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Sean Pettibone


MechAssault (Xbox)

Microsoft's MechAssault for the Xbox is an excellent title that should appeal to fans of the genre and newbies alike. The game supports multiplayer action with several online games, plus the ability to download new maps, mechs and even entirely new modes of play. For those without a broadband connection, MA also includes an outstanding single player mission that's excellent as well. With intuitive controls and intense action, the arcade-style play offers fast and furious action. Excellent graphics, cool weapons and the ability to destroy almost anything you see add to the appeal. Read our review as we out why MechAssault is one of the most enjoyable and accessible mech titles to date and a perfect launch title for Xbox Live.

MechAssault places you at the helm of a 31st century BattleMech with one mission: destroy everything in your cross-hairs. You've crashed onto a strange planet and face the enemy forces of the mysterious cult called the Word of Blake. They've over-run the planet and taken over your bases. Your mission is to wipe them out without prejudice. The cult has fielded a combined force that includes planes, tanks, infantry divisions, and even other mechs. You'll also face ground based missile installations and massive bases. You'll also have to watch out for the various rivers and oceans in the game. Falling into these will cause you to take some damage and thus should be avoided. The BattleMech is so powerful that it can be used to destroy any buildings, installations and bases that stand between you and the mission's successful completion. Before each mission begins, you are given a quick mission summary and can select which mech you want to use. While the first few levels only allow you to use a single mech, later on you can choose which BattleMech to command.. There are a nine different Battlemechs in the game and they come equipped with varying levels of armor, speed, weapons and controls. Selecting the right mech for each mission is critical, so you'll need to pay attention to the mission goals and parameters. Picking a fast mech will help you finish off the enemy faster, but you have more vulnerability to attack. Even though the Assault BattleMechs may not have much maneuverability, they make up for this with strong armor and increased firepower.

The BattleMechs have a variety of weapons that are powerful and easy to use. There are three main types of weapons in MechAssault. The first of these are the Energy weapons include laser guns, pulse lasers, and PPC Cannon which shoots a ball of fire at your opponents. The Ballistic Weapons arsenal includes machine guns, cannons and rifles which are excellent at inflicting damage quickly. Finally, several different Missiles such as javelins, crossbows and hammers can be used to fire from a distance. Each Mech has its' own unique set of default weapons, so not all of these can be used at once. These weapons cause different effects depending on how and where it's aimed. Some of these can take out an enemy with a single shot, while heavily armored foes will require multiple hits before they're destroyed. The same holds true for objects like buildings, with smaller, less-defended objects exploding the moment they're hit, while others will only succumb after an extended assault.

MechAssault's large levels means that you can kill all the enemies and look for salvage icons in each section after you've defeated the main foes before moving on to the next area. Each mission also typically features multiple objectives that need to be completed, though the order in which this is done is up to you. You have to traverse large environments but the game will generally push you in the right direction so you'll never feel lost. You should always look at the BattleMech's radar to locate the enemy, find base locations, or find where your next objectives lie. While the early levels are fairly simple, things become more intense later on as you face a massive amount of resistance with multiple forces firing at you simultaneously. When you destroy a rival mech, or a building, they explode. After you beat them, they leave behind power-up, and collecting these salvage pods can give your mech upgrades including health and weapons upgrades plus extra missiles, energy, and ballistic enhancements. The salvage icons appear frequently on each level, meaning you can find them without much hassle.

In addition to its outstanding single player campaign, MechAssault also includes extensive support for online play using the broadband Xbox Live service. Several different online game modes, including standard death match, free-for-all, tag, and last man standing modes. Connecting to the service and logging in is a simple and easy to perform. Implementing broadband speed exclusively means you rarely have to wait long to play and the game itself plays smoothly with little lag or slowdown. Once you're logged on, all you have to do is pick the mech you want to use, settings and game rules then which game mode you want to use. Impatient players can choose to play a Quick Match. After this is complete, you go to the staging area, where you wait for other players to sign in. While this is cool enough, MechAssault ups the ante and allows you to download additional content for the game including new maps, game modes and even extra mechs. This is almost too cool for words but those without broadband connections, the game also allows 2 players to go head-to-head via a split screen which is cool. The game also supports the System Link feature for up to seven players, so there's no excuse for missing out on the excellent multiplayer action.

MechAssault's controls are surprisingly intuitive considering that titles in this genre rarely place user-friendliness at the top of their list. Firing and switching your primary weapon is assigned to the upper shift buttons, allowing you easy access when you need it. The controller's left analog stick controls movement, and pressing down on the controller makes you jump. Jumping is tricky, since the Jet need fuel to operate, so you need to keep an eye on this and make sure it's full before you attempt to jump a large gap. You use the right analog stick to rotate the BattleMech's torso, which allows you to run and shoot in different directions, which is surprisingly easy to accomplish. Since the action takes place behind the BattleMech, it solves many problems that typically occur in modern games. This allows you to have a better sense of where you are and you can adjust the camera during the game to give them a better angle on the action, though there are some camera issues that occur when you're stuck behind a large object. This is a very minor issue and doesn't detract too much from the overall experience. The streamlined HUD display is easy to understand, allowing you to see your energy, heat-levels, weapons status, and map at a glance. Aside from watching the Mech's heat, which can cause weapons to malfunction, your main focus should be keeping an eye on your energy and damage levels.

MechAssault's impressive visuals pack quite a punch, effortlessly showcasing Xbox console's rendering abilities. The graphics engine is impressive with huge levels that immerse you into a variety of brilliantly rendering gaming environments. You'll face a variety of terrain including mountains, rivers, snowy fields and other terrain, along with different types of weather. MechAssault's production values are slick and the game looks fantastic throughout with excellent light-sourcing and good bit-mapping creating a convincing and cohesive world. Each element in the game looks incredibly realistic with detailed object design, excellent animation and movements that create an exciting game environment. In this game, the explosions better be cool, and they are. A big part of the appeal and watching buildings and other objects burst into flames then collapse is awesome, and you'll probably spend a lot of time blowing up buildings just because it's so much fun to watch. The sound effects are fantastic with massive booms accompanying the explosions, collapses and firepower. MechAssualt's highly polished production values are superb, making this one of the most impressive Xbox titles to date.

While most other mech titles have incredibly complex controls and techniques, MechAssault seems to have taken the opposite approach. Instead of going for absolute realism, this game instead features a streamlined interface that allows you to focus on the action. MechAssault's surprisingly easily learned, highly intuitive controls are tight and responsive, making the game a joy to play. Its highly interactive destructible environments and cool weapons make this an action-packed blast. MechAssault's excellent graphics are impressive with excellent level designs and explosive animations that blast right off your screen. Utilizing the Xbox Live service means an awesome multiplayer experience with little lag. Add in the ability to download some impressive enhancements, voice communication and you have quite a good online experience. MechAssualt is highly polished and loads of fun, making it a great addition to the Xbox library. Its action-oriented play means it's accessible and it will be enjoyed by more than hardcore mech-fans.

- Michael Palisano

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