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There have been many computer games produced that were set in the universe of Battletech boardgame. Today we will talk about one of the earliest that graced our hard drives. The very original Mechwarrior.
In Battletech, players take control of giant war machines called Battlemechs. On the first glance most people would call them "robots", but this is not true at all. In the cockpit of every Battlemech sits a live, breathing human who controls this giant behemoth of destruction. These brave men and women are the Mechwarriors.
The background story is the typical "last survivor of your family" style. To cut it short, you are Gideon B. Vanderburg, a son of ruling family of Ander's Moon colony. All of your family were killed and your family heirloom, the Chalice of Herne, was stolen during a surprise attack by an unidentified group of Battlemechs. You've sworn to avenge your family and reclaim what is rightfully yours.
And here your adventure begins.
During the game you must find out where the murderers of your family have gone and reclaim the Chalice. To add to the challenge, this must be achieved in a limited time span.
You need to assemble a team of the best pilots and BattleMechs you can. To do this, you'll need money which you can earn in two ways; either become a mercenary and fight other wars, or become a merchant, buying Battlemechs at worlds where they are cheap and reselling them on other worlds where they are far more expensive. It is your choice. Guess what brings more interest?
Your initial Mech is a Jenner, a light Mech that is second lightest one in the game (but not the worst). After patching it up, you will be ready for your first contract. You can sell your services to any of the five Successor Houses, providing that you are on a planet that belongs to it, but contracts for each of them have their own twists, so be careful when choosing your employer.
The game has various features that add a lot of realism to the gameplay. For example the reputation you gain by carrying out missions for the Successor Houses can result in being able to negotiate better contract terms and find better mechwarriors offering to join your forces. On the other hand, if you have a particularly low reputation in one of the Houses, they might refuse to give you any employment at all. In combat you have to watch your heat levels. Your teammates gain experience during the game, and sometimes you may find that the repair facilities can run out of parts for specific type of repairs.
There are eight Battlemech types available in the game. As said, you begin with one of the cheapest and lightest. Fortunately, there are better Mechs avaible that you will be able to buy as soon as you have enough money. These range from the lightly armored and armed but extremely fast Locust, to the agile and decently armed (but quick to overheat) Phoenix Hawk, to the mighty Battlemaster whose firepower has to be seen to be believed. The eight mech types in the game are quite diverse and almost every one of them can find its use during the game.
When your beloved machine is damaged, you can naturally repair it, providing you are rich enough. Mech repairs aren't cheap, but it's cheaper to repair an old machine then to buy a new one. If you don't have the money, you might need to do with only most basic repairs to most basic systems, just enough to make your mech usable to earn money for a full repair. One thing that I really miss is the ability to customize your mechs, known well in the boardgame. Can't have everything, I guess.
During the contracts you will have to fulfill various types of objectives, ranging from disabling or destroying all enemy Mechs to destroying important enemy structures to defence of base facilities. Each mission type requires slightly different thinking, as destroying an enemy ammo storage is a quick thing to do even with a light Mech, but defending one is much more difficult. You can target specific parts of enemy mechs and achieve different results by damaging them; i.e., destroying an arm makes your enemy lose the weapons he has mounted in there, while blasting his cockpit, although much harder, takes him down outright. You can leave your accompanying Mechwarriors to their own AI, or switch to a real-time command screen that allows you to plan their actions more tactically to a degree.
Controls in the simulation are slightly complicated. You can use only a pre-set array of keyboard controls that cannot be redefined. However, many a modern game requires much more keyboard controls to play, and here they are placed conveniently enough to learn quickly.
The story system is pretty simple, basically depending on the text boxes which have up to three choices of action. There is some random factor, and in two different games you might have to look for a particular person on two different planets, so read the dialog boxes carefully and note who is where, in case you need to return to that person later. The system is also quite unforgiving, meaning that if you make a mistake it will most often either be fatal and result in your death or in the best case will prevent you from completing the game. You also need to keep almost constant note of the so-called "newsnet", as the information there will not only give you a hint of what is going on the Ander's Moon, but you'll also receive certain messages that will give you information neccesary to complete the game.
Music is pretty rare, and not too bad, but not worthy of any particular praise either. Other sounds are just a few different beeps during combat.
The graphics are only 16 colors, but done in a decent resolution and well enough to be acceptable. During the missions, the viewport on the hud (which, by the way, is a bit small IMO) displays terrain and Mechs generated using vector graphics. This makes the game small in requirements and fast, but actually in some cases it might be unbearably fast - I remember having to slow a 100 Mhz PC by two-third to get a playable speed. Vector-based models are quite crude and lacking detail, but you can easily make apart one type of mech from another, and pick out specific sections of the machines to fire upon. What is pretty bad here is that you cannot tell friendly units from enemies, which might lead some less experienced MechWarriors to a fatal mistake.
Overall, the Mechwarrior was a milestone in the world of computer gaming. Truly a game that should never be forgotten. Many have long since left it, yet its spirit lives on in its sequels and clones, such as Mech Assault or Earthsiege.
The granddaddy of all mech combat games has returned. You think you got what it takes to face it?
To run Mechwarrior 1 under DOSBox v0.63 and later, you need to open the emulator's configuration file (Dosbox.conf) using Notepad and change the string that says
mpu401=intelligent to mpu401=uart or mpu401=false. Otherwise, the game will crash after every mission.
Also, the game uses a 320x200 resolution (4:2,5 aspect ratio), so the graphics may appear "squashed". To fix this, look up aspect=false in the DOSBox config file and change it to aspect=true
Finally, Mechwarrior will work properly only on a very low cycle setting - a too high one will result in the combat going at a rate too fast to be played!