Contemporary Alternatives: Battletech

There’s an odd obsession that comes with the mention of giant robots that allow for gratuitous amounts of mayhem to be wrought. Regardless of where you come from you’ll be aware of Gundams, Mobile Suits, Vertical Tanks, and of course, BattleMechs. Battletech was initially created back in the 1980s as a tabletop game, centering on the various houses of the Inner Sphere, the game was applauded for its impressions of futuristic combat when Warhammer 40K seemed to be the only alternative at the time. Nonetheless, when the original developer and license holder Fasa brought the game over into the digital realm – their community of fans exploded. Oddly enough, people didn’t mind the idea of controlling ‘Mechs.

Over nearly three decades, the franchise has taken shape and straddles the line between blockbuster masterpiece and cult hit. Whether in the form of MechCommander, MechWarrior, MechAssault or Battletech though, they are all still immeasurably fun to play. But few things are as memorable as the first time I put a Battletech cartridge into my Sega Genesis.

Looking outside is actually a pretty firm reminder of the day I got it. It was absolutely sweltering outside and I had decided to go run errands with my dad. We ended up at a Best Buy and I performed the usual ritual of walking up and down the video game aisles looking at something I could beg my parent to buy for me. After all, I was nine and allowance couldn’t cover everything. I happened upon the box for Battletech and fell in love.

The game had only five missions, but each of those missions was exceptionally crafted for the 16-bit era. They were challenging, satisfying and more than anything else, allowed the player to feel like a force of nature as they stormed enemy planet after enemy planet, leaving nothing but broken opposition in their wake. Adding in the fact that players could select one of nine weapons, including the dreaded inferno cannon, and this game may have well just been capable of walking on water. Even better was the 2-player co-op, which primitive by modern standards, allowed for one player to rotate the upper torso of the Mech and fire while the other piloted. It seems like a rough and tumble way to do it, but it worked and earned the game a permanent place in my game collection.

Fast forward a few years and there’s MechWarrior 3. Placing players into the cockpit of one of the multi-ton war machines, this was easily the most comprehensive effort in the series at the time. While players could take a 3rd person view of their Mech, complete with targeting reticule, this would make combat a bit difficult depending on the preference of the gamer. Nevertheless, the mission had changed slightly, but the underlying objectives continued to be the same. Kick ass, take names.

With slews of Mechs to be chosen from and rendered in the most gorgeous 3D graphics that most machines could handle at the time, it was easily one of the best offerings Fasa had ever given to the gaming community. Complete with 20 missions pitting the player and his lance of pilots against a virtual planet of enemies, it was as engrossing as any title that had preceded it and got its hooks into BattleMech junkies quicker than you could say, “Alpha Strike”. As opposed to the humble Sega Battletech, the option of 18 different Mechs were on the table for selection, which could be completely overhauled to suit a player’s personality. Everything from weapons to the engines and even the armor could be stripped down and replaced to match how the player planned on dispensing their particular brand of destruction.

Following MechWarrior 3 though was at least one expansion before the release of MechWarrior 4, which has since taken on a life of its own as well. Regardless of when we might see a new MechWarrior, since a reboot is supposedly in the works. News of the possibility was still enough to excite quite a few people. But that doesn’t mean the original Battletech is anything that should be ignored. On the contrary, it should be played, preferably with two people, until completion for maximum appreciation as to how far the game and series have come since being taken off the tabletop.

Despite feeling like it has been on hold forever, there is no reason not to go back and play through much of the series. Primarily because it’s very well done and can obtained for virtually a fraction of what it cost the people who bought it upon release. To this day, I know I’m always going to be a fan of anything attached to the now-defunct Fasa that has to do with piloting monstrously large Mechs – if for no other reason than the twisted amount of glee I get out of feeling like I’m dominating a battlefield. I certainly hope we’ll see more soon, because without a doubt, this is one of those things that probably will take a long time to go out of style.

  • For some reason I’ve never truly played a giant mech game of any kind. Someday I will change that.

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