Review: MechWarrior Tactical Command

By Geoff Byers 24 Apr 2013 0
You certainly are not. I beg your pardon.

MechWarrior Tactical Command for iOS is Personae Studios' biggest title since, er, Air Hockey. Making the jump from generic bar games to one of the world's most recognised sci-fi gaming franchises is no mean feat -- pity that the game simply isn't my cup of tea. I suspect may not be yours, either.

The key to enjoying any real-time strategy game will be the controls, of course -- and MechWarrior Tactical Command acquits itself well enough in this department. The game's controls make the most of your touchscreen, and despite some minor niggles, once you've retrained yourself to use them, controlling your units isn't the nightmare you might expect from an iPad RTS. Your standard PC RTS reflexes will get you nowhere here; instead you're swiping at the sidebar like an obsessive-compulsive Mix Master Mike with one hand while tapping furiously with the other.

The camera controls are precise and responsive, although I find the lack of momentum on the camera's scrolling makes it feel a little dead. The minimap is also available to use for larger viewpoint moves. It's a shame that there isn't an option to lock the camera to a particular unit or group of units, but a double tap jumps the camera to the selected unit, so it's not a major issue. The camera doesn't zoom out far enough to suit me, I was always limited to a rather local view of the battlefield, and even though the game is essentially about micromanaging units in the heat of combat, I could never bring myself to play it zoomed in. Disabling the zoom locks is preferable and gives you a much better overall view, but comes with a stability warning and trying to manage a fight from such a view is too difficult.

I swear. Yes, that is an Awesome-class mech. This is canon.

The game looks nice enough, but as I spent essentially all of my time zoomed out, I'm not sure how much value the graphical detail has. Mech designs are distinctive enough to tell apart without added GUI elements, and given how little tactical detail there is available in battle, they're a welcome addition. Weapon effects are varied enough to know what's a laser and what's a missile, and enemy unit states are distinct.

The voice acting spans the entire aural spectrum, from the excellent right down to the oh-no-we're-under-attack terrible. It's not usually awful though, aside from one minor foible. When issuing orders, you will occasionally receive a response in the negative, yet the unit will carry out the order. This gets old very fast. The writing and story aren't much better -- I'd gladly blacken the eye of every game who relies on the usual interplay of a squad of cliches here, but neither of us have that much time on our hands.

The most common issue I had, right from the start, was that your mechs' default movement is a walk. I don't know why this is, because if you try walking everywhere, you turn up fashionably late for every tactical engagement and lose very quickly indeed. So, you must remember to run, which takes an extra step. Every single time.

When commanding individual units, you're given a range of movement and attacking options, which allow you a good measure of tactical freedom. Unfortunately, not all units have the same abilities, so when commanding a group of units, any abilities not common to all are dropped. This can narrow your approach to simply wielding your units as a kind of club, forgoing any tactical sophistication in favour of simply beating the enemies one at a time through weight of fire. Unfortunately, this is also an approach that works for large parts of the game.

But it's no Autumn Dynasty. The GUI ain't half bad.

The alternative is commanding your units individually in a constant mad rush, changing positions and attack types, using jump jets, flanking and surrounding, which is labour intensive, and doesn't always give a far better result. The missions have had enough thought behind them not to fail you for losing secondary objectives, and they're varied enough in a humdrum way (kill, hunt, protect) to keep you occupied. The availability of off-map resources like surveillance drones and air strikes add a little to the battles, but you can succeed almost entirely without them. There's a lot of scripting, and battles don't have an organic feel; units see each other, they pinball around in that locale, you fight a mainly-static battle of attrition, you move on and watch your mechs win another scrap.

Unit customisation appears eventually in the game's mech lab, which takes a little too long to open up. Once you get there you can kit out your mechs with a variety of weapons, ammunition, and heat sinks. There's actually plenty of room to customise your units and so your approach to battles -- it's a pity that the whole mechanic is short-circuited by the way you can crunch through fights using your mechs as a bloc, disregarding their individual weaponry and abilities. Perhaps I would never have done this had there been a constant drip-feed of new mechs and attacks, new weapons and design options introduced in the early missions. By the time you get to customise anything, you've gotten a bit jaded to MechWarrior Tactical Command.

Perhaps the game would have benefited from a slower pace. As it is, MechWarrior Tactical Command a constant scramble pricked with minor irritants. Not a bad game, by any means, but one that would have benefited from more thought-out pacing and tactical subtlety.

Review: MechWarrior Tactical Command

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