First off, if you're one of the many people who've been writing in asking for our opinion of MechWarrior Mercenaries, let me end the suspense right away. It's all you've been waiting for and more. Activision's new sim takes everything that was entertaining about MechWarrior 2 and combines it with fantastic resource management features to create a hybrid that is unmatched in the futuristic sims category.
With that said, let's give the newbies a chance to catch up. MechWarrior 2: Mercenaries is a prequel to Activision's popular MechWarrior 2. As the leader of a crack squad of mercenaries in the year 3039, you must accept enough important missions, collect enough cash, and avoid enough political BS to keep your team fitted with the giant living robots they rely on to survive. These 'mechs (short for BattleMechs) are upright Leviathans with more firepower than a fleet of today's tanks, and are used to wage war on many different worlds in the space that you call home. While most mercenaries will tell you that the only thing that matters is who brings home the paycheck, the wise commander will also keep abreast of the overall status of this conflict, making sure never to back a loser for too long, or to back a winner who threatens to bring an unprofitable future to your squad.
Although the folks at FASA (the creators of the MechWarrior pen-and-paper roleplaying games) worked hard to put together several strong plots, it's the gameplay in MechWarrior 2: Mercenaries that is so completely addictive. On the sim side, the game has everything that made MechWarrior 2 such a hit. Smooth graphics and animations mix with an intuitive control system (although it's not as easy to learn as it could be) that lets players get the feel for battle firsthand. On top of that, players are required to keep track of new factors like salvage - if you're tricky (in other words, if you don't shoot everything you see into small pieces) you can even get ahold of some Clan mechs - and repair costs that add an entirely new spin to an already challenging game. Worry not, action lovers - a new instant action option lets you bypass all of the new intellectual requirements and jump right into battle at the helm of over 30 classic era 'mechs.
MechWarrior: Mercenaries artistic vision is brilliant, but sometimes its execution leaves a little to be desired, considering the advances made in graphics during the year since MW2's release. The entire game is rendered in well-mapped polygons that will give a player with a little imagination a good feel of what it might be like to be on a futuristic battleground in snow, on rock, by day or night. Thanks to cool visual effects like the Thermal Sensors and an amazing particle physics system, laser blasts and missile trails really add to the overall realism of the product. MechWarrior's audio is another split story, combining solid voice acting and sound effects with a soundtrack that doesn't hold up too well through the long listening sessions involved in the average game.
In the end, there's an awful lot to like about MechWarrior: Mercenaries, and those who liked the first two games are in for a real treat when they open the shrink wrap on this follow-up. All new AI, an amazing network play system that allows players to host their own multiplayer games over the Internet, and some really great pre-made missions ensure that the game is almost certain to appeal to any fan of action or simulation games.