• BattleTech Review - PC

    BattleTech has an history of electronic videogames almost as long as the tabletop original, beginning with Crescent Hawk's Inception (1988). While the source tabletop game was able to continue without major interruptions even when the franchise went through several owners and licensees, BattleTech videogames remained dormant for several years after MechAssault: Phantom War on the Nintendo DS (2006), with only MechWarrior Online (2013) able to bring them back from slumber after a number of cancelled projects, most focused on multiplayer.
    The first BattleTech game featuring a solid single-player component in years is the result of a Kickstarter by Jordan Weisman's Harebrained Schemes, which already produced the successful Shadowrun Returns (2013). Weisman - one of the creators of the tabletop game - is not the only person at Harebrained Schemes to have a history with the franchise; several of the other developers worked on the MechCommander games (1998 and 2001), real-time adaptations of the turn-based tabletop.
    This 2018 computer iteration of BattleTech is the most faithful interpretation of the tabletop to date, being turn-based and using several concepts found in the source material, reworked and streamlined to improve the game's flow and avoid excessive player burden.

    If you know the tabletop rules you'll be almost immediately at ease with this game's system. Mechs act in five initiative phases, their turn dictated by their weight, speed, and MechWarrior abilities. A Mech's turn includes movement, attack (ranged or physical), and heat calculations. Piloting skill rolls have been reworked into a stability bar that fills when missiles, autocannons, and PPCs hit their mark. As the bar fills Mechs will first become unsteady (unable to sprint in their next turn) and then fall, injuring the MechWarrior inside and moving their turn to the following initiative phase. Terrain and piloting skill affect how fast the stability bar fills.
    Positioning is paramount; terrain features will partially block or completely negate line of sight, decrease ranged damage, or affect heat dissipation. All units have four different defensive arcs that will determine which parts are easier to hit or can't be hit at all. Weapons are fired through a single offensive arc and the further a Mech moves, the more restricted it will be to turn its offensive arc around to target enemies.

    Mechs are armed with lasers, autocannons, and missiles. Lasers are the most accurate weapon type, but generate a lot of heat when fired. Autocannons don't generate much heat but suffer from a recoil penalty if fired continuously. Missiles are fired in salvos, each missile homing in on a different part of the target; they can't be aimed like other weapons but allocate the larger amount of stability damage; LRMs can be fired over natural obstacles as long as a second squadmate has visual on the target.
    Weapon balancing is good, but not perfect. Autocannons and missiles, with their relatively low heat output and stability damage are much more useful than lasers, especially in the closing missions of the single-player campaign, where your MechWarriors' skill more than compensate for target movement and you need firepower to quickly dispatch waves of heavy and assault Mechs. Heavy energy weapons such as Large Lasers and PPCs generate a lot of heat and the relatively close range of most engagements doesn't really make their long reach more useful than a shorter range, yet more powerful autocannon. This is not to say that lasers are useless, they make for great harassing weapons, but they are eclipsed by other weapon classes that do armour and stability damage.

    BattleTech recreates 3020s technology, so engagement ranges are relatively short and Mechs will be able to bring most of their weapons to bear shortly after they establish a positive visual contact with the enemy. This also means Mechs can't rely on double heat sinks, special ammunition, or other advanced equipment, and this really makes the whole system shine, as players will have to carefully manage heat levels, movement, and firing arcs. Ammo explosions aren't as crippling as in the tabletop but it's still possible to bring Mechs down with a lucky critical hit to an ammo bin.
    All biomes (the game's definition of a terrain type) are lovingly crafted featuring effects like reduced heat dissipation capabilities and various terrain types that create several tactical possibilities. Unfortunately their number is a bit low and there aren't biomes like urban areas, arenas, or particularly twisty canyon ranges. After some online matches you'll wish there were more and with more variation. The single-player campaign has plenty, but those terrains usually see the defending side with a slight advantage.

