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Review by: Bob Mandel
Published: December 23, 2002
The MechWarrior franchise has been one of the most influential in the history of PC gaming. The series’ intense combat among large mechanized units has presented a riveting experience, requiring you to balance heat tolerance, firepower and speed to achieve your goals. This new title, MechWarrior 4: Mercenaries, is basically a sequel to the 2000 release, MechWarrior 4: Vengeance, although it brings to mind the breakthrough 1996 release, MechWarrior 2: Mercenaries. Set in 3063, you play a mercenary with experience in the civil war between the Federated Commonwealth and the Lyran Alliance. As in today’s world, mercenaries are the dogs of war, soldiers of fortune who work for anyone who’ll meet their price, and in the Inner Sphere, mercenary military power is dominant.
As commander of a military unit, you’re responsible for directing your squad members in the field and managing your finances. Considering this second requirement, you’re apparently more motivated to fight for money than for honor. There are a variety of ways to earn cash to build the ultimate fighting force, including achieving mission goals, salvaging weapons, obtaining replacement weapons, taking control of any mech chassis you find and trading with others on the free market, where you can hire and fire personnel plus buy and sell mechs and weapons. The armaments to which you’ll have access are more varied than if you were restricted to the armaments of a particular clan. The harder the mission and the more intimidating the opposing mechs, the greater your financial payoff, and as the game progresses, the challenges increase. When you hire new pilots, you have to pay salaries commensurate with their skill levels. All of this makes economic savvy as important as battle prowess.
Mercenaries incorporates over 50 missions spanning ten planets. You may join one of four mercenary companies: Kell Hounds, Wolf’s Dragoons, Northwind Highlanders or Gray Death Legion. As you complete missions, your reputation can grow to reflect your competence. While much of what you do is simply move from waypoint to waypoint destroying nests of adversaries, along the way, you’ll encounter assault, reconnaissance and stealth objectives, including search-and-destroy assignments, sneaking into an enemy camp under the cover of night and protecting a convoy. In some cases, you can take up to eight squad mates into battle.
You get to choose your destination rather than work through missions and environments in a predetermined sequence. Since it’s not necessary to complete all the missions in one area before undertaking those in another, Mercenaries eliminates making tedious progress in lockstep order. The campaign is tightly scripted, with early selections affecting later ones. Unfortunately, a few anomalies are evident: In some cases, you can discover and destroy enemy units before they’re scheduled to show up, and in other instances, enemy mechs in plain view remain motionless until you pass an illogical trigger point. These scripting irregularities serve to interfere with the gameplay’s sense of realism and immersion.
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