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In the dry desert on Draconis IV, a slight ripple in the sand caused the scorpions to stir, scurrying for any small hills and dunes they could hide their invertebrate bodies in. In the distance, a small Commando Mech, both arms shot off and spraying lethal gasses from its crippled engines ran for its life.
Inside, the renegade pirate leader furiously pounded the surrounding controls trying to milk every ounce of power into the failing engines. The Mech computer constantly reminding him with loud warning signals and a drone female voice that just repeated "Warning, critical hit engine. Warning critical hit heat sink." As the weakened legs slammed into the hard desert ground, a joint buckled and drastically slowed down the battered mech.
Inside the cool comfortable environmentally controlled pursuing Mech, the Mercenary grouped his weapons. His assassin class Mech hadn't even been touched by the feeble efforts of the pirate leader and the only thing colder than the sleek metal console was the expression on his face.
Warily checking his holographic display, the escaping Mech was slowing and within seconds he'd be in range. He considered the situation. It could be him, he had his enemies, more than enough. There was no dishonor in running, that was for the pathetic members of the old clans, those jokers put their lives before anything, even profit!
The weapons system chirped out the familiar tone that informed him the target was in range, the HUD weapons system targeter now bright red, waited patiently for the relaxed squeeze of the trigger from the Mercenary. As the laser bolts slammed into the pirates crippled Mech, fire sprang through every part of the cockpit, the dying computer sensing this was its last draw of power flung the occupant out via the emergency ejection system, with good intentions, the sorry ejection unit was bombarded by shards of red hot shrapnel battering it and sending it wildly splaying into the sand.
Many agree that the hood ornament of Activision's comeback wagon was Mech Warrior 2. Those however who waited twelve months for the DOS Network add-on thought of it more as a tarnished bumper bar.
Either way, Mech Warrior 2 sold many units, awoke a newsgroup on the Internet with everyone discussing the ultimate Mech customizations, and generated enough support for the Ghost Bear's Legacy add-on. Despite these Mech followers spouting constantly about honor and glory, Mech Warrior 2: Mercenaries takes us back to the days before the reforming of the clans, days when small cities hired private Mercenary armies to take care of their problems.
Those who have played through Origin's successful Wing Commander series are probably associating these changes with Privateer, which essentially holds true as MW2M adds the addition of finances to the MW2 game. New features include the ability to select your contracts, though often only one or two are offered, hire your own staff, buy fleets of Mechs and all whilst enjoying the strains of a limited budget and increasingly dangerous jobs.
Unlike Privateer though, there is no real sense of freedom, you can't just climb into your Mech and travel from city to city. Instead, you're assigned to a generic Star port, there you maintain your Mechs, hire and fire people, and customize your Mech. In fact, the more you look at it, the more you realize that Mech Warrior 2: Mercenaries is just very similar to MW2 with some nice new additions in the graphics department.
The graphics within MW2 Mercenaries have been greatly improved. The Mechs all have quite a suiting camouflage texture placed over the body. Texture mapping onto the ground has also been superbly created. Although not looking too good close up, they're definitely not worse than any other game. Where the ground texture looks excellent however is from a distance. Whether it's just a well made texture or some form of bump mapping has been programmed in, mountain sides appear to have small clefts and ridges, and the ground stretching off into the distance has a trodden gravelly look to it.
Mountains are also more complex, instead of the pyramidal creations of MW2, some mountains can consist of a series of polygons with quite a decent altitude. It is very possible to climb a mountain, jam on some jump jets and "Death from above" onto an enemy mech.
Light sourcing is another well included feature. Firing lasers will emit a glow around corresponding land and mountains lighting up the trail it takes. The position of the sun will also cause one side of a mountain to be more lit up then the other side, as with the Mechs. Pyrotechnics have been appropriately spruced up in MW2M as well, firing a volley of missiles leaves a smoke trail for each one and hitting a Mech will produce a nice set of explosions, blasting him with lasers also causes the struck area to light up.
Colors within MW2M varies from 16 bit to 8 bit. Within Mech mode, colors are reduced to the 8 bit (256 color) palette and look good, even with all the new textures, it still runs fast and the light shading and sky hazing is great. Where Activision has pulled off an absolute marvel however is with the full motion video. The FMV is 16 bit 65000 colors and will run at 20fps at 640 x 480 with no interlacing. This is a first in the Windows 95 scene. Even though the video is quite small (approx. 320 x 200) and stretched to 640 x 480, it is still a marvelous feet and looks fantastic.
