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A classic Star Wars tale.
Kyle Katarn first popped up on the Star Wars scene during "Star Wars: Dark Forces", a rather innovative first person shooter made by Lucasarts some 10 years ago. We learn that it was Kyle Katarn who delivered the Death Star schematics to the rebellion. During his first time in the spotlight, he stopped the Empire's plot to create the next generation of super troopers, called that Dark Trooper project.
Kyle returned two years later in Dark Forces 2 to avenge his father and stop the Dark Jedi Jerec and his acolytes from discovering the hidden Valley of the Jedi. Katarn learned to use the force and confronted the Dark Jedi and his 6 minions and was able to stop them, but Kyle nearly turned to the Dark Side in the process. He turned in his Lightsaber and returned to his mercenary ways with his trusted companion Jan Ors.
Several years passed and Kyle returned in Jedi Outcast. While working on a mission for the New Republic, Kyle stumbles onto a plot which will surely mean the end of the New Jedi Order and the New Republic. To save the galaxy, Kyle must once again relearn to master the force to be able to confront the new Dark Jedi, Desann. But can he wield the force safely without falling to the Dark Side forever? One of the best story driven first person shooters available today. Even if you are not an avid fan of the Star Wars franchise, you will love this game.
MechWarrior 4: Mercenaries (2002)
Grand in scale, small in play-time value.
The latest in Mechwarrior combat for the PC platform. This time you align yourself with one of the great Mercenary Companies through a sponsorship program. Northwind Highlanders, Wolf Dragoons, Gray Death Legion, Kell Hounds... all of these Mercenary Companies have certain benefits when you join them, like early access to Clan weaponry and 'Mech chassis, or better payment plans.
Set against the height of the Federated-Commonwealth (Fed-Com) Civil War, you take on various contracts around the Inner Sphere. You'll fight for various houses and in different realms, but eventually you'll have to choose which side in the civil war will support, either Prince Victor on the Davion side, or Archon Katrina on the Steiner side. Luckily the conflict isn't that black or white, since there are four endings to the game. The others involve you joining Vladimir Wards Crusader Clan Wolf, or you claiming a large base on Canton.
The game takes you through the highlights of the Civil War as described in the Battletech novels, as well as Solaris VII, the gaming world. There you can compete in the Arenas fighting for cold hard cash. Placing first makes you the most money, and for each kill you score you gain a cash bonus of 200.000 C-Bills. It's tempting to go all out in each round, but doing so makes it hard to see it all the way to the top, the Grand Championship. Each round you fight you can dedicate your victory to either House Steiner or House Davion, or decide to remain neutral. The Solaris Championships are a good way to raise a lot of cash, especially since there are no extra costs in the terms of paying the salary of your pilots, or maintenance on your 'Mechs.
If not for the Solaris games, the game would be really short. The missions are certainly varied, but at times the game can get tedious. Replaying the game after you finished it with one Mercenary sponsor is only for the die-hard fan, I can't imagine a regular gamer wanting to go through all of it, and especially Solaris, more than twice.
A final note, since the franchise shifted from the clutches of Activision, there seems to be a much smaller role for background events. In the Mechwarrior 2 series, which was in comparison a true simulation of 'Mech combat as described in the books, in between missions you were treated on the large scale events through news feeds. Ranging from local news, weapon development and galactic events, players got a fairly good idea on how large the Battletech universe really is. This has been downplayed during the later games. In Mercenaries, this tradition is once more picked up, although not as in depth as the earlier games. It's good to see some traditions making a comeback.
Right were Vengeance left off.
It's months after Mechwarrior IV Vengeance. While Kentares IV seems distant, your Merc Company is soon called upon to confront Ian Dressari (the very same YOU played in Vengeance) and end his reign.
Whatever ending you choose in Vengeance, it ended up with your sister in charge. Suddenly she died under suspicious circumstances and servants close to the Dressari family are quick to point out Ian Dressari was behind it, wanting the family throne for itself. A bloody civil war starts leaving thousands homeless, or dead. The Black Knight Mercenary Company steps in to deal with the situation.
Which follows is a story full with treachery and a noble quest to free the beleaguered people of Kentares IV from Ian Dressari. With the aid of old familiars from the original you are sure to bring him down.
The expansion basically gives a few more maps and 'Mechs to play with.
MechWarrior 4: Vengeance (2000)
Too cartoony for it's setting.
Most players I've met who played through the original games, found Mechwarrior IV too cartoony. Especially compared to the texturing on the 'Mechs in Mechwarrior III. The terrain, however, is far superior to any of it's predecessors. Right and vibrant, with wild life and dense forests, the eye candy is here alright.
The game is set after Operation Bulldog, during the Federated Commonwealth Civil War, which is the ending chapter in the Battletech storyline.
The player plays the last of the Dressari family, the ruling house of Kentares IV. Your family was butchered by Steiner loyalists, and you are out for revenge. Although you once were considered the 'black sheep' of the family, your choice of becoming a Mechwarrior comes in handy. A few loyal servants of your house side with you and aid you in your quests to dethrone your cousin, crush his army and reclaim your place as the rightful ruler.
