Mechassault: Phantom War
Welcome to the 32nd century. Mankind has developed new technology, allowing them to delve deep into the vast emptiness of space. Many of the planets are brimming with civilization, including an interstellar communication system with gigantic satellite dishes. However, such advancements donít stop people from being power-hungry warmongers. In a bid for the dominance of the cosmos, nations have raised their own armies of elite mech pilots and trained them to become Mechwarriors. Tons of battles and thousands of casualties later, no one has claimed a definitive victory. However, thatís all about to change. Military research has concluded that the massive satellite dishes Ė the ones designed primarily for communication Ė can be converted into weapons of mass destruction. With this revelation, the Mechassault: Phantom War has begun.
In the midst of all the bloodshed, Mechwarrior Vallen Brice has been recruited to infiltrate enemy territory, hijack their satellite, and ensure victory for her homeland. Sheíll be dropped off in the middle of a battlefield armed with a mechanical suit with horribly pathetic shielding, a generic laser pistol, a jetpack, and grappling hook. The missions usually involve walking or climbing to a certain destination (conveniently highlighted on the screen in case youíre inept at traversing the fairly linear levels), rescuing allies, and blasting the hell out of everything that gets in your way. Youíll have to get past powerful sentry guns, fortified installations, laser-spewing tanks, and even a few hapless foot soldiers. Donít be too worried, though; there are plenty of upgrades and items strewn around the battlefield, ranging from shield boosters, more powerful and faster lasers, rocket and grenade launchers, and a few other weapons of minor destruction.
Despite the abundance of firepower, the most important asset in Vallenís arsenal is the grappling hook; should you get close enough to an enemy mech, you can use the Touch Screen to shoot out the hook and snare your enemy. At that point, a simplistic mini-game will appear on the screen, usually forcing you to match certain symbols to Ďhackí into the enemy mechís computer. Should you succeed, your foe will stop trying to blow you to smithereens and offer itself to be piloted. At that point, you can opt to exit your wimpy little battle armor, expose yourself to the battlefield for a few precious seconds (without getting killed in one hit by enemy fire anyway), sprint over to the ladder of your newly acquired mech and start gunning anew. Yes, thatís right. With an almost Grand Theft Auto style of vehicle changes, Mechassault: Phantom War allows you to mech-jack a small army of different robots, each with their own inherent advantages and limitations. Some machines are small and incredibly agile, others can turn on a dime, and others are all about dishing out absurd amounts of devastation.
Thatís assuming, of course, that you donít mind the gameís bland combat system. You may get to wield a decent assortment of machines and weapons, but thereís little more to the fighting than getting an enemy into your crosshairs, letting loose whatever you happen to have equipped, and just keep mashing the attack button in the hopes that your foe will collapse before you do. The turning and firing controls are just sluggish enough to make fighting more of a chore than it really has to be. You can choose to maneuver your mech with the four standard buttons on the DS, or you can use the stylus for far less reliable movements. The fact that it takes far too much time and ammunition to take down most of the mechs donít help much, either. The multiplayer aspects could have saved the game from the mediocre Campaign Mode, but it lacks both the Single-Cart Download and WiFi capabilities that so many other DS titles enjoy. Instead, gamers will be left with the daunting task of convincing up to three of their friends that Mechassault: Phantom War is worth shelling out the cash for some handheld multiplayer action.
Despite the gameís nagging flaws and limitations, its presentation is surprisingly decent. As the story begins, youíll be treated to a fairly detailed CG cutscene involving Vallen getting summoned for the mission. Sadly, this moment of graphical greatness is far too brief; throughout the rest of the game, communications between our heroine and the other warriors will be done via text boxes and voiceovers. The voice acting in this game is remarkable; though Vallenís commanding officer is a little too impersonal, Vallen and her whiny male sidekick make their thoughts known with plenty of emotion and emphasis on all the right words. The individual mechs are even more detailed; you can see the legs move and grind with every step, the sparks flying off of a ricocheted bullet, and even the tiny fires and smoke puffs once youíve taken enough hits. Itís a shame the rest of the game didnít get the same treatment; most of the landscape features only a handful of colors, simplistic layouts, and an absolute lack of texturing. Sure, this may not be the beautiful Xbox game you used to know and love, but it works well.
In fact, you shouldnít approach Mechassault: Phantom War with too high off expectations. This game was built to cater to the demands of the DS, and it shows. Though the campaign will pit you against clusters of foes at every turn, the gamesí less than stellar combat mechanics will greatly dull the experience. The mixed bag of graphics and audio isnít exactly top notch for DS standards, either. But hey, look on the bright side! Youíve got tons of upgradeable weapons to choose from, plenty of (albeit aggravating and headache-inducing) challenge, and several missions to complete. Thereís an entire battalion of gigantic robots to hack into, allowing you to unleash a wide array of lasers, missiles, grenades, and Flaming Balls of Doom upon your hapless foes. Even if the rest of the game is mediocre, thereís nothing better than that.
Six out of ten