To compliment the 16 bit graphics is some very nice 16 bit sound. All the videos support nice surround effects and still leave the quality fluid. Whilst in the spaceport, a vast number of different background effects are heard, from announcing shuttle launches to personal messages, you almost expect to hear one that says "John Smith, your Mech is parked illegally in the handicapped zone, please move immediately." Like technology used in Zork Nemesis, the sound comes through at differing levels, or channels, whilst listening to a foreground instruction, the background noises simultaneously play non-intrusively. Those familiar with MW2 will be reassured to learn that within the game a whole new set of CD tunes has been added to increase the drama in game play, from rock fusion to spacy orchestral pieces.
As for the game play in MW2M, there are new features and old similarities. To Activision's credit, they have not labelled it MW3, it is MW2 Mercenaries and should be considered more as an add-on to MW2 than a whole new game.
The game starts with you inheriting your uncle's Mercenary small business, not unlike the beginning to the classic game Elite. To start, you have one Commando Mech and generous funding of one million credits. The first screen you'll see is the Starport, here you can view a terminal for important news events. Many secrets can be gained here and are very important for making the right decision as to contracts. For example, if the newspapers report that planet x has just hired a 10 Mech elite pirate team for base defenses, then unless you were equally staffed, you would avoid contracts on that planet.
From the Starport you can enter your office, a very nice, gothic future Noir room where blades of light interfere along the red glow of your computer terminal. A window also looks out onto your Mech factory. Missions are accessible from the computer behind the desk, the first being training, which you're actually paid for. The training missions are very good with the instructor guiding you through the routine with much speech.
Once training is over, it is time for the real thing, Mercenary work. From your desk computer, you go through a series of contracts and select the ones that interest you the most. Once a contract is selected, you can either customize your Mech, or buy a new one and deck it out appropriately for the contract. Once satisfied with the state of your equipment, exiting your office to the Starport, you can then board the drop ship, conveniently supplied by the employer.
Missions are described and embarked on from inside the drop ship where only repairs to your Mech(s) can be made. There is no option to buy more weapons or carry on stock of weapons. If a contract lasts five missions, it can put quite a strain on your Mech(s). If you have an arm shot off for example, you won't be able to replace its weapon until back at the Starport. Besides being able to choose your own contracts, MW2M features dynamic progression within missions allowing many possible different outcomes and different paths that lead to the climax of the game, the ultimate epic war which is the Battle of Tukayyid.
The fighting in MW2M is improved, laser fire is faster than MW2 and overall battle is a much more dynamic affair. Enemy Mechs are much more intelligent and will use their turrets more. In fact as with MW2, a good joystick is a must with MW2M. The joystick recommended by the majority of the people on the net is the Microsoft Sidewinder 3D pro with its unique turret twist function and does do an excellent job.
Salvage is money and you have to be careful what you destroy, taking out a Mech, it is not just enough to blow him away until destroyed, it is now preferable to take out the human occupant leaving as much salvageable parts as possible, as your instructor states, go for the meat, not the metal. As can be expected with the financial aspect of the game, the difference between taking a high paying contract or just another low paying assassination lies in how skillfully you've saved to upgrade your Mech(s). Financial management creates a situation where a constant economy of weapons and Mech repairs must be kept. Likewise taking a contract that results in more damage than profit will put you back in the game.
As MW2M is primarily a Windows 95 game (though it will also play in DOS) network support is included as a Microsoft direct play feature. This means that an accommodating DP server must be found, that was until the very crafty author of Kali, Jay Cotton developed Kali Direct Play. Kali Direct play will allow DP clients to see your machine as a DP server, essentially allowing MW2M to be easily played over the Internet for co-operative and death match mayhem!
The graphics are enhanced, the game play faster and more dynamic and the net play fully incorporated. MW2 Fans, which there are many of, will be very pleased with the upgrades and those new to the MW2 universe will enjoy a well paced game with superb graphics and cut-scenes. Just make sure you have a really good joystick.
Written by Jere Lawrence
Click here for screen shots.
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