Game Review

MechAssault: Phantom War Review

Europe PAL Version

Posted by Michael Ryder

A stomping good game?

MechWarrior. You’ve got to love it. The very concept of stomping around in your own personal giant robot, crushing things underfoot and blowing things up really is the sort of thing we gamers live for. Go on, admit it: every one of you has at some point had ‘the MechWarrior fantasy’.

Up until 2002 however, the MechWarrior fantasy could only be lived through the PC, arguably the home of the ultimate MechWarrior experience. You really could spend days fine-tuning your mechs with all manner of customisable weapon load-outs, armour types and colour-schemes. Some people tune cars; others tune mechs.

Then came the year 2002 and with it the release of the first MechAssault game for Xbox. The MechAssault games saw a noticeable shift away from the ‘geeky’ MechWarrior games favoured by PC gamers across the land, in favour of fast-paced arcade-style gameplay, putting an end to the customisation and bringing about the advent of in-game power-ups. For the purists obviously the MechAssault games were a major step back from the whole ethos of the Battletech universe, but for the casual gamers out there the MechAssault games offered up an easy-access method of enacting that much-longed-for MechWarrior fantasy.

While it may have disillusioned some of its hardcore fan-base, things were going fairly well for the MechAssault games, until one fateful day in 2006, MechAssault came to the Nintendo DS.

It’s fair to say that the reception of MechAssault: Phantom War has been mixed to say the very least. On the one hand, the achievement of actually getting a mech game onto the portable format is something to be applauded, but on the other hand, many of you out there will be wondering why the developers bothered at all…

You play the game as Vallen Brice, a genius and Tech Warrant-turned-MechWarrior tasked with attempting the conversion of a Hyperpulse Generator for military engagement. For those of you unfamiliar with the workings of Hyperpulse Generators, they’re renowned as the pinnacle of interstellar communication and can therefore obviously be converted into some form of weapon.

The graphics – for any of you out there who haven’t had the chance to see MechAssault: Phantom War in action – are pretty bad. While the mechs themselves are rendered fairly reasonably for a portable platform, the landscape textures are so bland and simplistic that after about five minutes you'll get bored just looking at the game. It gets worse with the fact that the levels are so linear as to essentially force you to walk through a tunnel of surrounding mountains that carefully guide you wherever you need to go. You're left wondering why the developers didn’t realise that staring at badly-rendered mountains really doesn’t inspire you to even try and engage with the game.

For all its problems, Phantom War isn’t necessarily a bad game per se, it’s just dull. The controls – which would normally be a major gripe with a game such as this – aren’t too bad once you get used to them, but for some the difficulty curve prevents you even trying and enjoying the game. You don’t even get to pick a difficulty setting: you just start the campaign and take everything that the game can throw at you.

The difficulty level could be described as a great deal of one-sided battles weighted severely against you. Light mechs vs heavy mechs is never really a fair match-up at the best of times, but to throw this sort of match-up against a new player repeatedly in the early levels really doesn’t do too much to inspire the player to keep on playing.

Much has been made of the quality of the voice acting in Phantom War, but to be honest, it’s nothing special. At the end of the day all the voices tell you is to continue down set path A to set point B and blow things up on the way. You don’t even need to listen to the audio instructions to know where you have to go or what you have to do – the not-so-cleverly designed mountains funnel you to where you need to go anyway! Even if you do happen to love the voice acting and the storyline, the boring landscapes and monotonous linear pathing will just make you want to switch off. It really is hard to justify this game even to the most die-hard of MechWarrior fans when it's just so dreary and uninspiring.

Conclusion

MechAssault: Phantom War really should be a much better game than it is. Though there is some small amount of fun to be had in indulging your mech-control dreams and engaging in a reasonable FPS on the DS, the game itself is intrinsically dull and uninspired. The story is confused, there is absolutely no reason to engage with any of the characters and at the end of the day it’s obvious the whole thing was bodged together to give an excuse to go around blowing things up. The MechWarrior franchise can, and has been, so much more than ‘just blowing things up’. Unfortunately in this instance, MechAssault: Phantom War really does fail to live up to its illustrious roots.

