• Tekki Review - Microsoft Xbox (Steel Battalion)

    The mission brief was simply to get to a checkpoint on the other side of the stretch of water that passes across the centre of the map. The water is definitely too deep to cross, even for the huge mech robot that you are piloting. Looking around, there is a bridge across the water, but you decide to play it safe as you have a bad feeling about this mission. So, after jumping in the cockpit and enjoying the beautiful startup sequence, pressing the buttons in order as they light up in green and red and flipping the five switches, you turn the dial on your communications to one of your wingmen's frequencies and issue a command.

    They slowly start to move off into the distance as you slap your huge walking tank into first gear and push down on the accelerator pedal. Slowly, your mech moves forward. Suddenly, a wingman screams at you over the comms system: he is under attack and needs backup, so you zoom your map in and see that he is already on the other side of the bridge and has been ambushed by 3 enemy mechs. You advance your camera in as far as it will go and see bullets flying wildly from the enemy and your wingmen as they engage each other in battle. You acknowledge your wingman's request via the lit comms button and shift into 3rd gear - whilst flooring the accelerator- making sure as to not turn too sharply, otherwise the mech will lose its balance and fall over.

    You get to about a third of the way back on the bridge, and come to a halt by putting the mech into neutral and slowly applying your brake pedal. You aim at one of the enemy mechs with your right stick, rotating your main gun until it has the mech in its sights, and lock on to him with your double barrelled main gun and stab the main weapons button. You also change your sub camera to the lock on view so you can get a better picture of where you are hitting him. You zoom out your main camera, since you are now much closer to the action. The locked-on enemy mech eventually turns his attention away from your wingman's flanks and starts shooting at you instead. You manage to dodge the bullets at first by using the left pedal to side step, shoving the gear into first, accelerating to pick a nice spot to fire from on the bridge so you can concentrate on finishing him off quickly. This mech is persistent though and keeps firing at you, so you dump a couple of chaffs to stop him from locking on as quickly, and see the results as the mech's arsenal of bullets goes wild above your head. You think to yourself that it's only a matter of time before this mech is a hunk of scrap, but then you glance to the side of the bridge with your left stick (rotating your cockpit) and the realisation hits you: He was actually aiming at the bridge structure all along and not you!

    In panic you slam the mech into 3rd gear and push your accelerator pedal to the floor, and try and scramble off the bridge as quickly as possible. You can hear the foundation of the bridge starting to break now, as the enemy mech has made a fatal hit and realise it's too late. The screen starts shaking violently as your mech is thrown off its feet and you see, looking upwards, the bridge starting to collapse around you. You manage to get the mech back on its feet but the damage has been done. The bridge is too far gone now and you are still on it. The buttons glow in a sequential and violent display of colour, time after time on your control system as you take damage from the crumbling bridge. You eventually slide into the river as the buttons go even more wild, the water now starting to seep in through the cockpit and the eject button starts to flash on your controller. So you try to scramble for the eject button in time, flip the protective lid up and push the flashing, glowing red eject button. As you manage to reach it and eject, the game cuts to the below view where the water is still gushing into the hatch as you exit skywards. To say this game is simply breathtaking is an understatement.

    Tekki, by Capcom, is a Mechaniod simulation. This may sound pretty straightforward, but Tekki comes with a unique controller to work the mech. For those unfamiliar with what a "mech" is, it is basically a walking tank, stacked to the teeth with armour and weapons. You could call it a hybrid of a tank and a walking robot.

    You begin to get an inkling of Tekki's scale when you see that the size of the package is bigger than the box the Xbox came in originally. For the first thing that differentiates Tekki from virtually any other game is its control device. The controller comes in 3 sections with two ribbon cables to attach each section underneath, and two holders to keep them in place via screws and an Allen key. All the cables are tucked underneath very nicely to avoid catching them on anything. Capcom really have thought of everything, as even the Allen key is held in place underneath the main unit so if you need to disassemble it again, you are not going to have lost it easily. The main unit take less than 5 minutes to assemble, and comes to just under three feet in width. Then all you have to do is take out the massive pedals and connect them via cable to the main controller, which in turn attaches to the usual port on the Xbox. The cable is a decent length being longer than the standard Xbox controller leads. The pedals, of which there are three, are of very high quality and are extremely sturdy, so they will not fall over easily. The pedal on the right is for accelerate, the middle one is for brake and the one on the left is for strafing (i.e. dodging without turning). These pedals are analogue input, and are beautifully smooth as you apply and release pressure on them.