    BattleTech's system is streamlined and easy enough to learn in a few missions yet it's flexible enough to offer a good degree of tactical flexibility. Online matches see two lances pitted against each other (4 VS 4) and no enemy turn feels too long or too boring to go through. Even during the single-player campaign, with several more enemies and, at times, allies on the map, there's barely a dull moment. Outmaneuvering an opponent to score a critical hit, watching missiles flying and hope they'll miss or at least not strike vital components, seeing a radar blip coming into visual range to reveal a particularly powerful Mech, witnessing an enemy Mech erupting in a fireball after striking an ammo bin, or staring in disbelief as a turret destroys one of your Mechs' head killing the MechWarrior inside... all is great fun and is a perfect representation of the feelings stirred by the tabletop game, with a lot less die rolling and discussions whether a modifier should be applied or not.
    As a very personal opinion, however, PC BattleTech doesn't look like tabletop BattleTech; it uses the same Mech models as MechWarrior Online, which does create a consistent look among recent PC games belonging to the franchise, but also means many Mechs look more like Wanzers from Front Mission, with broad shoulders and angular lines, rather than the more slender figures drawn by Duane Loose. Loose's drawings were a definite selling point for me, and while they might not be completely in line with modern tastes, they still are the very foundation of BattleTech's initial graphical style. Loose's style was so influential that artists tasked to illustrate more recent BattleTech manuals set in the 3020s took a lot of inspiration from his style, and PC BattleTech is set exactly in that period.
    I can't deny, however, that PC BattleTech's graphical style is very consistent and the game is capable of creating beautiful settings where lumbering giant robots fit perfectly.

    The single-player campaign is engaging, though after completing it I was left wanting for more.
    As the leader of a mercenary unit, you must direct your outfit to the most lucrative contracts while keeping maintenance bills as low as possible and managing time wisely. Outside tactical missions the game surely evokes X-COM, but I prefer to say BattleTech moves along the rules set in various tabletop manuals for extended campaigns.
    Contracts are hosted on a number of planets, and to get there your Dropship must first reach a Jumpship, and from there travel to the destination planet. Travel time is measured in days, which also indicate how long it will take to repair a Mech or for a MechWarrior to heal from battle injuries. Should a contract prove too difficult or not remunerative enough you can always abort it, though there will be monetary penalties. Before undertaking contracts you have to negotiate them, striking a balance between money and salvage. Only few planets sell complete Mechs and at exorbitant prices, so your best bet to improve your mercenary unit is to collect three salvaged parts of the same Mech and build one up from those.

    BattleTech is set in the Periphery, with little to no involvement of major Successor States. The Capellan Conferderation, the Free Worlds League, and the Federated Suns do pop up in random contracts, with the story following a coup d'etat in the Aurigan Coalition. The Taurian Concordat plays a minor role, offering one of the main antagonists. There are several characters active in this story but I've never felt any real attachment or antagonism towards them; to my MechWarriors yes, but to the main characters in the story none at all.

    The story campaign isn't short, though most of it is composed of random contracts to gather enough hardware and train MechWarriors for the next story mission. Random contracts don't have any input from story characters, and it's difficult to care for characters you only meet once every three or four missions; even the major antagonists only appear sporadically and the biggest threat, at least from the military side, is brushed aside by a cutscene. The character you've created at the beginning of the campaign interacts with all other characters playing an active part in the story but only through multiple-choice dialogue trees which don't influence the story outcome or how other characters see you.
    Random contracts aren't particularly varied, most of the time they offer a simple lance on lance battle. On the other hand story missions are incredibly well crafted, with varied objectives, opposition, and terrain that make you use all of BattleTech's fighting mechanics. However, such missions aren't that many to begin with and are diluted among cookie-cutter random missions; story missions shine as a beacon of light among random battles and I would have strongly preferred more of them as it's clear developers knew what they were doing and they did it very well.
    During the singleplayer campaign you'll get a glimpse of LostTech (advanced Mechs and weapons thought lost after centuries of interstellar wars), and to the game's credit, you only get a total of two Mechs in the whole campaign and no replacement parts for those. One Mech is obtained after completing the Aurigan campaign, but the first will be your most prized possession in your arsenal, and more often than not you'll sacrifice two other Mechs to avoid losing any unique equipment carried by that Mech.
    After completing the campaign you're left free to wander the Inner Sphere to increase your mercenary rating and gather more Mechs, not a particularly enticing activity due to how similar random contracts are.
    Another minor gripe I have with the campaign is its adherence to backstory material: a lot of times Mechs that are either rare or used by one particular faction seem to be readily available to everyone, making a pirate party equal to a regiment from a major Successor State.

    BattleTech is an excellent turn-based strategy game that won't disappoint fans of the genre and fans of the tabletop game. Both singleplayer and multiplayer could have used some more options and content to further elevate the title, but BattleTech is still a quality game that will keep you occupied for quite some time.