The MechWarrior 2 series, one might agree, is more than a game - it's a sort of cult. At the title's release, gamers were entranced by Mech 2's complexity of control and engaging post-nuclear storyline. Now, just in time for the release of MechWarrior Mercenaries, Interplay introduces Shattered Steel, a game which some anticipate might achieve similar elevated status among futuristic-sim fans. But while SS has an interesting plot, the missions don't really give the mech pilot the same sense of "being there." Still, even though it's a pastiche of other popular titles, the game offers an exhilarating time to those who just want to hoist themselves into an oversized killing machine and let some hi-res bullets rip.
The story behind Shattered Steel involves a number of Mega-Corporations who, having risen from the ashes of a post-holocaust Earth, have taken to terra-forming nearby planets, mining them for their resources. In the midst of their great bidding war over planetary mines, these Mega-Corps (who have all but completely overtaken basic governmental functions) encounter a hostile alien presence that is particularly keen on inflicting grievous bodily harm upon humans. As a hired mercenary, you're deployed on a series of missions to reconnoiter and decimate the anomalous beings.
The immediate-action quality of Shattered Steel's gameplay is partially due to the fact that the controls are more simplified than Mech 2's. As in Mech 2, your mech moves in four cardinal directions, with your torso/turret revolving independently. You use the keyboard or the two mouse buttons for your primary and secondary weapons. Your HUD is pretty straightforward, containing your basic radar system, damage status, and inventory. One control improvement explored here is power optimization, where the act of increasing or decreasing speed, weapon restoration, or shield levels boosts or diminishes the power areas that you consider a higher priority.
As you progress through higher missions, you're offered the chance to upgrade your mech, its weapons, and its shield. Chassis types that become available during computer or network play range from the scampering, maneuverable Cervotron, to Shiva, a formidable, hulking metallic quarterback. Weapons range anywhere from your default light laser, to the highly effective heavy plasma cannon, to the morally questionable Nuke. These objects should be chosen strategically because they ultimately effect your mech's maneuverability.
As mentioned before, Shattered Steel is more of an action-oriented sim than Mercenaries and is more comparable to Psygnosis' upcoming Krazy Ivan. But this isn't necessarily an asset, unless you're thoroughly satisfied by the simple task of reducing an unrelenting stream of airborne attackers, mechanized arachnids, and bipedal reptilians to scrap metal. Though it's true that most of the beginning levels are relentless shoot-'em-ups between you and what ever juggernautical bionoid happens to cross your path, the missions become a little more interesting and absorbing as you advance through the levels. But even so, the game still has graphical shortcomings. Without question, the graphics are stunning in hi-res mode, but running it that way ultimately means sacrificing performance. Entering lo-res makes Shattered Steel more playable and also more graphically comparable to Mech 2. This game will definitely reach mech-game fans, but there's still question of whether or not it will be exalted to MechWarrior status.