    The main control deck is extremely well made. It is up there with top of the range PC flight sticks such as the £250+ FLCS system from Thrustmaster. Mounted on the left section is the self-centring left stick which moves in the horizontal axis only (i.e. to the left and right) and determines the rotational direction of the entire mech, clockwise or anti-clockwise. This stick has a movable hat on the top that controls the cockpit view, so it is easy to walk in one direction and look in another. Pushing the hat inwards centres the cockpit view. The left section also has the gear system, which goes from reverse and then up through five notched gears, so you push the lever up one notch and it remains in that position and gear. The gears take a couple of hours to bed in to perfect action, and a flat surface is recommended to rest the unit on. The reviewer managed to get a 3ft wide shelf to put his 3 part controller on and it just fitted across (yes, it is that big). The unit has rubber feet underneath it so that it grips well on most surfaces so that it does not slip whilst changing gear. The final detail on the left section is the set of five minor flip switches that are used during the startup procedure.

    The middle section will get a lot of use. It has a dial with which to tune into team mates and give or receive commands. Each team mate is on a different frequency, so you tune to one of them to hear what they are saying, or press one of the communication buttons to ask them to report in or join up with you (amongst other commands). Also on the centre section are buttons for the night scope, and to change and reload your main and sub weapons. Here too is the chaff button which slows down the enemy lock on time and fools missiles. There is an extinguisher button to put out fires, and even a washing button since, in a close dog fight or if the mech falls over, the cockpit screen gets dirtier and eventually you will need to wash it; all part of the attention to detail to be found everywhere in Tekki.

    The right section houses the second joystick. This one can move through both horizontal and vertical axes and is not self centering. This controls the main gun arm movements and has a stiffer feel which works perfectly to match the way the arm responds. There is a trigger button on the front for the secondary weapon, and on top is the lock on button for the main gun and the main weapon fire button. Also on the right section is the beautiful flip-top covered, red eject button. Three more startup procedure buttons, including the ignition can be found on this section, as well as navigation buttons to change the map size and to change your secondary main camera in the HUD (heads-up-display i.e. on screen display) from front view to lock on, or another view of your choice. The other two buttons on the right section are the view zoom buttons. These are for your actual HUD as you see the game world in the main window. Tekki's main view is from your eyes as you would be sat in a cockpit, but with a helmet on and then sat looking through an electronic camera display (HUD) over your eyes. So the world looks slightly grainy from your view. This view can be zoomed very far into the distance and back again with these zoom buttons.

    The game options are very friendly and you can change how the view responds to stick movement, so pushing forward on the view stick can be set to either look up or look down. There is a comprehensive calibrate option to test all the buttons and make sure the sticks are set correctly.

    So clearly, the controller is stacked full of buttons and dials, but on top of the exceptional build quality and design, practically every button lights up on the controller deck and sometimes flash like crazy, an example being when it's time to leave the mech and eject. When you receive a hit, the buttons flash across from one side to the other to simulate the feedback of being hit. The system doesn't have force-feedback properties, but with all the audio and visual feedback you get from the game and the controller, it really is not necessary. The game helpfully leaves buttons lit, to tell you that you need to press them. For example, when the cockpit gets dirty the wash button will light up to tell you to "clean me" and if one of your wingmen wants to get in touch, their communications button will light up.

    When starting a campaign in Tekki, you name your pilot along with date of birth and other details. This is fully English, so no difficulties here. From then on you can check their career statistics at any time. There are two difficulty levels at the start of a pilot's career: beginner and experienced. Even on beginner, though, this game presents a decent challenge since the A.I. is very clever. They will outflank and use great ambush tactics, whether it be the enemy or your team mates. The mechs can be fully customised before each mission in terms of weaponry, fuel and armour. Each mech has a set weight limit and since each weapon has a different weight, juggling what to take on a mission is essential. This limit can be exceeded up to a certain point, but has adverse effects on the mech, making it slower and more prone to tipping over. Conversely, reducing the amount of weaponry and therefore weight increases mech speed and stability. If the mission has the potential to be a long one, extra fuel tanks can be added and a button on the control deck drops the tanks once they are empty to save weight. For particularly heavy cross fire missions, extra armour can be added. Conveniently, if you don't want to customise your mechs and prefer just to jump straight in, there is a standard weapon loadout option. The types of mechs available to buy differ as the game progresses, from massive slow gun toting monsters to light scout types. Careful choice is needed to get the best out of each mission.

    The startup sequence involves pressing three buttons which light up to tell you to press them in sequence and then flicking a further five switches. Fair enough, once the startup sequence is over, these buttons and switches are redundant till you start a level again, but it adds so much to the atmosphere. Some levels have mechs attacking during startup, so perfecting the sequence and reaching for the start button just in time adds to the tension enormously. This procedure never feels gimmicky, nor gets tiresome.

