MechAssault was a fun, but pretty simple game. Using a variety of Mechs you mowed down wave after wave of enemies. This was entertaining in small bursts, but became a little repetitive. The game was also one of the first titles to use Xbox Live, giving it far more longevity than the single player campaign would suggest. While MechAssault 2 adds some new elements into the mix, it is really more of the same.
Let's get something out of the way. There is a story in MechAssault 2, but it is told in a poor way, with poor cutscenes and some poor voice acting. So, we've established that it's poor, but does it really matter? You play Mechwarrior, a guy who can drive any Mech, looks hard and is generally a badass. He wouldn't care about a story, and you won't either. This game is all about action and the pauses just get in the way.
For those that haven't played the first game, MechAssault 2 plays like a standard third person shooter and features none of the modification and upgrades that more tactical Mech games offer. Anyone wanting an in depth Mech game should look elsewhere (The armored core series might be a good start) as there is nothing but pure action to be found here. Unlike Mech games that have a Simulator approach to gameplay, this can be played by anyone. Whether this simplicity is a good thing will be up to you.
The big new addition to this sequel is the ability to wander around outside of your Mech and jack other Mechs. While it sounds good in practice, wandering around on foot leaves you open to instant death, should you be targeted by a Mech, and with only remote charges at your disposal you have little in the way of protection. More risky players will find some fun in sneaking around planting charges, attempting to place them in the patrol paths of Mechs, but other than forced sections, you're better of staying in your Mech.
Some attempt has been made to add variety to the missions, with numerous boss fights, escort missions and more, but it is never enough to break out of the mould. The real problem with the game is its plodding speed. Mechs may be huge powerful killing machines, but they don't move very fast. Battles end up being about who is quickest at pummelling the other Mech with their weaponry, rather than being anything to do with outsmarting the enemy. The only time the game has any real speed, normally associated with an action game, is when you are in your BattleArmor. This suit is basically an extension of your character, giving you a jet boost and some armour. You can zip around the maps with the kind of speed you wish the Mechs had, making your return to a Mech rather unwanted.
Other new additions to the game seem tacked on, with no real use for them. In your BattleArmor you can clamp onto walls (only set walls) and also jack into enemy Mechs. In the entire game I can't remember using the wall clamp on more than two occasions, and while Mech Jacking is good in theory, I found I only did this when it was absolutely necessary. Jacking is performed by clamping onto your targeted Mech and entering a number of button presses that correspond to onscreen instructions. If you fail to press the correct buttons your jack fails and you are thrown off.
With recent Xbox games really showing what the console is capable off visually, MechAssault 2 is a little disappointing, offering somewhat of a mixed bag. On the one hand you have the superb Mech models, stunning weapon effects, great character models, structural damage that betters the first game, and moments where the screen is filled with so many explosions that you wonder how anything has survived. The rock soundtrack also helps keep excitement levels up during these intense all action moments.
On the other, less cared for hand, you'll find a lot of dull ugly textures, draw-in, an occasionally chugging framerate and monotonous landscapes. While you will be busy blasting Mechs and other enemies for most of your time, seeing a ship that could have been modelled by a five year old isn't a pretty site. Environments also seem very sterile, with a very clean look, lacking any real atmosphere. Games like Halo 2 raised the bar, and MechAssault 2 struggles to reach that level.
Even with its problems, MechAssault 2 is still entertaining. Blowing things up never loses its appeal, and driving giant Mechs - even if they are slow - is fun, even if little has changed since the first game. Anyone wanting a simple game to blast through over a weekend could do worse than pick up MechAssault 2, but with a campaign that lasts less than ten hours, offline only gamers may be left wanting more.
Those of you who do have Xbox Live will find that the heart of the game lies in its online component. Offering a plethora of game modes, online play provides fans of the campaign with, potentially, an endless amount of entertainment. Not content with purely offering the standard modes found in console online shooters, the developers have introduced a massively online game mode, of sorts. While not truly offering the kind of vast number of players in one environment, as found in a game like Planetside, Conquest mode gives the game a persistent game world, which players can help shape. You chose the noble house you want to fight for, and then go online to help that house win territory. This mode offers a real reason to keep playing the game online, if the standard modes and their stat tracking aren't enough for you. Taking control of a new planet becomes quite addictive, and with different game modes being played, depending on the planet, you can get a varied gameplay experience.
If there is one problem with the online play it is with the competition you face. Seeing as the game has been available in North America since late December, a lot of players are already pretty good at the game and won't tolerate new players getting in the way of their victories. This makes finding clan members hard and finding friends to play with tricky. I'm sure this will change when more Europeans get game in February, hopefully making the online experience a bit friendlier to newcomers.
It is clear that MechAssault 2 will please fans of the first game, especially those that really got into its online game modes, but it does little to change the minds of those who disliked its simplistic and slow gameplay. The new additions seem like they have been tacked on as some way to differentiate itself from the original game, so while they show signs of promise, they are under used and quite disappointing.