Mechwarrior 5: Mercenaries

As a life-long Battletech fan, I was obligated to pick up a copy of Mechwarrior 5: Mercenaries yesterday, and to fire it up when I got home from work.

Battletech is a universe of large, stompy robot tanks piloted by the titular mechwarriors, a privileged class of warrior nobility. Mechs are handed down through the family because the technology to create them on a massive scale has been lost over the centuries. Despite the seemingly fragile nature of this kind of warfare, the mechs are always the solution to every problem large or small.

The Mercenaries series stretches back almost as far as the Battletech IP does, and differs from the kind of “instant action” shooters you get from other combat simulators. As mercs, you are tasked with managing your company. You take contracts, negotiate payout in terms of cash, salvage, and insurance, deal with duplicity and superior forces, and hopefully earn enough cash to repair your damage in time for the next contract.

MW5M is made by Piranah Games who operate the apparently-successful-but-still-under-the-radar Mechwarrior Online. As with any competitive-only shooter, MWO has a certain reputation, which hasn’t always been helped by the game’s operators. MWO is a pretty decent online shooter catering to competitive gamers first, Battletech fans second, and while you don’t have to deal with the mercenary life in that game, you do earn cash that can be used to upgrade your mechs between battles.

All this being said, I bought the game simply because it was a Battletech title. Overall, it plays well. Piranah obviously cribbed their experience with MWO for MW5M which allowed them to skip reinventing the wheel, but aside from the focused chaos inherent in trying to figure out which way your mech is facing in relation to your actual movement during heated combat situations, the rest of the game is kind of lacking. The graphics are salvageable when in the cockpit (and if you squint) or from a distance, but pretty much everything else looks like a relic of the original Star League — or more specifically the Half-Life 2 era. I won’t even talk about the dialog and voice-overs since my mother taught me that if I can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all. Piranah did pretty well in making the mech-piloting experience the best they were able, but you can tell that either the rest of the stuff was well beyond their abilities, or they just didn’t give a shit. Considering their experience with MWO and the perception that the blasty-shooty part is all anyone cares about, it could be a little from column A, a little from column B.

The thing about computer Battletech treatments — and a symptom of the game-o-sphere in general — is that the heaviest hammer is always preferred by the players and marketed by the creators, regardless of the size of the nail. Mechs are always the center of gameplay because they’re freakin’ mechs! Over the years the focus of Battletech’s marketing has switched from medium mechs which were the most prevalent workhorses of the fiction, to today where Everybody Loves Atlas. Now it’s all about the highest tonnage, the biggest guns, the most DPS, and less about the relative fragility of other mechs that allowed even the lowest tonnage class to be relevant on the field. As a consequence, the whole “this machine is your legacy” vibe has been washed away, even when paired with a narrative like in MW5M.

Beyond that, what about the rest of the Battletech universe? ME5M starts you off shooting tanks and LRM carriers which, when set toe-to-bumper with your mech, are virtual tissue paper, but given the right scenario why can’t we pilot ground vehicles? There was even an offshoot game back in the 80’s — AeroTech — which focused on the VTOL, fixed-wing, fighter craft, and orbital combat mechanics. And once we get to the Clan era, they introduced power-armor. Why hasn’t any Battletech game featured those? Oh, right: players and developers want the biggest, baddest, stacked deck they can get.

I know this is fairly scathing of MW5M (for someone who doesn’t like to badmouth stuff, especially stuff he’s a fan of), but the actual mech-based gameplay is pretty cool and has that authentic Battletech feel to it. I’ll keep plugging away at it because Battletech, but to be frank, if you want the best Battletech experience on the market today, get the tactical turn-based Battletech from Paradox (you’ll be able to find it on sale this season, no doubt). It plays like the original tabletop game, has a very similar mercenaries theme, but the production value is much better than MW5M. Ultimately, I’m not mad, just disappointed, but not so disappointed that I won’t stop playing it.

GTFO

Switching gears entirely, I have a PSA for you: If you have friends and are thinking of picking up MW5M, stop, pause, and go look at GTFO. Yes, that is the name. No, it is not some dumb-ass GTA clone or half-baked battle-royale wannabe designed to appeal to kids who want to snicker over a name on the schoolbus or something “edgier” than Fortnite.

The best analogue I can come up with for GTFO is Aliens, but less for the “kick-ass space marines with massive firepower blowing up aliens” and more for the “wander around in the dark, jumping at shadows and shitting your pants as you forget how to fire a weapon when all hell breaks loose”.

You play as one of four criminals who have been repurposed to delve into a series of underground facilities in search of mission objectives (this is vague right now because the game is in early access). You get 4 items: a main and secondary ranged weapon, a melee weapon, and a tool. You can pick up other items along the way like medpacks, flares, and ammo which can be used on yourself or others. The facilities you are sent to are dark and ill-lit, carved from natural rock and buttressed with sci-fi technosteel, complete with abandoned crates, locked blast doors, and seizure-inducing warning lights.

And monsters. Lots of Lovecraftian monsters. I played a little last night with Enforzer, and here’s a brief rundown of our experience:

  1. Dropped into the facility.
  2. Figure out what all our stuff does. I took the motion tracker, which is the most terrifying item in the game because I knew where all of the monsters were, but couldn’t physically see them.
  3. Open doors only to realize that there’s a monster there…somewhere. On this map, they respond to sound and light, so if we’re quiet and can move in the dark, we might be able sneak…
  4. FUCK! AN ALARM IS GOING OFF. WHAT THE FU…OHSHITOHSHITOHSHIT THEY’RE EVERYWH
  5. Fin.

GTFO is an anti-shooter. It’s not a run-and-gun affair. It’s a teamwork affair; probably the consummate teamwork affair as you cannot solo this game, and going in understaffed means certain death. You need to correct the mistakes of the Colonial Marines in Aliens: lose the bravado, stick together, be very deliberate in everything you do. Do not open doors until everyone is in position, and make sure everyone has a handle on their ammo count and special items because you’ll need to make decisions very quickly. Very, very quickly. I have read a lot of words comparing it to Left4Dead, and I guess that’s the best game-compare out there, but the tension is just so much higher here.

I am not a massive fan of horror games, but GTFO, cleaving so close to that Aliens vibe is somehow less horror and just really, really tense. There are a lot of mechanics which take you out of the “flow” of normal gameplay. In order to open chests, you have to play a small mini-game. Occasionally you’ll encounter terminals which you can use to help find your objective, but you have to literally type your commands (so let your best words-per-minute typist handle that). Both of these will occupy the participant so that he or she cannot keep an eye out for monsters, nor can he or she help you if you end up with one sucking the skin off of your face because you were too busy bunny-hopping around and opening doors like a dumbass.

Being EA, though, there are a few weirdisms. For one, there’s no matchmaking, so you either have to join a friend from your Steam friends list or share or get a code from another player. The game’s official Discord server is where people are hanging out and staging, so if you want to play with randos, hit em up. I haven’t looked into it myself, but this might be a game where folks are so determined to be freaked out that they might be less Hudson and more Jonsey when playing in a group. Beyond that, there might be some issues, but I haven’t owned it nor played it nor survived it long enough to notice.

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