MechWarrior 4: Mercenaries
The way MechWarrior should be!
Microsoft and FASA have released the ninth MechWarrior game in late 2002/early 2003. The name is misleading, but the game is not an expansion pack, but rather a stand alone game with revamped graphics, and most importantly: game mechanics. MechWarrior 4: Mercenaries introduces many new features and also brings in some old features that were destroyed by MechWarrior 3.
The graphics engine is the next generation of the MechWarrior 4 engine. It looks similar enough, but its much smoother and frame rates have been increased slightly. Close ups of Mechs and buildings are also less pixelated, but the flora about the universe is still suffering from chronic pixelation. The final improvement to the engine is a slight reduction in popup problems. Its barely noticeable, but if you compare the two it comes up better.
Sound, unfortuneately, has degraded a bit. Clarity, surround sound and ambient effects are on par, but its the sound track that is the disapointment. The famous "Clan Invasion" MechWarrior music from MechWarrior 2 is all but amiss, barring the installation, which features the most famous of the "Clan Invasion" scores, with slight modifications. In game, however, is a score of retro guitar and drum based music, which I assume is supposed to be "Inner Sphere" or "Mercenary" music. It doesn't work for me, and while others may like it, it is undeniable that the "Clan Invasion" music reigns supreme.
From here on, the game keeps looking up, however. First of all, you have the choice of joining one of the four most prominent Mercenary corps in the Inner Sphere, each with their own unique bonuses (i.e. the Wolf's Dragoon starts with full access to Clan technology). Depending on which corp you choose, you start on a certain planet within the Inner Sphere. From here you have two more planets you can jump to, one with a Davion contract, the other with a Steiner contract (the game is based upon the continuing Steiner-Davion civil war). As you progress, more planets start offering contracts. Which contracts you're offered depends mostly on whether you've taken more contracts with Davion, or Steiner, or tried to work for both equally. The more jobs you do for one or the other, the more favour you gain with them and the more pay and more lucrative jobs you will receive from them. There is a trade off however, in that you will not be able to receive jobs from the other side, and they will even start to wish your death.
This straight away provides for some variation, and as you progress you get many choices of contracts, and can even compete in the Solaris VII gladatorial games. Moving on to the logistical side of things, moving around is a costly procedure. Jumping to each planet and subsequently dropping to the surface of said planet for a mission will cost you money. You also need to pay for the upkeep of Mechs, the repairs of Mechs and pay your "loyal" lance mates. Spoils of war, as in salvage is significantly increased, but that is due to the fact that unlike in other MechWarrior games, new Mechs do not simply become available and, more importantly, a Mech that is destroyed stays destroyed. This means that you will go through many Mechs, and sometimes MechWarriors, which you will need to replace.
Mech outfitting (in the MechLab) and assigning lance mates hasn't changed, but you can now have two lances, one under your immediate command, the other under the command of another lance commander. You still control this secondary lance, and don't even need to assign a lance commander to them, but their fighting will suffer if you do not. There are a few new Mechs available, including the Inner Sphere variants of a few old Clan mechs, and some old Clan weaponry such as the Arrow IV missile system has made a reentrance. There is only one new Mech upgrade available, the Advanced Gyro system, but it is a brilliant device that reduces inaccuracies by reducing the bobbing and shaking caused when moving.
As I just mentioned, you can have another lance, thus a total of eight friendly mechs on your side. This was never the case in any of the previous MechWarriors, and thus concentrations of enemies were always comparitively small. In Mercenaries, however, enemy concentrations are immense, and battles are, therefore, intense and frantic. So far, I have experienced a battle with near twenty Mechs. These battles are incredibly fun, and make you feel like you're a real MechWarrior, straight out of the BattleTech universe.
Overall, MechWarrior 4: Mercenaries is brilliantly fun and addictive. It proudly bears the MechWarrior legacy and revives many aspects of the game that made MechWarrior 2 so great (including a reintroduction of the Clans!). The story themes are only in the background, but this is expected with a Mercenaries game, and the sound track is a let down, but all other aspects are the way it should be. I reccomend this to fans of the genre, but I think those who aren't into the Mech combat theme won't find much fun here.