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User Comments (20)

JayArr

#1

JayArr said:

Well I won't be picking this one up. There are a lot better mech games out there.

longtimegamer

#5

longtimegamer said:

Wow. I had to look at other reviewer scores on Metacritic, because I thought it was supposed to be a decent game (haven't played yet) and found out out that this, at least, did indeed have a good or decent score from some other reviewers. It's interesting how something can get such good scores by some reviewers, but somehow suck to some. (still got to read the whole review though). I'll more than likely still be getting this when i can find one with book and case around here.

longtimegamer

#6

longtimegamer said:

@everyone so far: This reviewer gave this a 4, but some others gave it higher: 70s and some 80s. Sounds like you are juat blindly taking one persons opinion as the end all opinion. You should look at many reviews to get a better idea how different people feel about it. Apparently some actually enjoyed it a bit more than Michael did (no offense Michael.)

@Michael: I know there are things that you didn't like about this, but what did you like? Also (I already found out), but for people who haven't played this, how many playable mech/vehicles are there? There was vehicle hyjacking too, how was that? What about multiplayer? In piloting the mechs did they handle differently? What's the replay value? Is there any re0lay value in the main game?

CanisWolfred

#7

CanisWolfred said:

Man I loved this game! Solid TPS for the DS, don't see those too often. The controls were solid, the action was intense, the Mechs were fun to use, and some of the missions are simply epic! Plus, since I never got an Xbox original, I never got to play the console games in the series(only the crappy Mechwarrior games on the PC, bleck!:P), so at least I got a taste of what I was missing out on. I never did get to beat it, though, some of the later missions were pretty tough. I'll have to try again someday.

I'll admit, it does skimp on the extra modes and stuff, and it really could've used an online multiplayer mode, so the replay value is kinda stinted. However, the difficulty kinda adds to it, which is good, IMO.

@Longtimegamer

It's called "taste", everybody has it, and everybody's is different.

But I do agree that, if people really feel they need to go off of reviews, they should at least read multiple reviews, instead of just one. And I mean read them, too, not just look at the stupid, meaningless scores.

longtimegamer

#8

longtimegamer said:

MickeyYea: Yeah I know about opinions. Just made the comment. I THOUGHT some people liked it, thats why I looked at metacritic to check (I'd been wanting to get this sometime). And yes it's wise to read more than one review before you dismiss or buy something. That's what I was trying to impress in them. It's annoying to see someone not try a game based on one persons review. Like you said, Its a matter of taste, and if they are wise they'll realize this and not take it as law that they will or willnot like it based on one persons opinion.

Edit: I've played both the XBOX ones. Good games in my opinion. Thanks for your feeling on the ds game too. Nice to know you enjoyed it.:)

longtimegamer

#10

longtimegamer said:

@Mickeymac: not to say that I might have not downloaded a game based off one review or none at all (I probably have), but you take your chances doing so.

MJRyder

#12

MJRyder said:

@longtimegamer: Certainly there are going to be some people out there who like this game - I guess that's why this review has triggered so many varied responses. As a TPS for the DS, the game is solid enough, however the problems I outlined in my main review do alot to detract from what should be a fun shooter on a portable system. In response to some of your other questions, firstly I would say there was an impied comment on replayability in that the game is so dull, just playing it through once was enough for me! Sure, some people out there will get some enjoyment out of it, and there will always be the hardcore fanbase that won't hear a bad word said about the MW series, but as a long-time 'oldschool' MW fan myself, I found myself bitterly disappointed.

