring clans who are duking it out in massive,bipedal war machines known as "Mechs." The Wolf and Jade Falcon Clans are each vying for control of Terra, sending their armies of heavily armed robotic behemoths against each other in a never-ending cycle of violence. As a new pilot for either side, you must bring your clan victories and do so with honor in order to ensure success and rise through the ranks.
Different battles have different goals: sometimes search and destroy, sometimes recon, base strikes, or other missions. As your playing improves, you're put at the head of a squad which you control. In each mission you can outfit yourselfwith a custom Mech, which you can modify down to weapons loadout, heat sinks, engine, and so forth. Over a dozen Mechs are available, each with its own strengths and weaknesses, and picking the right one for the job at hand can becrucial.
The graphics are gorgeous, with display resolution running from 320x200 to 1024x768 HiRes SVGA. At the highest detail levels (which even top-notch Pentiums will have trouble with) you can see right down to the clan insignia on the side of the enemy Mechs. Even in 640x480, the view through the cockpit of your Mech is stunning.
A new version also runs native in Windows 95, and includes the NetMech bundle, allowing for head-to-head games over LAN and direct connection. (NetMech is available separately for DOS gamers.) The Win95 version doesn't seem to run quite as smoothly, and I had a bear of a time getting a stable connection for NetMech. Once up and running, however, you can play with "team" games such as capture the flag, "steal the plans," and scavenger hunt, as well as last-mech-standing duels in cities, canyons and other locations.
This is no cake walk: MechWarrior 2 is a tough, demanding game, with challenging controls and opponents. Maneuvering both the Mech and the turret can be a tricky proposition at times. With controls more like those of a flight sim, and a need for strategy and planning, this is not your average action game. It demands a lot of computer systems and gamers alike, but it delivers like nothing else around.