XCHOOM's biggest foes yet show their faces, but keep their cards close to their chests.
When the Xbox was still a PC quickly shoved into a large, green box, and before Microsoft had fully established themselves as a game company, anything went. That original Xbox, and even the Xbox 360, saw a lot of test balloon titles get released. Generally, these were games and genres you’d never expect to see on an America-focused console. Among the many attempts to find an audience was a shining mech-shaped beacon. Like a lighthouse to a stranded ship, MechAssault was the big badass robot game I was looking for. Nearly 14 years later I need another one. We need more MechAssault.
I have nothing against more typical mech management games, like Capcom’s original Xbox mech entry Steel Battalion, that focus on power systems and repairs as much as combat. MechAssault just didn’t want to do that. The first title, released in 2002, was very focused. It wanted to place you inside a mech, shove you off on different missions, and allow you to squash buildings, battle other mechs, and generally cause destruction. Sure, there was a story – based on the BattleTech universe of all things – but what really mattered was that hot mech action. While the original MechAssault brought an arcade feeling to a generally complicated genre, MechAssault 2: Lone Wolf was where the series perfected its form.
MechAssault 2 has the balls to let you get out of your mech. Your character is suited up in power armor and given distinct tools that, somehow, giant metal machines with rocket launchers don’t have. While your buddies are battling it out, you can hitch a ride on their shoulders, or try and hijack an enemy’s mech, or just hop into your own. It made every battle in the campaign and multiplayer feel very different than the original. Mechs you grabbed at the start of battles could be abandoned in favor of something more fitting to who or what you were fighting. Mech too heavy and slow? Ditch it and suit up in a swift-moving mech. Don’t have the firepower you need to outgun your opponents? Ditch that little thing and get into something thick and powerful.
If power armor and big mechs aren’t your thing, MechAssault 2 also introduced drivable tanks and flyable VTOLs. The tanks were smaller and more maneuverable, and could easily annoy a distracted mech pilot; whereas the VTOLs could quickly transport mech pilots in and out of battle. Mechs still felt like real threats but it didn’t make these extra vehicles feel useless either. The right use of mechs, tanks, VTOLs, and power armor gave MechAssault 2 a distinct flavor. Years later, a return to this formula could still feel fresh with just a bit of iteration and modern updates.
However, a third console MechAssault might not be so easy. The developers behind both MechAssault games, Day 1 Studios, is now called Wargaming West, under which they work on the successful World of Tanks. Assuming Microsoft still owns the MechAssault IP, they might hit a snag with trading card company Topps. Topps grabbed the BattleTech license and still lends it out for games, but there hasn’t been a MechAssault title since a DS release in 2006. Instead, Topps is focusing on MechWarrior, including the upcoming MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries, coming sometime this year. That’s a lot of ducks to line up just to push out a sequel to an arcade-like mech series most people don’t remember.
I need to jump back into some big mechs and do damage. I need to fire off salvos of missiles and powerful futuristic laser cannons. Not every mech title needs to emulate the fighting game speed of Virtual On or the attempt at realism in Steel Battalion (unless we get this wonderful controller again). I may not be alone with my MechAssault desire. In 2015 Phil Spencer responded to a tweet saying “a MechAssault/MechCommander linked game across PC and Xbox would be great,” but they weren’t working on one. Maybe now is the time. Maybe Phil can fulfill my dreams, and maybe I’ll be driving a big boy mech soon enough.