Regarding scores:
1. This game came out in 2006. I write this review now in 2009, looking at the game with a 2009 perspective. I think given that the DS has moved on somewhat since 2006, you might well expect something of a lower score than you might if I had written this in 2006.
2. This point gets brought up alot on here, but it needs restating as often as possible: here on NL, we strictly class 5 as average. Many games sites (for reasons beyond my comprehension) seem to see 6 or 7 as average. When reading the scores I give games, I start off with a score of 5 in mind and then adjust accordingly given whether my experience was positive or negative. Sure, the TPS mechanic was a positive influence on my score, but the graphics, linearity, plot and difficulty were negative influences. Please don't think I was just 'going off on one' with my review - I really did want MW:PW to be a good game!

longtimegamer

#13

longtimegamer said:

@MJRyder: Thanks for responding. I get that you were disappointed in it, possibly more so because your a fan and possibly feel that these games should be up to a certain standard. You thought it was boring, so, that's your opinion. As you said there may be others who will like it, and as someone else said everyone has different tastes. A problem i had was that this review seemed overwelmingly negetive. You said, "the game is solid enough". Ok, so how is it solid?
Sorry to sound like I'm getting on you. I'm just pointing out that the main thing that I got from this review was that you thought it was boring and hard (and you did say why), but it it would have nice to see some of the positives.
I know I wanted people to know that some people had a different opinion. I do think that it was good (for you) to warn people about the parts that may turn them off, though, but basically the only positive comment (sort of) I read about this game was the controls. (see what I'm saying?) You say "it isn't a bad game per say" and "the game is solid enough", *Well...How is it solid? What makes it not a "bad game per say"? You don't really get anything from this that supports these statement in your review. It's frustrating because, if it does have some redeeming qualitys its not really shown in the review, though the negatives are abundently clear.

  • (Sorry to sound like a rant. Just wanted to point out some of these things.*
    one more thing: What would you have rated this when it came out? That might be helpful. (no sarcasm).
    Thanks for your reply in advance.
    Actually, one MORE thing, I'm not going to keep doing this to you, so don't worry. I think I got out what I wanted to say. I hope you take some of this feedback in a possitive way. Hope it helps. Reviewings hard. I'm not sure how I'd fair at it. (It took me a loooooong time (and some revisions) just in my last reply to you.
    Thanks for reviewing this. I need to find a copy that's in good shape. I'll take my chances with this if it's cheap.

PS: I could erase this, if you like, after you see it. Just ask. :) Would pribably have been better to be able to reply to this privately.
By the way....did you get rid of this game?

MJRyder

#14

MJRyder said:

It's fine - I'd rather have this discussion here, as it means people can read my expanded comments on my review. You have to remember of course that we have a strictly limited word count, so it's hard to fit absolutely everything in while keeping it interesting, relevant and easy to read :p

My point in that it was 'solid enough' meant specifically the gameplay dynamics - ie the game as a TPS. The controls are pretty good considering this is a game on the DS - a system not really designed with FPS/TPS primarily in mind. In terms of other positives... one of the few plus points I would put in this area is that the game doesn't really stagnate in terms of mech variety. You certainly do change between mechs quite a bit - even doing so 'mid-level' at times, getting out of your mech and getting into another one. In the above review I never really mentioned this as this small positive seems to me almost an irrelevance when I found myself just sitting there gritting my teeth and the steep learning curve early-on, wondering all the while why on earth I was bothering when the game offered me very little incentive to actually continue playing it.

To be honest if you find it at a bargain price, then it might be worth a look if you think you might be in to this sort of thing. As a full-price game though, it's definately not worth it, even if you're the world's biggest MW fan.

[And off topic: I was fortunate enough that I was able to borrow a copy of MW:PW from my housemate so didn't have to spend any money on actually purchasing it.]

longtimegamer

#15

longtimegamer said:

Well At least you didn't waste any money on it. :)
You've been pretty decent about this. Sorry if I may have been less so. Maybe I should have said nothing, or said it in a more diplomatic way.
Thanks for both of your responses. :)

Sprace_Bot

#17

Sprace_Bot said:

its too bad it has a bad rating cuz the PC version was awsomesauce and I only wish that this one was too...

Supereor

#20

Supereor said:

I asked my mom for this last year thinking I could enjoy a totally awesome, handheld andmech-toting experience and relive the joyful days of when I was just a little 4-year old, staying up at nights to play demos of Psychonauts, MechAssault, and Spongebob on our Xbox(I didn't grow up on Nintendo Classics), but no, instead, I got a dull, heavily flawed experience on on my DSi XL that I could barely play, special thanks to the game's difficulty.

Thanks a lot, Majesco Entertainment. Thanks a lot.

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