Old school gamers of both the tabletop and PC variety likely have fond memories of battling in giant, heavily armored and armed robots. FASA’s beloved Mechwarrior universe has been around for a long time and produced some of the greatest simulation games in PC gaming history (Mechwarrior 2 stands out in particular). So it’s nice to see this venerable series return after a long hiatus.
The result is MechWarrior: Tactical Command, from the Singapore-based Personae Studios. Tactical Command, as the name suggests, tries to be more strategy than action, but it walks a fine line between the two genres. Twenty-one missions across three worlds lead players through an ever evolving story about multiple factions battling for supremacy and survival.
At the crossroads.
Tactical Command is a single player-only game, so it’s a good thing the story works relatively well. It’s clear that Personae did their homework when it came to making the universe and its characters, locations, and weaponry authentic. There are 30 mechs to battle with, more mechs to blow away, and even some customization options as the plot progresses.
The graphics aren’t stunning, but they look good overall. We would have liked far greater control over the camera zoom, however, to allow for both a higher and more close-up view of the map depending on the situation. As it is, we were left with a limited view that forced us to constantly scroll around the map.
Autobots, roll out! Er, wait…
The game is played from an overhead, satellite view. Tapping on any mech in a group of up to four selects or deselects it, and just swiping over their icons on the right side of the screen enables players to quickly select the whole group. Once mechs are selected, tapping on a location causes them to get moving, and tapping on an enemy targets it.
Since the game essentially places the player as the observing commander, as opposed to a mech pilot, there’s a heavy reliance on the individual units’ AI. The behavior of the mechs is hit-or-miss in more ways than one. In combat, they are generally very competent, but pathfinding is frequently an issue. Tapping a location or target too far away (or even within sight) frequently proves unresponsive, requiring players to either keep tapping or simply baby step the units.
Holding down on a location allows for more options, such as running. In combat, this also provides limited options for attack, like unleashing a whole volley of the mech’s weapons, which is powerful but forces the mech to cool down due to the amount of heat it creates. There’s no fine targeting option once an enemy has been selected however, which is a problem in a game where individual mech parts can be damaged.
Darn robots, get off my lawn!
Each unit has a diagram showing the damage level of its various parts, be they arms, legs, torso, etc. If a unit’s leg is damaged, it’s either slowed or outright incapacitated. The problem with this is that the level of tactics allowed by the gameplay don’t account for ways to either counter or truly take advantage of this. If a player’s mech is incapacitated, there’s no way to repair it, and it just stands there barely able to move.
Worse, even if the mech can hobble, it’ll only go a few steps before stopping, so if the unit is mission critical, the player literally has to constantly tap ahead of the mech to keep it moving until it reaches the desired location. There are strange little oversights like this throughout the game. Part of the problem is the strict reliance on real-time action, instead of providing a pause option to execute deeper and more complex commands. We also encountered problems with the game saving once a mission is completed.
Such issues make the game feel more arcade-like than it should, but also make the player feel as if they have a lot less control. Tactical Command can be fun overall, and has great atmosphere, but it’s stuck trying to cater between two genres and not quite successful either way. Given the $10 price tag, we expect a lot more refinement.