AI Gaming

Mechy Xmas

Hello Ortegamers! Winter is really starting to make itself felt where I am, so I thought I’d write a few words on what I’ve been playing to insulate myself from the blues.

Playing now: MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries 

The MechWarrior games are another of these institutions I admit I didn’t have much insight into because I’ve never been a tabletop-gaming guy. The whole thing is based on the tabletop game of Battletech in which people use dice and rulers and such to decide the outcomes of tactical battles between mighty, treetop-scraping combat mechs.

The universe offers an expansive, well-thumbed catalogue of mechanical monstrosities, factions with their own intrigues and a whole alternative future-history of humanity’s spread amongst the stars. So, the question is: how did all this pass somebody with my predilection for sci-fi worlds by for so long?

Rest assured that the current iteration of these games is excellent. Opening as it does with a hilariously cheesy operatic soundtrack, MechWarrior 5 tells the player they’re in for some seriously heavy metal from the very beginning. It puts you in the command seat of any number of battle mechs, gives you a company of guns-for-hire to manage, then lets you roam around in a rendering of the universe in your mercenary combat dropship looking for a payday among the intractable factional conflicts, or following the scripted campaign missions.

Heavy-metal mech battles galore

Find a mission, then choose your squadron of mechs for the fight, and the game puts you into the core loop of a lance commander’s hotseat as enemy mechs, tanks and gunships smash one another to pieces with a wide variety of weaponry.

It’s this core loop that really shines, of course. The sense of meting out wide-scale destruction is outstanding – well rendered, both sonically and graphically – and the bigger battles soon descend into riots of smoke, fire, collapsing buildings and nuclear-reactor detonations from that well placed alpha-strike. You’ll be wincing as a salvo of 40 missiles grates away half your armour and flinching as a PPC slug removes the arm on which you were relying as the housing for your main autocannon.

MechWarrior 5 shot
The modding community for MechWarrior 5 has hugely enhanced the game

The longer-term gameplay is found in the customisation of your death-dealing behemoths in the mechbay, as well as the acquisition of ever-better models and weapons from battlefield salvage and the games markets. This whole area can also be vastly improved on PC with additions from the game-changing mod scene that exists for the game – I’ll be writing some further posts on this, too.

Finally, the game features cooperative play something akin to State Of Decay 2, where your friends can jump in and work as pilots for your company. What’s not to like?

The game is old enough to be found on sale on Steam and I highly recommend picking it up if you feel like dealing some serious damage every once in a while.

Forthcoming Attractions

Heart Of The Machine (due 2023)

Heart Of The Machine screen
Play a benign or malevolent future AI in this forthcoming city builder

A friend pointed this one out to me via Steam a little while ago, and it was an insta-wishlist for me. It’s one of the most intriguing concepts I’ve seen in a long time, and perfect for us sci-fi lovers, so I’m just going to post the first few lines of the description:

Heart Of The Machine is a near-future sci-fi colony city-builder in reverse – you are the first sentient Machine Intelligence in an established world, rather than starting from nothing.”

Now, I have a soft-spot for a city builder anyway (see my thoughts on the mighty Surviving Mars here, but the central conceit seems to be the choice between acting as a benign AI working for the good of humanity, or an uncaring Skynet that subjugates the puny humans with your very own Judgment Day. God Emperor Rust would approve.

The game is due next year, and sounds like an intriguing mix of real-time strategy, city building and massive moral quandaries. Get it on your wishlist now, if I were you.

Infection Free Zone (due 2023)

A shot from an early version of Infection Free Zone

You know how I am about a zombie game by now, right? Well, this one is set to be published by the makers of 112 Operator, a game which simulates being a dispatcher for emergency services using real map data from any town or city in the world. And Infection Free Zone is that, but the zombie-survival version.

A major gaming Holy Grail of mine is State Of Decay, but playable in the geography of real places and it looks like this forthcoming RTS might go some of the way to satisfying that. Plus, I’ve played the aforementioned 112 Operator and the link to places you know in reality really makes the gameplay that bit more compelling.

The game went into alpha in October after successfully kickstarting a while ago, and lists an April 2023 launch date, so looks like it’s an opportunity to back a smaller developer and maybe clear the swarm from your town’s favourite landmark.

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