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     " Should have been great, ends up being luke warm. "

      Title: Mechassault by Microsoft

      Format: Xbox Shoot 'em up

      Reviewing Monkey: Dungapult

      The Hype: Battletech, arguably the greatest and most popular giant robot franchise of all time, finally comes to a console near you. Control giant, 30 foot walking tanks as they destroy cities, bridges, orphanages, and each other both in single player and on line warfare.

      What This Monkey Thought...

      Graphics: Graphically, Mechassault truly has moments of sheer brilliance for the 'Box's potential. Explosions are bright and stunning, lighting effects are gorgeous and plentiful, and the texture of levels will leave you wanting to jump inside your screen. That's the good news. The bad news is that everything else can be, and has been, done much nicer than what Mechassault offers. Though, for the most part, it's not actually do to a lack of good graphics but, rather, a lack of the right types of graphics. For example, during standard play, the mechs themselves- which should be the focus of many of the graphical enhancements, appear relatively bland and undetailed. The problem isn't the actual detail of the models though, but rather the fineness of the detail and the distance the camera presents it from. The animations are often jerky and, in general, unimpressive, and the weapon effects are trite and uninspired. Not that the overall is unpleasant- it's just that it could be, and should be, so much more. For example, in the game's entirety there are only 10 mech models. Sure, in gameplay each model comes in two different weapon load-out versions, but there's absolutely no graphical awareness of that fact. Each mech maintains the same redundant fixtures on its chassis even if they have no effect (i.e. they don't bother to remove or change the size and placement of guns) and moves, reacts, and has the exact same firing animations regardless. Yes, I grant you, that's not a big thing…But if you're only talking about a total of 20 models why not include it? Added to that is the fact that the mechs look essentially identical from the rear. Granted, they have various shapes and colors, but the only real enhancement to the visuals is the active heat sink (which glows red the hotter your mech gets). Now, while again, that's not a huge deal, when you realize that the back of your mech is really all you get to see, you start to wonder why they didn't go that extra mile. Those things, and many others like them, would certainly have enhanced what ends up being only a fair showing. 3.75 out of 5

      Playability: It's funny, when you pick up Mechassault you'll fairly quickly notice the numerous "Wizkids" logos and adds spaced throughout the product. Now, for those of you who are only 1 class of geek, Wizkids is the company that just produced "Mechwarrior: Dark Age" the new, fun, but incredibly simple version of the Battletech table top game. The reason that's relevant is that what Dark Age is to the original table top game (a simplified, fast played version), Mechassault is to the Mechwarrior franchise in all its incarnations. Not a simulator in any capacity, Mechassault is a third person shooter based on a fast, easy to grasp control scheme and a significantly more limited strategy premise. Rather than running around the map in slow, bulky tanks picking shots delicately and working your systems for maximum efficiency, Mechassault is a fast paced, simple setup with controls that play out exactly like any console FPS you've come across in the past. The firing reticulse are wide and sloppy, the movement is comparatively lightening quick, and- limited to a maximum of 3 firing systems per mech (1 ballistic, 1 energy, and 1 missile) you'll find your strategy plays out more like Halo than Mercenaries.
           But is this bad? The answer, with out question, is absolutely not! Sure, it takes some adjustment, and there are sure to be some Battletech "purists" that will feel it strays to far from their pen and paper traditions, but for this monkey (who has, not-so-coincidentally, played every video and table top incarnation ever), it's a refreshing change of pace from the rather slow and methodical standard and really invigorates the property with some very entertaining speed and life. Strategy in this new vision revolves around two concepts: the right weapon and the right speed set for the way you want to do the job. Fortunately for the typical console gamer, who tend to gravitate towards an either lightening fast Unreal Championship feel or a more precise Ghost Recon kind of game, Mechassault offers a nice mixture of both for you to choose from. If you're a lightening, jerk reflex monkey the light mechs will be right up your alley and will let the difficulty of hitting you make up for your lack of offensive fire power while the assault mechs heavy hitting lets the more methodical gamers play an "every shot counts" type of match. All in all, it's a nice simple setup which manages, like few games I've ever seen, to let veteran players develop advanced, highly personalized strategies while remaining simple enough for newbies to jump in quickly and start playing right away. 4 out of 5

