Mission log from Brian Geraghty’s Battletech – It’s been two hours since we deployed on this damn inferno of a planet. Half of my mechwarriors lie dead on the battlefield. One taken out by a direct hit to her mechs head by an enemy particle cannon. The other crushed to death, as a 65-ton enemy Jaegermech stood square on his centre torso.
Of my remaining two mechs, one has no arms, and no armour left on its centre torso. The other has overheated due to the intense biome of this planet, and its weapons have malfunctioned.
The last enemy mech stands battered and bruised, but still bristling with dangerous weapons. Seven of his comrades lie in debris piles around him. Intel told me there would only be four. Guess intel can be wrong.
My finances are empty. The banks will shut down my mercenary company if I don’t bring in this bounty. End-game. All I have left is a defiant charge to try headbutt the last enemy and a 1 in 20 chance to crush the enemy pilot in his cockpit. Today may be a good day to die. Or RNGesus may yet smile down on me once more, as he has done in the past.
This is an average day in Harebrained Schemes Battletech.
Battletech is a turn-based action strategy game released April 26th on PC; GOG or Steam. Battletech will set you back 39.99 standard edition, or 49.99 for the Digital Deluxe Edition. Developer Harebrained Schemes is headed by one Jordan Weismann, the creator of the original Battletech board game back in the eighties, as well as the Shadowrun series. Battletech was a crowd-funded project, easily hitting its target and a couple bonus targets alongside that. Set in the Mechwarrior/Battletech universe, the game features a rich political and multi-faction history. The lore is deep. Real deep. I found myself overwhelmed at first by all the text in the cutscenes. On the subject of cut scenes, they are, for the most part, storyboard scenes with text dialogue, and only narrated at the most important junctures. Think of them as graphic novels with dialogue options. The various dialogue options do seem a bit superficial, as the main quest line is fairly linear.
Missions come in various forms, but will be repeated:
- Battles – Straight up fight, mech on mech, or mech on vehicle. That’s right, the enemy deploys tanks. You get to squish them
- Assassination – A single high profile target. Often in an advanced mech, usually supported by smaller mechs. Will you play the objective? Or wipe them all out, earning bonus cash
- Base Assault – Invade and wipe out an enemy base. Simple
- Base Defense – A friendly base is about to get stomped, you need to put yourself between the base and the enemy fire. These missions are often the most hectic, as you wait out the turn timer for reinforcements. Wave after wave of enemy will launch themselves at you.
- Story Missions – The longer and more complex missions in the game. Can usually incorporate several phases of attack or defense. A joy to play throughout.
There are two phases to the game. The over-arching strategy and management layer. Then you have the tactical layer, where mechs are deployed and destruction reigns supreme.
As the commander of a small mercenary mech company, you have various tasks to attend. You must balance the company finance. This involves budgeting pilots pay, mech maintenance and upgrades, travelling to various space systems, and picking contracts offered by the mercenary review board. Mechs can be customized as you wish, limited only by the particular mechs tonnage, heat efficiency, and what hardpoints they come fitted with. There are mechs, a lot of mechs. This customization can seem daunting at first, but with a little trial and error, you’ll soon have a squad of modified death machines to be proud of. Stock mechs are for wimps.
The missions are turn-based. Units move in phases, depending on the size of the mech. Smaller scout mechs move first, big bulky mechs move last. The battlefield is gridded to highlight where a mech may move, and facing can be picked to allot a firing arc. This matters when you don’t want a vulnerable side facing a dangerous foe, or when you want your full arsenal ready to wipe out a puny enemy scout. The UI in the battle phase is the real star here. Every bit of tactical information you could want is accounted for. Percentages for weapons to hit, armour and structure damage on mechs, weapons available, intervisibility from different positions, types of terrain, mech heat allowances, you can even see which enemy will move next. This is where the tactics live. Plotting and planning each move, and each volley of fire, to counter your enemies most dangerous mech, or withdraw at just the right time, denying them a target.
The scope of the game is massive. There are any amount of planets to travel to, each offering different environments to tackle. The environment can also affect your decision on mech load-outs, and which to mechs to bring. Graphically you won’t be blown away by Battletech. There is some clipping when the camera zooms in on the environment. The camera can also be a nuisance, action-zooming on exchanges of fire, inadvertently missing out on whether or not your shots actually hit their target. This problem can be fixed in the options menu, simply by turning off “Action Camera”. But when it works, it’s glorious, a mechs ammo dump can explode like a firework display, causing a chain reaction that rips through the mech’s body. So satisfying.
Online multiplayer consists of one v one skirmish modes. It basically pits your best team against their best team. Each player is limited by a budget for their lance, after that, it’s just up to the best use of your team. These matches can be short-lived, but full of tension. A Paradox online account is needed to access multiplayer, so you can opt out if it’s not your thing. Given the depth of the single-player campaign, it’s clear that multiplayer was an afterthought for Harebrained. Worth a go, but you won’t spend your time here.
I could go on about Battletech. Its a joy to a strategy nut like myself. Once past the lengthy tutorial missions, the universe opens up. You travel around, taking scalps and kicking ass while filling out the occasional story based mission as you go. To be honest the narrative gets a bit lost. A Princess has been wrongly deposed, and you’re on her side. Righting wrongs and all that. Yeah just gimme more mechs.