Final Glimpse: More mech mayhem? Marvelous!
Let's face it: mech games are just too damn fun. There's something about stomping around in a huge, funny-looking tank with legs and blasting the crap out of everything in sight that can make even the most mature, level-headed adult turn into an excitable giggly schoolboy. On the Xbox, MechAssault leads the pack with its frenetic run-and-gun goodness and insane Xbox Live smackdowns. Even hardened MechWarrior/Battletech players who initially scoffed at the arcade "dumbing down" of their beloved mech universe got caught up in the destructive fun. It was a simple game - you only needed to use two buttons and didn't have to worry about managing your mech - but that's what made it fun.
On the complete opposite end of the spectrum is Steel Battalion, the mech heavyweight champion - literally. Complete with a custom 40-button, three-pedal controller that was both massive in size and price, Steel Battalion was the ultimate simulator for those who enjoyed customizing, managing and maintaining their mech just as much as blowing up the enemy. It moved at a snail's pace compared to MechAssault, yet was quite overwhelming at times - especially when you were getting pummeled from all sides and were frantically trying to remember which angrily blinking buttons you had to push first. It was a very complex game that emphasized micromanagement as much as it did killing bad guys, but that's what made it pretty darn cool.
Both titles are the best mech games on any console, but polar opposites of each other. So wouldn't it be great if someone combined the fast paced arcade gameplay of MechAssault and the cool customization and look of Steel Battalion?
Tecmo and GameArts are attempting to do just that with the Xbox exclusive GunGriffon: Allied Strike, the latest edition in the successful mech franchise that originally debuted back on the Sega Saturn. Although they may not have purposefully tried to create a MechAssault/Steel Battalion love child, the preliminary DNA tests look suspiciously familiar.
Unlike American mech games, which have grand, epic story lines that take place in the distant future on far away planets, GG:AS takes a typical Japanese approach to its story. Like Steel Battalion, events take place on post-Apocalyptic Earth with various factions fighting for control of rapidly depleting resources. Rather than duke it out in the trenches with simple cheap tanks, each faction has created complex and expensive giant walking robots to kick each others' butts (which - if I may make a semi-humorous digression at the expense of my IT colleagues - illustrates what happens when you let engineers run the world rather than economists). Not surprisingly, it is up to you to give an evil greedy overlord some heavy metal lessons in manners.
The mechs - which in GG:AS are called High-MACS, for High-Mobility Armored Combat System - look nothing like the functional, technological designs of their American brethren. Instead, the High-MACS will look familiar to Steel Battalion players, with sleek, anthropomorphic designs reminiscent of samurai warriors in full battle gear.
The High-MACS are much smaller than the hulking multi-storey monsters we are used to, but are still formidable weapons. You will be armed with a main cannon, a secondary sub gun (usually a machinegun), rocket projectiles (RP) and anti-tank missiles (ATM). Like Steel Battalion, you can select from different variations of each weapon, but choose wisely because while picking the biggest guns may give you the biggest punch, they will also fire slower and have less ammo than something a little weaker. Unlike MA, your ammo will be limited and you will have to reload once your current magazine runs out. You also don't want to have a heavy trigger finger or run gung-ho into the thick of battle because the only means of replenishing your ammo and health will be through a supply helicopter that appears just once or twice per level.
Each High-MACS is rated in various categories, including weight, armor strength, speed, radar range (how far your radar can see) and stealth (how close you can get to an enemy before you show up on his radar). While only a few High-MACS have jump jets, all of them have rollerdash which, despite sounding like a bad 1970s action movie, is a turbo boost that enables you to sprint quickly across the ground for a limited amount of time.
Players will be able to easily switch from the default first-person cockpit view that looks much like Steel Battalion, to a third-person view that MA players will feel more comfortable with. The advantage of the former (other than looking cool) is that it displays crucial gauges that measures the damage taken to your head, body, arms and legs; take too much damage to the legs and you'll be limping target practice for the enemy. If the enemy takes your arms out, you'll lose your weapons, and too much damage to the head destroys your radar (not to mention make you want to see the next Charlie's Angels movie). The third-person perspective loses these gauges but it has a wider view of the battlefield, which will be critical because the action is promising to be quite intense.
The dozen or so missions vary from rescue/recovery, escort, and of course, seek and blow-the-poop-out-of-anything-that-moves. As the title of the game suggests, you will have allies at your side; after you select your High-MACS, you will then choose your computer-controlled teammate's High-MACS as well. Depending on the mission, you can have from one teammate up to a full squad of computer AI buddies fighting at your side. You will also be able to give them simple context-sensitive commands like move, attack or retreat using a point-and-click interface similar to Rainbow Six 3.
Battles will take place in jungle, desert and urban maps located in Burma, China, Uzbekistan, and other Asian countries. The smaller size of your High-MACS will make it easier for you to find cover in tall trees or behind buildings, giving you an opportunity to take a breather while you face enemy tanks, helicopters and evil High-MACS bent on turning you into a smoldering pile of scrap metal. Despite the Steel Battalion-like mechs and storyline, the gameplay is lifted straight from MA with fast and furious arcade action. It may not be quite as frenetic as MA but it is looking to be a lot more challenging; Japanese developers like testing gamers, and GG:AS will have plenty of moments where you will find yourself swarmed by trigger-happy enemies.
If you feel like the bad guys are a bit too much for your AI teammates, hop onto Xbox Live or System Link where you and three friends can team up for some strategic cooperative play. If you need a greater challenge, you can kill each other in eight-player adversarial modes, including standard deathmatch and team deathmatch.
Visually, the game doesn't match up with MA - at least not yet. The colors are a little drab, but that may be deliberate to fit with the dreary post-Apocalyptic environment. The frame rate in early builds was a bit choppy, but this should be cleaned up in the final product.