      Multiplayer and Replayability: All right, so I spent a page praising what I think is some great gameplay and fell luke warm on the graphics, but now we run into the part of the review where I get down right nasty. Multiplayer and Replayability- the place where Mechassault had no excuse but to shine, it takes a huge nose dive. But before we get into that, let's talk about what it's got going for it: Xbox Live. Yup, that's right- my monkeys, Mechassault is on line and lets you go both head to head and in teams with up to 7 other players in broadband heaven. It's tons of fun, if not very limited (more on that in a second), and several lost hours have been spent running my Belial around the map slagging all comers. I've also experienced fairly little lag and have never really had a problem finding other players. Sweet.
          Or, at least it would be, if the multiplayer set up wasn't so bloody ridiculous. To begin with, let's look at the game types: Deathmatch (called destruction), Team Deathmatch, and Not It (a kind of "hold the bacon" type game). Sure, added to that is a couple of other related types, but when you get right down to it that's all you get. Where's capture the flag? Where's assault? Where's any kind of objective based game? It's all totally about how many other mechs can you blow up, and that just plain sucks. Adding to that ludicrous morass is the fact that the Live component only tracks two stats: Kills and Deaths. Now, while to this monkey it's no big deal what number I rank on Live or what the end game report says about my score, but let me ask a general question for all of those that do: what do you think gets more kills- a light mech that takes 147 shots to down an opponent or an assault mech that takes 4? Or what about deaths: who dies more- a light mech that takes 3 shots to kill or an assault that takes dozens? That's right, spanky- the stats have absolutely nothing to do with skill or prowess, just with the number of times you made someone blow up. Add to that the complete lack of an assist rating or any other awareness of support actions and you've got a game that only rewards the person who gets the last shot in. This is simply and totally unbelievable- have we gone back to the days of Quake when all that mattered were frags? Of course Microsoft should know better, their own Mechwarrior series is littered with dozens of alternate ways to track progress- including a destruction type game that awards points based on relative damage. Plus, as if that wasn't enough, several of the mechs are just blatantly unbalanced. No, not to the point that there is any 1 super mech but definitely to the point that there's only 4 people generally play (and those 4 carry all the advantages). Thus, gone are the days of a "balanced lance" or of people willingly jumping into a "good for the team" type role, in general all you have is a bunch of people running out doing the best they can on their own and the play of team games really reflects that.
          Moving, then, past the actual play issues themselves, is the craptastically-crappy multiplayer lobby and friend system Mechassault has going for it. For starters, the lobby includes NO HOST CONTROLS WHAT-SO-EVER. Now, in case you don't understand why that's important, let's pretend you get an annoying 12 year old in your game who just wants to curse and scream over and over again at the top of his lungs (and, yes, this is a real life example). It'd be nice to kick that player, right? Well, too bad- you can't. Or what about the player that joined your game and has since gotten on the phone and refuses to either play or leave? Be nice to drop that idiot and free up the space for someone new, wouldn't it? Well, you can forget about that, too. There's also no way to force teams, force voice schemes, change game parameters once you've initiated a host, or force mech options. Really, the only power the host has is to say, "Well, I'm not launching until everyone does it my way" and I'll let you guess how well that works. Also dungariffic is the actual character ready screen, which includes nothing but the mech names in alphabetical order. So, if you want to make sure you get the right mech you'd better have all 20 memorized (each of the variants is recorded by a new name, not by it's original chassis) and their loadouts- since neither the game nor the instructions will bother to actually tell you.
          Now lets move on to the friend system: the idle, worthless, pointless friend system the included in Mechassault. Don't get me wrong, it does exactly what it promises: it lets you assign and invite friends. However, there's no additional support what-so-ever to facilitate making those things a reality. There's no way to communicate with people on your friends list to discuss when you might want to game with them, no time or relay to let them know that you want to play with them later on- there's just a pure and simple blind invite option. Thus, the only way you'll actually hook up with a friend is if they either happen not to be playing at the exact same time you happen to not be playing (and let me tell you how often that synchs up) or if they drop from a game they're currently in when they get your invite. There is also no "rematch" option, so if you've finished a game and want to play again with the same people you'll have to hunt and peck through all the games offered and hope there's still room left for everyone once you all find it. It's crap, it's worthless, and it's infinitely frustrating.
          But all that doesn't matter because, if it comes down to it, you can just play by yourself or with a buddy, right? Wrong. The single player "campaign" mode takes- to use a conservative estimate, a whole 4 hours to beat and includes nothing extra in the advanced difficulty modes, and the split screen multiplayer is limited to 1 other player and only has 1 silly ladder co-op mode that only includes 2 maps (how much fun does Microsoft really think it is to do a 1 on 1 deathmatch?).
          All in all, I probably could have been more disappointed in the multiplayer fairing from Mechassault- but not easily and not by much, and it baffles me that Microsoft thought this would be a winner. Sure, they're talking about downloadable content in the future (whenever that ends up being) and you get a good couple of hours of gaming from it, but barring a Halo Live upgrade or sports titles, this is the best Microsoft has had to offer on their own internet system. Ridiculous. 3 out of 5

      Story/Dramatics: Following its arcade game roots, the story mode is all about you being the only hope for saving first your comrades and then an entire planet. It's fairly bland and predictable, but the voice acting is above average the frustrated cries of your nemesis can be pretty entertaining. My only real gripe, aside from how incredibly brief it is, is that it's more of the "you against the world" gameplay that's been a staple ever since "Rush-n-Assault". 3 out of 5

      The Verdict:

       In the end, I really do enjoy playing Mechassault and will keep it handy…however that's more in hopes of what it will be after the downloads and updates than for what it is right now. As it stands, right now, if you have Live it will provide you with an average of a little under 10 hours of enjoyment before it gets very, very stale and, thus, is a good bet for a rental. Thus, until the updates, this game remains a far cry from any kind of a classic.

      The Good: Fun, fast paced game play, some pretty graphics, and essentially lagless online play!

      The Bad: A joke of a multiplayer scheme and applies most other aspects half assed at best.

      The Overall Ugly: Should have been great, ends up being luke warm. We'll see what the updates do for it.

      What it's Worth: Rental.

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