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City of Brass Review - Hidden Treasure

Game Spot Reviews - Thu, 05/03/2018 - 18:00

City of Brass opens with an ominous warning about the many dangers lurking within its cursed city, before dropping a tantalizing tease of incredible wealth should you manage to overcome all of its obstacles. You play as a thief trying to reach the mythical treasure through endless foes and dangerous traps, and if you're able to overlook some technical and presentation shortcomings, there's a lot of fun to be had with City of Brass's thoughtful combat and first-person dungeon crawling.

City of Brass is a roguelike which takes place over 12 procedurally generated levels and one final boss battle, and every playthrough is different. Shifting level layouts, enemy spawn points, and different trap types require you to be on your toes, and keep the game engaging and continually surprising. But though it's exciting to experience "new" levels in each playthrough, the presentation leaves a lot to be desired.

Each of the twelve levels is broken down into four unique backdrops--cities with desert, overgrown, and opulent themes, as well as underground catacombs. They're initially impressive to look at, but repeating textures and assets quickly become noticeable, resulting in stages that are virtually indistinguishable from another. The Arabian Nights-inspired audio design is minimalist and fitting for the game's aesthetic, but is generally unremarkable. Oud and flute-heavy themes feature heavily, but like level assets, are reused time and time again. The shortcomings in the presentation also extend to the menu--cumbersome interfaces make learning about City of Brass' levels, enemies, weapons, and gear needlessly frustrating and unhelpful.

The lack of stage variety means that City of Brass occasionally feels like a four-level game being padded out into 12. But while they can be dull at times, the first-person combat plays a huge part in alleviating the tedium. You're armed with a whip in one hand and a sword in the other, and the interplay between them is wonderfully implemented. Should you be unable to break through a foe's defenses, there's the option of using the whip to pull their feet from under them before rushing in for the final blow with your blade, which feels incredibly good to do.

When overwhelmed in situations where your sword and whip are simply not enough, you can use randomly scattered items or the many available traps to turn the tide of the fight. Items like an explosive jar or a lamp can help clear out a big horde of enemies; pushing an enemy into a venom jug will make them easier to kill; docile enemies can be lured or pulled into traps like floor spikes and bottomless pits. There's a satisfying amount of strategic thinking and creativity allowed within City of Brass' combat. There is also a sizable roster of enemies and mini-bosses scattered throughout each location, most of whom require different strategies to overcome. The enemy designs aren't particularly inspired, but the rudimentary AI offers up enough of a challenge to keep you alert, particularly during moments when large groups of enemies relentlessly chase you down.

Memorable and heart-stopping combat moments are also generously sprinkled throughout City of Brass. One particularly notable encounter has you tailed by a near-indestructible enemy statue that only comes to life when your back is turned and can only be damaged by explosive jars. As soon as you're within the proximity of an enemy statue, the music immediately hits high-pitched notes, and you're on edge trying to keep sight of the statue while searching for an explosive jar or the exit.

Death will be a regular occurrence, but the short stages and friendly learning curve help encourage repeated attempts. City of Brass also allows you to generously tailor difficulty according to your skill level. A total of twenty modifiers aimed at buffing or nerfing both you and enemies alike are available from the beginning, allowing you to be as flexible with the difficulty as you please.

The fantastic sword and whip mechanic is unfortunately tarnished at times by the combat system's poor hitbox recognition. Several times over the course of a single playthrough, sword swings can pass harmlessly through a skeleton's head despite standing at point blank range. Similarly, the whip doesn't have any noticeable effect on enemies outside of small strike zones on their head, feet, or weapon. Skirmishes on PlayStation 4 were also negatively impacted by occasional frame rate drops that interrupted the flow of fights.

But performance issues aside, City of Brass is notable for its impressive balance between its pacing, difficulty curve, and combat systems. Each level takes only a few minutes to complete, but the time limit, the high-paced nature of all enemy encounters, and the constant wariness of traps and ambushes instills high-stakes tension to every stage. In order to combat the progressively tougher enemies, buffs, stronger weapons, and health can be bought from genies scattered throughout each level.

