BattleTech makes triumphant return

Released late last month, BattleTech is a turn-based tactical PC game based on the franchise of the same name.

The BattleTech universe, launched in 1984, is about huge human-piloted robots called BattleMechs battling one another in the 31st century over land, resources and power.

It started as a tabletop board game and has been spun into more than 100 novels and several computer games, such as MechCommander and MechWarrior, all of which I have played.

The last significant MechWarrior game was released in 2000 with an expansion pack in 2002 (I am not counting the multiplayer-only MechWarrior Online in 2013 because it lacked the requisite robust storyline). After that, the franchise went cold.

So when a team comprising of BattleTech creator Jordan Weisman and other developers wanted to create a BattleTech turn-based tactical game and were raising funds to do so on the Kickstarter crowdfunding website in 2015, I put in my money without hesitation.

And now, I am again commanding my own BattleMech mercenary unit in the single-player campaign. How cool is that?

This game is not for the faint-hearted, but the cool-headed. It does not have the fast and furious action of first-person shooters. But true to its roots, it comes with plenty of BattleMech customisations, detailed battle scenarios, resource management and planning.

  • 9/10 RATING

    PRICE: $34 (PC, version tested; Mac)

    GENRE: Turn-based tactical

Owning a mercenary unit is no easy deal. The interface is menu upon menu of options that allow you to take charge of even the most minute details of your unit.

You need to negotiate the mission contract with your clients. You have to balance between having more salvages (getting BattleMech parts and weapons after a mission) and getting less money - or vice versa.

You also get to have your own Dropship that carries your BattleMechs and their pilots, the MechWarriors. But that means you have to manage the Dropship too, such as upgrading its power systems, medical bays and other facilities.

You can even talk to your crew to find out more about them, the current situation and their opinions. While the crew does not have any animations and merely talk to you through dialogue options, it still gives you a sense that you are managing a team.

You will also need to hire more MechWarriors as the game progresses, as your existing ones will get injured during missions and be out of action for days or even months.

These MechWarriors, including the one you are playing, gain experience points in battles, which can be used to upgrade their gunnery or piloting skills.

But to me, the best part of the game is getting to customise the BattleMechs in my inventory.

It might be overwhelming for gamers with no prior experience in BattleTech. But if you are a seasoned BattleTech player like me, you will know the advantages and disadvantages of different BattleMechs. For instance, the nimble Jenner is fast but lacks firepower, while Catapult packs plenty of ranged firepower but is vulnerable in close combat.

You can re-fit the weapons of the BattleMechs to compensate for their disadvantages. For example, I removed some long-range missiles on my Catapult and armed it with medium lasers for close-quarter combat.

But at the same time, you need to manage the BattleMechs' heat emission. If armed with too many weapons and too few heat sinks, the BattleMech could overheat and shut down during battles.

On the battlefield, you command up to a lance of four BattleMechs. Everything in the environment can either work for or against you.

Getting to a high vantage point lets you get a clean shot of the enemy, but also makes you vulnerable to attacks. Get into the water and your BattleMech might not heat up easily, but will be slower in movement.

Every move and attack has to be calculated or you might find yourself on the back foot pretty quickly. You can choose to fire certain weapons on certain enemies, depending on terrain and distance.

Before each attack, you get to see how much chance a weapon has in hitting the target. This is given as a percentage and is different for different weapons. But like table-top games that require players to roll a dice to see if they have made a hit, nothing is certain here. You might miss a target with a weapon that has a 95 per cent chance of a hit.

It is exhilarating to be able to control and watch the BattleMechs in battle. From the texture of the BattleMechs to missiles exploding on impact, the graphics are top-notch.

Probably the only quibble about this game is thatthe pace of battles might be a tad slow as you need to wait for each BattleMech's turn to finish. Each mission can last from 45 to 90 minutes.

There are also minor bugs here and there, such as a BattleMech moving even though it has been knocked down and is lying belly-up. But these bugs can be easily solved through future updates.

• Verdict: BattleTech is a triumphant and welcome return of the robot franchise. If you are into BattleMechs and turn-based tactical game, you have to buy this game. Period.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 16, 2018, with the headline 'BattleTech makes triumphant return'. Print Edition | Subscribe