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I’ve never really been into the whole Mech craze. I don’t sit in my room and draw pictures of Mechs or build them out of plastic model kits. Not yet anyway…No, the only Mech action I have ever really had is with MechWarrior 4 series. I went to a friend’s house the other night for some LAN Halo action, and someone brought MechAssault along with them, so I figured I’d give it a shot. The next day it was mine.

First off, MechAssault has hardly any story. Basically the story is an excuse to send your Mech fighting, and it’s highly cliché. You see, your Mech is on a routine mission and all hell breaks loose and you’re pretty much stranded on a non-home planet. And of course, there is an evil brotherhood wreaking havoc on the planets citizens, and now you. And of course, you start with a really tiny cougar Mech and move up to some of the more powerful mechs, instead of the reverse. Fortunately, the awesome Mech fighting makes up for any lame-assed story the developers could come up with. There are really a lot of differences between say a Atlas Mech and say a Bowman Mech. Handling, weapons, and speed all become important considerations before you mess with another Mech. Speaking of handling, I must say that the developers did a wonderful job in stream-lining the controls for the Xbox controller. They are wonderfully simple, something I cannot say for some of the other Mech games I have tried…cough, cough MechWarrior 4: Mercenaries…cough, cough…

Gameplay consists of you controlling a Mech, and taking it around levels and destroying buildings, protecting civilians, and killing all who stand in your way. The first levels are kind of boring, as you pretty much do the same thing throughout them, but as you progress you face harder and harder challenges. One thing I can’t stand is that there are no checkpoints, so the entire mission must be replayed if you mess up one part of it.

The real reason I bought MechAssault is not for the story and single player, but for the multiplayer. I have played quite a bit of the single player, and I did enjoy it. Don’t get me wrong, the single player is a lot of fun, even if you don’t have Xbox Live this is still a pretty cool title to pick up. But Xbox Live is where all the fun is at. There is nothing like playing Team Destruction with a bunch of guys around the country, everyone screaming into the headset when they get a kill. The friends list works very, very well too. I really like being able to see that my friends are online, even if they are playing another game. That way I can give some of them a call and tell them to get playing MechAssault with me and make fun of the game they are playing…Whacked…oh boy…

MechAssault is really designed for Xbox Live, which probably makes sense as this is a Microsoft title. When you get into the game, you and another player can sign onto your account and you soon face a few options. You can play a quick match or optimatch and select what game type you want to play. Optimatch allows you to do a few things different than quick match will, like choose the number of Mechs in battle. The game types consist of Destruction, Team Destruction, Last Man Standing, Team Last Man Standing, and Not It. Most of the game types are just varying forms of the standard First Person Shooter game types. Destruction is basically death match, Last Man Standing is exactly what it implies, and Not It is hard. ”Not It” is amazingly difficult, yet I like it the most so I will bore you with the details. You see, someone starts the game as ”It” and has to kill a bunch of people in order to win. But the interesting thing is- everyone in the game is working against you. The game type forces you to work with your opponents as teammates, then work against them as their enemy. Not It is probably the most innovative multiplayer mode in the game.

One of the most heavily touted features of MechAssault is the highly destroyable environments. Buildings crash to the ground in thunderous piles of debris and broken glass, while trees flame from the lasers of Mechs. The only problem is there are only a few levels to go through. After the sixth time playing through ”River City,” I got tired of destroying buildings. After that, it was up to my enemies to provide my amusement. The most levels for a single mode is 6 different levels while playing Destruction. For instance, one level is a junkyard while another is frigid arctic tundra. Fortunately, the game supports downloadable content. At the time of this review, there is no downloadable content (January), but I imagine there will be soon. I can only dream of new levels and Mechs until then.

Graphically, Mech Assault is amazing. Just watching the buildings go down while sitting inside your nice safe 80 ton Mech is enough to bring a tear to anyone’s eye. The Mech models are all very well done, from the intimidating Atlas all the way to the weasel-like Catapult. The particle effects are simply incredible, especially the insane nuclear explosions that occur with the death of a Mech. The water effects are decent enough, I’ve seen better though but there isn’t very much time that you will see water. There is also lava, that’s pretty blah too. The sound effects are great, from the explosions to the laser fights: it almost sounds like you are in a Star Wars movie. I mean granted, a Star Wars movie and a Mech game have nothing in common, but the laser blasts sound almost like they were ripped straight from the movie at some points. The music is there, but only in the menus. Most of the menu stuff is a weird mix of indescribable music genre, which actually grows kind of annoying as you sit there waiting for a friend to get on or for a game to launch.

An important thing with any multiplayer game is the people you are playing with. I have found that most of the members of the Xbox Live community are pretty nice people, with the exception of a few random people who just don’t want to have any fun. The people in MechAssault are pretty good about keeping down the trash talking and making sure that everyone is having fun, which is pretty refreshing change in pace from all the crap I have to deal with when I don’t come in first during Halo LAN parties. Thankfully, no one can hit me through my headset. One thing I especially enjoy is that no one is using the voice masking, quite possibly one of the most annoying features that I’ve had to deal with thus-far. There’s nothing quite as lame as a 40 year old guy saying “I am your father” over and over with the Dark Master voice-mask.

Mech Assault is not perfect. The limited multiplayer levels and a general lack of ambition in the choosing of the multiplayer modes really hamper what is a spectacular game to play on Xbox Live. One thing in particular that I thought was disappointing was the lack of a Mech Builder, where you could design your own Mechs to use in the game. I think it would be really neat feature to have, as well as a level editor, but sadly neither was granted to us. Perhaps in a future content download? We will see.

Overall, Mech Assault is easily the best game I have played on Xbox Live thus far. The player base is great, the Mech fighting kicks ass totally. Besides a few level limitations, the online rocks and is backed by a fairly solid single player mode, even if the story is a little lacking.

9 out of 10

The author of this fine article

is an Associate Editor at Thunderbolt, having joined in February 2003.

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