A buggy and ugly iOS premier for the MechWarrior franchise.
I played the hell out of the MechWarrior franchise growing up. As someone who favored RTS games, I jumped onto the bandwagon via MechCommander in 1998, and decided to try out the shiny new MechWarrior 3 the following year. While both games are different genres (the former being an RTS and the latter being an FPS at it’s roots), they shared one common theme: the ability to customize your mechs and see those enhancements effect battles on the field. Tactical Command doesn’t do any of this. Now that I think of it, I could probably write a shorter review by simply telling you what Tactical Command does do rather than what it’s missing.
The game starts off with a nicely rendered cutscene. Nothing amazing, but it sets the stage for a battle between four houses for global supremacy. This has been the theme of past MechWarrior games, so it fits well into Tac Com’s storyline. If there’s one other thing MWTC has going for it, it’s the occasional pre-rendered cutscenes sprinkled throughout the game. Sadly, that’s about all it has going for it. Right from the start the flat voice acting and annoying “Kyle” character started grating my nerves. Is it splitting hairs to find it weird that despite chatting to each from hulking mechs over a radio, the characters all sound like they’re in the same room together? Is it unfair to expect that when a character gets blown up in the field, the other characters react rather than literally nothing happening? Enough about the audio, because MechWarrior: Tactical Command offers even less to the eyes than it does to the ears.
This game looks bad. I’m not talking about “they-had-to-cut-corners-because-it’s-an-iOS-game” bad, I’m talking “this-looks-like-it-should-be-coming-out-for-the-Nintendo64″ bad. I looked up screenshots of the first MechCommander for comparison, and that game looks better than this one. MechCommander came out almost 15 years ago. The textures are all very low-res, and the environments and maps really couldn’t get any blander, with copy and pasted textures galore. The mechs are modeled well, but they don’t look like there is any weight to them as they stomp around. They is also absolutely no distinction between enemy and friendly mechs other than the different colored selection circles, as all mechs are a dull brownish-gray. One of the features of MWTC is location-based damage on the mech chassis. Oddly, this damage is not actually shown on the in-game mech models. So while a little image may tell you that your mech has no arms and one leg, a quick look at the mech itself shows that it’s in perfect shape. The rest of the 3D models and effects are completely lackluster, and don’t blend well with the environments at all.
The movement and controls for Tactical Command are broken. Rather than dragging a selection box around units, or double tapping a unit to select everything, mechs are selected or deselected by tapping on them individually, or on their images on the top right of the screen. This means that in order to select one unit when all are highlighted, you have to deselect all of the other units. Even then, sometimes previously selected units will continue to follow your commands. Sometimes selected units won’t respond to commands at all. I can’t even count how many times I gave a command with all the mechs selected only to see one or two of them completely ignore it. As expected, when a mech becomes injured it starts slowing down. Unexpectedly, injured mechs also appear to forget orders, as you will have to continuously tap the terrain to move them forward every inch or so. On top of all of this, the pathing for units is extremely poor. On more than one occasion I was unable to move any member of my squad to a point in the terrain that was completely free of obstructions. It’s as if the units hit an invisible wall without actually reaching the edge of the playable area.
The missions are generally boring and slow-paced. You have your defend and attack missions, your escort missions, your protect-the-important-character missions, and your capture-the-thing missions. On more than one occasion I was required to run across the map to finish one of these missions. I just sat there as some of my mechs ran and some of them walked (in spite of any orders I gave them to do otherwise) across the map with nothing else happening. Fun. Sure, you can control different kinds of mechs, but there are no special abilities to take advantage of, and no way to manually choose which weapons are fired from which mech. I figured I would use the missile-launching MadCat to take down turrets from a distance, but when I told him to attack he kept running right up to the enemy – and then sometimes he wouldn’t. Other times I would tell a unit to attack a close-up enemy, and it would then spend several seconds running away from the enemy before attacking. The Jackie Chan rage face comes to mind about now. As the commander, you do have special abilities that are limited to specific missions, such as calling down an airstrike, but it’s a huge pain to pull these off since you have to manually deselect all units before using them.
It takes far too many missions to do so, but when you eventually unlock the ability to customize and purchase new gear for your mechs, the game opens up a little bit. A very little bit. The problem is, because the AI and controls are so bad, it’s extremely difficult to use the mechs you customize to their potential. No matter what you do, the game almost always ends up being a lather, rinse, repeat of selecting all four of your mechs and then telling them to attack something. Any sort of individual unit micro becomes near impossible due to all the movement bugs, poor AI, and frustrating controls.
But wait, there’s more! MechWarrior Tactical Command will randomly not save your progress when you quit to the home screen. Also, I experienced the game crashing on me twice in a 1-hour play period. Hell, the game won’t even orient itself if you decide to hold your iPad differently, and the framerate chugs during in-game cutscenes, which often show nothing but terrain before objects starting loading in, Unreal 3 style. Ah yes, one more thing. You are often given objectives that relate to areas on your map, such as “enemies in the Northeast!” These instructions are consistently wrong. You’ll be told to protect a base in the Northwest, but when you go to the Northwest, you find that the base is being attacked in the northeast. Perhaps the developers were using iOS 6 maps? (zing!) I could continue to discuss any number of shortcomings that MWTC prominently displays, but at this point I want to continue writing about the game about as much as I want to continue playing it.
MechWarrior: Tactical Command is a game that might have received a more favorable welcome had it been released 4 years ago when RTS games were unheard of on iOS devices. Even so, the game’s poor controls and AI make it almost unplayable, and the graphics engine reminds me of Bungie’s Myth series from the late 90s. On top of all that, Tactical Command is $10 on the US App Store. No amount of voice-acting, pre-rendered cutscenes, or flaunting of the MechWarrior IP can justify that price tag.