Gigantic bipedal robotic war machines are a fairly ridiculous idea, yet one that has much popularity in scifi. I suppose simply because they mix the mechanical with the humanoid, like some kind of massive armoured warrior with guns for arms, unleashing more firepower than the Red Army and casually treading on cars, houses and people. For gaming fans of such robotic engines of destruction, a favourite series was Mechwarrior. There were several installments between 1989 and 2000, then it went for quiet for over a decade. An online multiplayer-only version arrived in 2013, but we don’t really care about that sort of thing here. However here’s some good news: Piranha, the makers of Mechwarrior Online have revealed they’re working on a proper 5th instalment with a single-player campaign, titled Mercenaries.

(Which, just to be slightly confusing, is a subtitle that’s been used before so I guess this is Mechwarrior 5 Mercenaries 2?)

My own experiences of Mechwarrior come from the middle span of series, and I came aboard with Mechwarrior 2. What impressed me right from the start was how your view from the cockpit bobbed around as the mech took each massive stride. Also, you could glance around and see the mech’s arms and legs. You weren’t just some sort of disembodied presence with guns, but an actual walking war machine.

Nowadays the low-poly graphics are rather primitive, yet something about them still appeals to me. The mechs stomping around like boxy, angular avatars of war. The landscapes are bare and uncluttered. It’s like robo-warfare distilled down to core principles. Huge blocky leviathans lumbering ponderously around, swivelling at the waist to train their heavy guns on their unfortunate target. Little speedy guys loping into a flanking position. You the player, walking repeatedly into wall trying to figure out the fairly complex controls.

Then there was that important mechanic of monitoring waste heat levels. Many weapons had limitless ammo, but if you hammered the fire button repeatedly for too long, the mech would start overheating. Push the heat levels too far and an emergency shutdown leaves you standing there inert for several seconds, which dumps heat but is is an embarrassing way to turn yourself into an easy target. You can choose to over-ride that and start moving and firing again, but that carries the risk of exploding violently.

I also recall the extensive customisation options for your mech. Maybe too extensive, actually. The range of choices was bewildering. More lasers in the arms? Or maybe the torso. Or put heat sinks there. Or an autocannon. Or more missiles. Following on from that, given how totally the mech could be reconfigured, I never really worked out what separated any two mechs of the same tonnage. Looking back, I kind of wish more of a basic profile was imposed on each mech. Make this one a long range missile support guy, the next one a heavy gun carrier, another a close range assault specialist. And so on. (Maybe 4 onwards did that, I dunno).

Mercenaries (the first one) I also played, tho I recall some heavy duty cheating. This one brought in a resource management aspect. Rather than being given a fresh new mech every mission, you were now responsible for your own small army. You earned cash for successfully completing objectives, and spent it repairing or rearming your mechs. You also had to purchase new ones for yourself or your wingmen to pilot. Since your starting mech was kind of spindly and pathetic, earning your way to something more heavyweight was an urgent necessity. I’m guessing this new one will work in a similar manner.

Then onto 3, which featured more realistic graphics. Which either look closer to modern standards, or lack that kind of stark abstract appeal of the old titles, depending on your perspective I guess. I recall my favourite tactics in that one being to find a balance between speed and size, load up on beam lasers than basically try to just chop everyone’s legs off. That one had persistent assets between each mission also, though it dropped the financial part, you just scavenged supplies along the way.

Mech 4 I missed out on, it was on my “find this and play for FFG” list for ages. Neither this nor the older games have appeared on digital distribution yet, as far as I can tell, so if you want to play any you’ll have to do it the old fashioned way and hunt down copies on ebay or look at abandonware sites. No idea how compatible they are with windows 10, sorry.

Anyways, I’ll let myself get a little excited about this latest installment, but not too excited just yet as the release is scheduled for 2018.