That is, until your sister is found.
Here is where it gets interesting. During the final stages of the game you get the choice if you want to help your sister and put her on the throne, or get a cache of high tech weapons and claim it for yourself.
Whatever the outcome, the story continues in the expansion pack.
MechWarrior 3 (1999)
Into the hart of Clan Smoke Jaguar territory.
While in Mech Commander the player commands a whole unit in an effort to recapture Port Arthur, a planet which has been occupied by the ruthless Clan Smoke Jaguar, Mechwarrior 3 takes you to Clan Space, light years beyond the known space of the Inner Sphere.
Operation Bulldog is all about showing the Clans that the Inner Sphere, although technologically inferior to the Clans, are more than a match for any of the best Clan Mechwarriors. To this end, the fiercest of the invading Clans has been targeted for utter annihilation.
As part of a deep strike force, you are to land on the planet Huntress, a Smoke Jaguar home world, and round up the last of their leaders to make sure the Smoke Jaguar threat is ended once and for all. One of their commanders however, won't go down with a fight.
As in true Battletech style, your lance is one of the few who survived their landing approach, you'll have to scavenge and salvage if you want to see it through to the end. On the way, other Mechwarriors who survived the disastrous landfall join up and eventually you'll lead a full Battlemech lance into combat.
Almost every mission has you taking out strategic positions. Be they above or under ground, or even inside a Geothermal power plant.
As a Mechwarrior game, this has been the first and only who showed fairly realistic damage and weapon effects, as well as good texturing on the 'Mechs itself. The terrain, however, was very dull. One of my favorites concerning 'Mech sounds and weapon effects. As a player, you really get the feeling that you are piloting an awesome weapon of war, towering high above most vehicles. The music, however, was very, very dull.
MechWarrior 2: Mercenaries (1996)
Another Mechwarrior 2, but one far darker than the previous episodes.
This game is actually the fourth installment in the Mechwarrior 2 series. 31st Century Combat, Ghost Bear's Legacy and 8 Player Pack all focused on the Clan sides in the Clan-Inner Sphere conflict, this game makes you switch sides.
You are a Mercenary, a Mechwarrior who fights for only one thing: the almighty C-Bill. You do not care about politics, your job is to get the job done and cash in a fat paycheck.
The game opens with a FMV showing you how your Merc Company's CEO is killed in action while on mission in the Draconis Combine. This gives you the choice: Do you start your own Merc Company, or do you sign up with an existing one? If you join an existing Merc company, you tag along a preset line of missions, this is perfect for players who are new to the game. On your missions you will be accompanied by squad members and pay will be less.
It gets a lot more interesting when you take on the role of Merc Company CEO yourself. Now YOU choose the contract, now YOU buy new Mech's and hire new pilots. Don't forget, spending your money foolishly may leave your little enterprise bankrupt, and even so much as changing a weapon on a chassis costs a lot of money.
The tone of the game is much darker. Story wise it's set just before the Clan invasion of 3050. Throughout the earlier missions, the news terminals on Outreach (the Merc home planet) display news on major events in the Inner Sphere. Now and then, it gives hints at which contracts are the most profitable. From the start, there are vague rumors of pirates on the core ward periphery which leave only destruction in it's wake and there seems to be no survivors who can claim if these rumors are false or not. The more you advance, the more is known about the grand threat. Eventually it will take you to the greatest battles in Battletech History, like the battle lines on the Draconis Combine home world of Luthien against the invading Clans.
A very good SF Mech game, with good plot. It even gets better when the 3d Accelerator upgrade is installed.
A decent expansion, with a few new toys to play with.
In Ghost Bear's Legacy, players once more return to the 31st century combat theater. Although not as lengthy as the original, the game is more story driven, instead of separate missions. The soundtrack is largely the same as in the original, with a few new themes that suit the new playable Clan.
The game takes you all over the Clan occupied territories of the Inner Sphere, where you must find out who is behind the attacks on your Clan. In between missions, the player is treated on several cut scenes of Dropships and Jumpships travelling between the various systems within the Inner Sphere.
An excellent game, with an excellent soundtrack.
One of the first games I bought for the PC, 31st Century Combat is THE game that sparked my love for anything Battletech related, and game soundtracks. Fighting as a Clan Mechwarrior, you battle a rival clan for the fate of the Inner Sphere. Although the eventual outcome of the conflict has no basis in Battletech literature, it does give you a good impression of Clan life.
In between missions, players are treated to a wealth of information which is based on the Battletech novels and source books. Add to that an extensive library in the Clan archives which players can access in the main Clan Hall, and no new-comer to the series can ever complain about the fact that they have no clue as to what this game is all about.
I must note that the soundtrack, by Jeehun Hwang and Gregory Alper, is a true masterpiece, and won an award for best soundtrack. The soundtrack can be played on a regular CD player, which was kind of a novelty at the time. I still play the music on my iPod.
All in all, a superb game.