It really is a great time to be a nostalgic old person. If there was a TV show, a movie, a video game or a book you loved as a kid, there's a studio out there somewhere remaking, re-imagining and recycling your childhood love into something modern.
Oh, and have you noticed? Almost all of them fall flat on their faces.
Well... not to immediately go back on what I've literally just said or anything, but I'm going to go immediately back on what I've literally just said. Because it seems that as more and more old classics are rammed ungracefully through this nostalgia-fueled meatgrinder, they're occasionally getting less awful. For every movie with a scene as agonising as "Oh, it's funny because you're Starsky and Hutch in the remake, and we're Starsky and Hutch from the original, so let's just stare at each other meaningfully for a few minutes", there's a Star Wars Rogue One that just... gets it. For every lukewarm Alien Breed ripoff, there's a Shadowrun Returns that treats the subject material with respect and maturity.
When Paradox, the world's most awesome publishers of complicated games announces a title by the Shadowrun Returns folks based on the lore-heavy, early-90s-cool world of Battletech, I had high hopes that this was another successful resurrection.
And I'm not one to beat about the bush. It is, for the most part. Giant robots that bear more than a passing resemblance to Transformers, belt the living heck out of each other with lasers, rains of missiles and their massive steel fists. It is a world of violently-forged portmanteaus, where BattleTech MechWarriors use JumpShips to transport their DropShips. In terms of genre, it's safely ensconced in the world of TurnBased SquadShooters.
Of course, the squads in question are comprised 60-ton metal monstrosities who crush buildings underfoot with nary a comment. For some reason (almost certainly the rule of cool), these robotic beasts are piloted by onboard humans rather than obviously much more sensible remote control, so you're not just trying to keep the mech itself alive, but also the onboard squishy.
In terms of strategy... well. I played many, many hours by selecting the heaviest mech I could, equipping one with long-range missiles and leaving him at the back while all of the others just charged the enemy in a frontal assault, acting as kind of berserk forward observers. This direct approach worked a charm in all but a few cases. Despite some interesting maps there's little in the way of cover - perhaps understandably, seeing as how it's hard to hide a 10-metre tall juggernaut of fiery destruction. But still, other than a few forests that do precious little and a couple of hills that can break line of sight, cover and terrain are underused. Which is why combat is so often a straight-up slugfest. There are many, many different mission types available for your mercenary band but when all's said and done, pretty much all of them can be completed by killing all of the enemy mechs and vehicles. In fact, in most cases, you get a bonus on your pay if you do just that, so the exciting feeling of rushing your beleaguered mechs to the evac point under heavy fire is almost never achieved, replaced over and over with direct combat confrontations.
That said, BattleTech is not a game that can be said to suffer from lack of choice. Outside of combat there are leveling choices to be made for your human MechWarriors, load-outs to tweak and refit on your mechs, shipboard systems to improve, and even Paradox-trademark random 'choose-your-own-adventure' events. In fact, these choices can have as much influence in the combat theatre as your tactics themselves. That said, there are a number of hard constraints on what weapons you can put where on a given mech, regardless of its overall tonnage, and while this is probably in keeping with the source material and therefore faithful to the original miniatures game, the GD staff couldn't help but feel that allowing us to just go crazy with our imaginations and build weird and wonderful combinations of weapons and equipment on any given mech, up to its weight limit would have allowed for more creativity and unusual tactical solutions.
BattleTech could maybe have benefited from a couple more months in development. Load times are stunningly long considering the game's relative simplicity, and sometimes the mechs look and move a little clunky. I know they're giant robots so clunky is sort of appropriate, but even so, a little more work could have made it much sweeter to see. Knocking a mech over on a pile of rocks often causes almost the entire thing to vanish into the scenery. Aside from that, though, there aren't any huge bugs to complain about.
The story develops at the player's pace, allowing you as much time as you like to lark around the galaxy, taking on random contracts and building up cash and equipment reserves until you're ready for the next main mission. At first, you're acutely aware of your cash-strapped status, heavily in debt to the bank and unable to really progress very far under a heavy financial burden. Once this clears up, though, money takes on a secondary importance to snagging the right equipment and mech parts to supplement your mercenary team.
When I heard that Paradox and Harebrained were doing Battletech, I expected great things. What I got was... a good thing. Perhaps not actually GREAT in the traditional sense, but fun enough despite its load times and tactical simplicity and clunky graphics and animation. When you punch a mech hard enough that its laser-cannon-equipped arm flies off, or hammer a rain of missiles from the sky into a giant robot and cause its core to explode in a fireball, it's satisfying and lovely. A little more slickness and tactical depth might not have hurt. But overall, I found my time in the cockpit of a giant doom robot to be quite a giggle.