    Once into the main game, the levels are well varied, with objectives ranging from 'Defend the Base' to all-out attack-type missions. Each one is varied in landscape and weather patterns and never feels repetitive. The game is very big with some twenty three missions, with each mission lasting some time. The description of the checkpoint stage above demonstrates how Tekki sucks the player into the game world, making you feel at one with the machine, helped in part by the controller design, but also due to the game design in general. To add to the tension, and to make you feel the need to be careful with the mech, Tekki has a novel save feature. You progress through the game level by level, i.e. given a briefing and then an objective. Succeed and move on to the next level; fail and you have to replay it.

    At the end of each level you receive points based on how well you performed. You then save these points to buy other mechs as they become available through the game. However, if you have to eject in a mission then that mech is permanently lost, so you have to buy a new one with your remaining points, although you are still given points for any achievements in the level up until the eject point. If the eject is used too often, the points run out, and no more mechs can be purchased. This is game over, so running into the fray without thought and planning will mean quickly having to start over. To further the tension-building, failing to eject in time kills your pilot permanently, and a new pilot needs to be started from scratch. This system works incredibly well and really presses home how vulnerable you are. One slip up and your pilot has gone for good, and the game must be restarted from mission one. To avoid frustration, once a mission has been completed, it opens up as a single mission that can be practised at any time. Upon level completion, the top-notch replay system pops up, allowing your performance to be viewed from many angles and with additionaleffects such as night vision. If you feel either the level or your performance was particularly impressive, you can save the full mission replay to the hard drive.

    It must be stressed that this game is a simulation and not an arcade game, and will take time and practise to learn and master the different fighting techniques. But if you are prepared to put the time and effort in, then Tekki will reward with a depth and playability rarely seen on any console. You will feel every ounce of tension in this game due to the whole experience pulling the player in hard. The controller starts to feel like a part of you, with its perfectly laid out buttons and ultra-responsive sticks, making mech movement intuitive and real.

    The graphics easily match the rest of the game's high standards and have a very deep murky appearance to them. The view (as stated) is grainy as it's taken from a camera perspective, but the effect is pulled off perfectly, with some of the effects being nothing short of spectacular. From rain on your cockpit to your guns rotating as they fire, Tekki has everything you want to see…and so much more. Take for example when you travel at speed through the gears. The faster the mech speed, the worse the view from the cockpit becomes. As it's from a camera perspective, the camera will break up occasionally due to bumps or uneven surfaces, and adds to the overall feel of really being there.

    Sound is also incredible with explosions coming from left, right and behind you if you have the relevant sound system. Even little sound effects like rain bouncing off the mech can be heard. There is no in-game music, until you earn enough points and buy a boom box. This is basically a tape deck you can buy from the armaments section, which supplies the in-game tunes. The speech you hear from your team mates is good enough to give a real sense that you are actually communicating with them, rather than just a voice actor going through a script. For the importer there is not much of a language problem. The main game can be configured so that you have communications in Japanese or English and the cut scenes are in English with subtitles. Even the controller deck markings are in English. The only potential problem is with the briefings, as they are written in Japanese text. The briefings are so well laid out though, with arrows pointing on the map that it is straightforward to work out what is needed in each mission. Also, certain traps such as deep water will actually appear on the briefing in English to warn you. The control deck lights up when you need to communicate with other people in the squad (or call for reinforcements or more ammo). All in all, this game is very import friendly.

    The infrequent manga style inanimate cut-scenes during the game are poorly done: they are not up to the rest of Tekki's high standard, and add little to the cheesy plot. These are all in English with Japanese subtitles, so at least can be easily understood.

    The price of the Tekki system may be off-putting. It is very expensive at the official price in the country of origin, and importing it costs even more. But for your money, you get the incredible build quality of the controller, a very well conceived game and many hours of happy gaming. You are really paying for a complete mech system, rather than just a game, and for this it is worth every penny. It will be compatible with future mech games in the series such as the online Xbox Live version and, with any luck, other mech game developers will have the option to use the Tekki unit as the default controller.

    Tekki is a classic in every respect, and an "experience" that everyone should at least try. Tekki is more than just a game. It is an adrenaline-fuelled experience that you will want to play over and over. The only game that is remotely close to Tekki is Mechwarrior 3 on the PC, but the A.I. and handling of Tekki makes it pale in comparison. As a full mech simulation this game has no equals, as it outclasses everything else in the world of Mech gaming.

    Text by Darren Sweaton
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