By Ryan Scott | 08-6-2012 | 11:00AM
Late last month, a throng of eager MechWarrior fans gathered at Nvidia's campus in Santa Clara, CA to compete in a community tournament for the upcoming (and eagerly awaited) team-based mech warfare sequel MechWarrior Online.
Nvidia decked a giant cafeteria and ballroom out with high-powered PC hardware from the likes of Razer (rocking Nvidia's own GTX 555 video hardware), CyberPower, Falcon Northwest, Maingear, and Shuttle. Over 200 players competed in teams for a small fortune in GeForce graphics cards, and by all appearances, the event was a rousing success.
Of course, I didn't compete -- I would have looked awfully stupid, for reasons I'll get to shortly. Instead, I was tucked away in a corner with a smattering of other press folks, sampling the latest in-progress versions of MechWarrior Online and turn-based tactical strategy game MechWarrior Tactics. And while I'm certainly not cut out for any serious MechWarrioring myself, I definitely see why these games enjoy such a passionate fan base.
Image courtesy: Nvidia GeForce
My executive summary for MechWarrior Tactics is "like Nintendo's Fire Emblem series, but more complicated." The hex-based, four-on-four combat unfolds in plodding attack-move turns, empowering you to micromanage each mech's individual weapons systems and hex-by-hex movement as you attempt to wipe out your enemy.
The attack and movement phases are double-blind, meaning that each player commits to a simultaneous course of action before each turn resolves. While I only got the most basic sense of how play progresses (Tactics was an impromptu, last-minute addition to the day's events, as I understand it), it looks like it has some good potential as a hardcore small-scale tactical wargame.
Now, MechWarrior Online is about as far from my cup of marmalade as you can reasonably get. Imagine the Maxwell Smart of mech pilots, his vehicle's torso wildly spinning 'round and perpetually facing quite the wrong direction, even as his legs move him ever forward into a throng of enemy players.
Screens: MechWarrior Tactics (Left); MechWarrior Online (Right)
By the time he rights his field of vision and starts jamming on the mouse button to exchange some awkward fire, he's lost a leg, and probably an arm or two. Cue spectator mode... and that's probably just the first two minutes of the match (well, the ones that can't be summed up with "got stuck in a crevice somewhere," anyway). That's me in a nutshell.
But hey, I never said I was good at these things. Fortunately, I witnessed no shortage of players that are -- players who know what the difference between light and assault mechs are (fun fact: lighter units make better advance scouts), how to maneuver across the battlefield with their mech's finicky tank controls, how to use facing and area-specific damage to their advantage, and how to cycle through a mech's generous weapon loadout like it's nothing.
Basically, this is a hardcore mech piloting sim. I may suck at it, but as someone who nerds out over other simulations of things that don't actually exist (hello, Dungeons & Dragons!), I definitely admire this series' dedicated fandom.
It's been a while since anyone's thrown these guys a bone (2002's MechWarrior: Mercenaries), so I hope MechWarrior Online is everything the fans want it to be!