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All Hands on Mech: An E3 2012 Tale of Love and Obsession
Hawken, MechWarrior Online, and a slew of other mech games are bringing BFG to E3. And this nerd approves.
Sometimes self-realization comes at the most unexpected moments.
I pitched a story idea during a recent PCMag.com morning staff meeting that would see me pitting two upcoming mech video games—Adhesive Games’ Hawken and Piranha Games’ MechWarrior Online—in a head-to-head features comparison. “Mech” for those who aren’t hip to the term is short for “mecha,” a Japanese word that means “mechanical.” It’s a sci-fi genre that focuses on big human-piloted machines, big fights, and big explosions.
Both titles are set to be on full display at E3 2012 next week, so I thought it both prudent and timely to pitch a comparison which would analyze gameplay modes, weapon payloads, cockpit control options, and other features inherent to a satisfying mech game experience.
Laughter quickly ensued.
Not for the topic specifically (okay, maybe a little), but due to the fact that just days earlier I insisted to several co-workers that I wasn’t a geek despite my place of employment. And then I revealed myself not only to be a geek, but a mech geek, which may the geekiest character profile this side of LARPers.
Pardon me while I reassess everything that I thought true.
Mechs have been a part of my life since the days of Robotech, Harmony Gold’s Frankensteined animated program, which combined three Japanese mech shows (Macross, Genesis Climber Mospeada, Southern Cross) into one somewhat cohesive story. As an adult I can see the flaws and sacrifices made to create the show, but when I was a kid it was the center of my life. Giant, human-powered robots launching missile swarms at alien invaders who pilot and/or wear their own high-tech military gear? That’s the stuff of a pre-pubescent boy’s dreams. And it also sparked a love for the giant machines.
I’d abandoned the Japanese mech shows during my junior high school years as girls, baseball, and expanding my social circle became priorities. I hadn’t thought of the lumbering machines in years until a few high school friends discovered BattleTech, FASA Corporation’s Macross-inspired war gaming universe. [Ed.’s incredulous note: you played BattleTech in high school and didn’t still consider yourself a geek? Some things never wear off.]
Just when I thought I was out, they pulled me back in.
This time it was different. Instead of passively watching animated soldiers pilot their machines into combat, I was in charge. Suddenly, hexagon maps, combat units, and heat buildup became part of my lexicon. It was like smack, man. Mech smack.
I eventually tinkered with the likes of Square’s Front Mission series during the PlayStation and PlayStation 2 era, but the plodding tactical pace no longer held the same appeal. I became a product of the digital age, and as such, my attention span all but vanished. I needed big friggin’ mecha to go boom-boom in a more action-oriented setting. Hideo Kojima’s Zone of Enders did just that, but leaned a bit too far in the action realm—there wasn’t enough tinkering and planning. I discovered that I still needed that simulation fix.
Fast-forward a decade and the heavy metal love has returned thanks to Hawken and MechWarrior.
Hawken is a game I’ve been following for some time now, mainly through the video clips and blog posts which developer Adhesive Games has released to the public. And it looks good. The Unreal Engine 3-powered free-to-play PC game (which recently received a whopping $10 million in funding) features mechs of various sizes firing torrents, rocketing about in a war-torn universe, and launching Macross-style missile swarms at enemies—and it tickles my nerd fancy. It’s set for a 12-12-12 release, and I, of course, have already signed up for the beta.
Hawken’s rival is MechWarrior Online, a CryEngine 3-powered free-to-play PC game which appears to take a different gameplay route. Hawken looks more action-oriented, MechWarrior Online looks very much like a mech sim with its more deliberate pace and copious read-outs (heat management, armor penetration) that play into the franchise’s BattleTech pen-and-paper wargaming roots. It has a non-specific 2012 release date. I, uh, also signed up for its beta.
Hawken and MechWarrior Online represent just two of the games in what is, essentially, a mech-game renaissance. Roadhouse Interactive’s MechWarrior Tactics (turned-based strategy), Day 1 Studios’ Reign of Thunder, and From Software’s Kinect-enabled Steel Battalion: Heavy Armor are all slated to roll out to mech fans like me in coming months. And most—if not all—of the games should be in the Los Angeles Convention Center next week. It’s a good time to blast enemies, fiddle with knobs, and watch out for overheating.
So, yes, I’m very much looking forward to this year’s E3. This year’s show isn’t just about the spectacle, overstated announcements, and booth babes. For me, it’s about reconnecting with a long-dormant love-obsession with hulking, armed-to-the-teeth machinery, and my desire to take them into combat.
Does that make me a geek? Absolutely. And I’m OK with that.
By Jeffrey L. Wilson, PCMag