Heavy Metal: The Best of Stompy Robots
MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries is an enjoyable game, and a welcome return of the king of the stompy robots genre. But while it is definitely fun, it is still at least 12 months (and probably a few paid DLCs) away from being a complete game.
If you haven’t committed to MechWarrior 5 yet, or you want to wait out the Epic exclusivity, here are a few good alternatives to give you a bit of a retrospective on a genre defined by hulking metal juggernauts of destruction.
MechWarrior 5 might be flashy and new, but it’s miles behind previous titles in the series. MechWarrior 2: Mercenaries is considered the pinnacle of the series, but can be a bit of a hassle to run on modern computers. MechWarrior 3 has always been my personal favorite, and is somewhat easier to run, while MechWarrior 4 is the least dated and easiest to run, although features more “arcade-y” gameplay.
Additionally, although somewhat overlooked, a group of exceptional modders has created MechWarrior: Living Legends, which started as a mod for Crysis: Warhead, but is now a free, standalone game. If you’ve got a hankering to jump into the cockpit of a Clan Madcat or Inner Sphere Warhammer, with minimal fuss, then this might be your best option.
After the release of MechWarrior 2: Mercenaries, Activision lost the Battletech license to Microprose. Activision found an alternative in the popular Heavy Gear tabletop RPG/wargame, leading to two mecha games, Heavy Gear (1997) and Heavy Gear II (1999). The Heavy Gear games have more in common with Japanese mecha than Western mecha, with the mechs more reminiscent of the Gundam anime series. As a result, the games play more like a shooter than a mech game.
Critical reception for the Heavy Gear games was mixed, but they had a lot of redeemable features, and are definitely worth a shot. However, whatever you do, avoid the drama-ridden early access title Heavy Gear Assault like the plague.
Titanfall 2 is probably one of the better things to come out of publisher EA in recent years. Developer Respawn Entertainment built on the success of the first game by adding an enjoyable single-player campaign. Like Heavy Gear, the mecha in Titanfall are closer to agile exoskeletons than hulking towers of destruction, but the gameplay is polished, fluid, and a heap of fun, especially in multiplayer. Unfortunately, sales didn’t meet expectations, so the community is somewhat small.
The story of Hawken is a sad one. It appeared right when the free-to-play model was beginning to saturate the market. The game looked great, and was a blast, but development dragged and the grind became too much for many. The game switched developers, but the same issues lingered. Apparently, Hawken still maintains somewhat of a presence on console, but support for the PC version was dropped in 2018. However, as with many loyal fanbases, enterprising PC fans have established a private server for Hawken, and a community is still somewhat active on the r/Hawken subreddit.
Shogo: Mobile Armor Division
Including Shogo: Mobile Armor Division as a mecha game is a bit of a stretch – it looks and plays like a shooter. But if your main priority is the presence of robots rather than the mechanics of how the game plays, Shogo is a pretty good option. Shogo is heavily influenced by Japanese mecha, with an art style reminiscent of a typical anime. The plot is entertaining, and there are dozens of subtle references to influential anime films and TV shows. The gameplay is roughly 50/50 mech/on-foot, and while the mech sequences play like a shooter, they feature some pretty fun and destructive weapons. Worth a shot, especially if you are a fan of Japanese mecha.
Metaltech (Earthsiege / Starsiege)
The Metaltech series was probably the closest thing that there ever was to a competitor for MechWarrior. The series is made up of four games, all released by the now defunct Dynamix between 1994 and 1999, and is loosely related to the Tribes series of multiplayer shooters. The core games, Metaltech: Earthsiege, Earthsiege 2, and Starsiege, feature an engaging plot and mechanics, and were highly regarded games in their day. Most importantly, however, the Metaltech series successfully emulated the feel of piloting a lumbering mass of metal death like no other MechWarrior competitor could. Unfortunately, Metaltech didn’t survive the closure of developer Dynamix, and unlike MechWarrior, it didn’t have a wealth of alternative products to keep interest in the universe going. I’m hoping that, with the return of MechWarrior, we might also see the return of its old rival, Earthsiege.
In about 1989, Gavin Annand played his first games on a Sinclair ZX Spectrum. Thus, began a lifetime obsession with games. A gaming addict or connoisseur, depending on your perspective.