City of Brass' enemy difficulty and character upgrade system is tuned well enough that you will never be too over- or underpowered at any stage of the game. Treasure used to purchase new weapons and upgrades is easy enough to find, but there's an element of strategy on how to most effectively spend your coin. There are several times where you're forced to make a choice between buying an expensive stronger sword or buff, but run the risk of having not enough money for a much-needed health boost later on.

City of Brass is a good dungeon crawler, with some of its best moments and mechanics derived from its rendition of an Arabian Nights theme. While its repetitive scenery and uneven presentation are noticeable tarnishes on its sheen, the satisfying combat and well-balanced difficulty curve will keep you going back for more.

Total War Saga: Thrones Of Britannia Review - Rule, Britannia

Game Spot Reviews - Thu, 05/03/2018 - 01:00

The year is 880 AD. West Seaxe has flourished across the British Isles, and you’ve kept yourself in the hotseat of the English kingdoms through years of hasty allegiances, diplomatic marriages, and bribery. However, your adopted son Ricsige cuts a swathe through your settlements in some misguided idea of rebellion before meeting his end at your sword. Before you can grieve, however, a war horn sounds to the east and a barbaric force appears on the horizon. Resigned to taking up arms against lest your citizens turn on you for being a coward, you’ve got no choice but to face the invaders head on despite your exhaustion. As the Vikings advance on your skeleton crew of soldiers, you look once more across the rolling hills of the land that you call home and utter a silent prayer for your slain son. Later, after the crows have descended on your corpse and your countrymen have been enslaved, your former allies whisper about your useless heir and conspire to carve up your remaining settlements for themselves. This is Total War Saga: Thrones of Britannia, and your kingdom will never be the same again.

One of the core systems in Total War’s latest is the idea that your kingdom’s legacy is everything, for better or for worse. This isn’t revolutionary for the series, considering previous installments were fixated on the Roman Empire and its own bag of patriarchal succession woes. But the laser focus on lineage, loyalty and responsibility are more pronounced in Thrones of Britannia. It’s nothing short of engaging when all of its gears are in motion, and making sure that those gears are well-oiled is where the challenge lies. As is usual for Total War games, you’ve got to strike the right balance between warmongering and good governance. Your success is measured best by how your townsfolk are feeling, and they react organically to your decisions when you make them. If you lower taxes, they’ll undoubtedly get a boost to their satisfaction. If you’re not zealous enough, or too zealous for too long, their thirst for conflict will decline. If multiple things go wrong at once, you’ll potentially face a peasant uprising just as you’re knee-deep in a Viking-slaying sojourn.

Depending on the faction that you’ve chosen to play as, you’ll also have a number of other competing concerns vying for your attention, along with a corresponding cultural perk. Each cultural faction (there are five, each with two subsets) has its own way of charting the rise or fall of your empire, and they’re all distinctly different. For example, if you’re playing as the Welsh, protecting your culture will be the key factor to watch. If you’re walking on the wild side and playing as the Vikings, then it’s a matter of making sure that lesser kingdoms recognize your military accomplishments via lavish tributes. Keeping those respective meters high for your chosen faction will lead to positive increases in universal metrics like loyalty or even the melee abilities of your units. The differences between the cultures feel much more than skin-deep when these systems come into play, and they each guarantee a unique experience which incentivizes players to try their hand at other factions once they’ve tasted success.

These integral bits and bobs are also affected by the actions of your generals and governors, and Thrones of Britannia does its best to give you the tools you need to be politically savvy. Your henchmen are important, but acquiring them is now a precise science. Unlike the chance acquisition of previous titles, you get to place a follower into someone’s retinue when they level up. These peons assist you with improving specific empire metrics. If you’re struggling to feed your troops, perhaps give a governor a well-trained forager. If you’re looking to crack skulls in battle, then assign a Champion to a general for a little more steel. However, it's hard to keep your loyal subjects truly happy even if you make sure that they’re prepared for anything that the Isles may throw their way. Why? Well, they’re only human, and humans get greedy.

