[floatleft]http://www.snackbar-games.com/images/reviews/mechassault2/cover.jpg[/floatleft][i]MechAssault 2: Lone Wolf[/i] is the follow-up game to the wildly successful Mech game that Microsoft launched alongside Xbox Live in November 2002. [i]MechAssault[/i] redefined a genre of games that had typically found their home on high-end PCs with expensive joysticks by making the action fast-paced and bringing online Mech combat to the console gamer. Roughly two years later, does [i]MechAssault 2[/i] improve on its solid foundation, or has the influx of stellar shooters made this game just another Live-enabled shooter?
I was a tiny bit nervous about [i]MA2[/i] when I first got it. I spent a lot of time playing the first MA offline because I didn’t have Live at the time, and I really felt like the game was far too difficult. Lucky for me, Microsoft changed up the basic mechanics of the game, and in the end we have a game that only vaguely resembles its prior version.
The single player campaign in [i]MA2[/i] puts you in the shoes of the MechWarrior-original name, I know. MechWarrior is cruising around the universe with his Cortana-like commander and his token techno sidekick. Our trio happens to get caught in the middle of a battle over some highly powerful data cores. The cores can power a super weapon of sorts, and if the cores fall into the hands of the evil Word of Blake-yet another outstanding name-it could spell doom.
[floatright]http://www.snackbar-games.com/images/reviews/mechassault2/ss05_thumb.jpg[/floatright]Some of the major changes to the game seem to add a bit of variety to the campaign mode, but it quickly becomes repetitive and no amount of new mechs will save it from its doom. Many of the missions start you out in a battle armor suit that is barely larger than your character. The battle armor is quick, powerful, and also packs a devastating punch in the form of a neurohack. The neurohack allows you to attach yourself to an enemy mech and, through a series of button presses, take the mech to its knees. Typically, you would do this to take control of the mech, but the battle armor has such an advantage over the slower mechs that you may find yourself just neruohacking your opponents until the measly tanks are the only opposition in your way.
[i]MA2[/i] packs virtually the same multiplayer options of the first game. System link, splitscreen, and Live are your methods of madness, and each supports up to 12 players. Game modes include: a deathmatch mode called “destruction”; team deathmatch aptly called “team destruction”; last man standing; last team standing, not it (not it has only one player scoring points for kills while the other players gang up in an attempt to become the next “it”); capture the flag; check it (where you capture and defend a set of checkpoints); snatch it (where you collect a series of objects and return them to your base); and finally, base war (where you must protect a generator inside your base while at the same time destroy the opposing teams generator). [i]MA2[/i] also has an offline “grinder” mode where two teammates fight a never-ending flow of enemies.
[i]MA2[/i] has a large enough variety of gametypes to keep you busy for quite a while. You will also notice that the mech you will be using in each match is determined by the map and not by the player. This forces you to adapt and be fluent with the whole gamut of mechs in order to be a topnotch contender. Being able to adapt your strategy to the mechs available to you will be a key to winning matches. Players can also make use of the VTOL aircraft which will allow you to drop fellow players into battle and operate in more of a support role.
[floatleft]http://www.snackbar-games.com/images/reviews/mechassault2/ss10_thumb.jpg[/floatleft]This may all sound great, but my experience on Live with [i]MA2[/i] was that of a waiting game. During peak Live hours, there were maybe 100 games going on, each sporting two to three players waiting for additional players. It got old very quickly. I played a few two-one-one or two-on-two matches and even managed to get a four-on-four game, but before the game launched, the host had dropped. In the three or four hours that I sat on Live attempting to play, I spent the majority of my time running laps in the [i]Lone Wolf[/i] staging area. I highly suggest you make sure a few friends also pick this up before jumping on Live and spending your Friday night waiting to play.
[i]MA2[/i] also debuts a new conquest mode. Conquest mode allows you to affiliate yourself with one of the houses of the inner sphere (think [i]Dune[/i] here). Upon logging in, you see a large map that shows your territory and which areas are currently under attack. Playing through conquest mode will take you through each of the team modes. I didn’t delve too much into conquest mode, as I was far too tired of waiting to spend any more time with this one.
While [i]MA2[/i] is leaps and bounds better than the first [i]MechAssault[/i], I felt the story was completely boring and I spent more time waiting for games to start than I did actually playing them. I enjoyed it, but unless you are a big fan of mech games, this is going to be a rental for you. Mech fans will probably love the changes and fully enjoy conquest mode. The rest of you can carry on with business as usual.