The aforementioned cautionary tale of Ricsige the Overambitious is just one of the many vipers in your kingdom’s nest that the game can throw at you. If your inner circle are too good at their jobs, their influence may eclipse your own and lead to some nasty confrontations if you don’t use espionage to discredit them in front of the populous. If you let them get too unhappy, then their loyalty suffers and they’ll make off with an army if you fail to placate them. Thankfully, the game gives you choices: You can secure loyalty through bribes, torture, or by doing what any good King would do, giving them estates. If things are looking particularly dire, you can even declare a new heir, though it pays to be cautious about the riff-raff that you’re letting into the royal bloodline. Managing the expectations of your inner circle is a balancing game that has surprising depth considering the immediacy with which your kingdom bears the brunt of your choices. It’s a credit to Creative Assembly that granting titles and destroying marriages never feels like busy work no matter how big your posse gets.

If you thought that your sons would be tough to manage, then your vassal states and potential enemies are an even bigger headache. While there’s no need to negotiate over imports and exports anymore, you still have to do your bit in ensuring good neighborly relations. You can suggest peace treaties, broker mutual military access, and even marry off an argumentative maiden to a frosty sovereign to appease them. You can also just as easily put an end to a friendship; each faction will react in either a positive or negative way to what you may see as a minor act (i.e. walking through someone else’s forest), and things can quickly turn into a diplomatic minefield. End up making a wrong choice and breaking an alliance? You’re signing yourself up for a beating from the very same monarchs that you kicked to the curb. While it can sometimes feel like you’re being pigeon-holed into specific diplomatic relationships depending on your story missions, the general freedom that you get to flip the bird at petty rulers adds a welcome touch of brevity to the proceedings.

For those who are chomping at the bit for combat, this sort of confrontation probably sounds more like a blessing than an indictment. Thankfully, Thrones of Britannia maintains the series' satisfying war mechanics. Formations for your units make their comeback in Thrones of Britannia, so if you sloughed through Warhammer and Warhammer II wanting the micro-play of the early Total War games, you’re in luck. The loop is conceptually familiar even to the uninitiated: you line your men up, point them at the enemy, and send them to meet either early deaths or victory spoils. Some factions have a leg-up on others at different points of the game, but the usual suspects of cavalry, ranged infantry, and sword-wielders populate the majority of your ranks.

Every location is rendered in great detail, even though the game relies on an aged engine. The camera’s range here is welcome; you can view the action from the top down or you can get up close and personal with the carnage. AI enemies respond reasonably intelligently to the actions of your troops--this isn’t a case where they throw themselves against your pointy weapons until they stop moving. However, there are some instances of the AI becoming prematurely spooked by aggression, and their defensive maneuvers of hiding behind trees and scattering unprompted can feel repetitive after consecutive skirmishes. Despite that, the mechanics around preparing for sieges and the economic minigame of raising your armies pad out the combat experience well as a whole, even if other elements of the game are more abrupt.

One of those such elements is the act of seeking victory itself. There are Short Victories and Long Victories, and they encompass the full gamut of empire metrics: you can win by getting really famous, controlling a certain portion of the map, or simply by sticking around long enough to give the Viking horde what for. Getting a Short Victory can sometimes feel like an accident; a win is in sight if you manage to inherit a foreign landmass, and this can happen through no effort of your own if your chosen target is unlucky enough to incur the wrath of someone stronger. However, the factions all have their own starting difficulty indication that appears to be mostly accurate, so it’s easy to see where you should jump in if you have any doubts about whether you’ll be sufficiently challenged.

Once you’ve gained a victory, the forward momentum of the game seems to slow. While you may previously have been fed missions to move events along, your trusty advisor seems happy to largely occupy the back seat of your chariot while you tramp around Britain looking for people to stick swords into. If you’re lucky enough to have fallen into multiple win conditions, you’ll likely find it hard to motivate yourself to keep going; the AI may not be strong enough to keep up. On the other hand, it’s just as easy to taste only defeat in a playthrough, as the AI is quick to bare its teeth and to close in on weak or unguarded settlements. Regardless, it’s prudent to not take victory for granted: a decisive win could spell an exhausted army ripe for the routing before an in-game year passes.

Thrones of Britannia is an exciting experience despite the cuts to integral components of the Total War series, such as city planning hinging on military needs, specific building customization, and expanded intrigue options. But this has given Creative Assembly room to focus on enhancing parts of the strategy experience that aren’t quite as impenetrable to newcomers, and to allow the series to return to some of the beloved parts of previous historical games to balance out its newer, slimmer form. While there are minor issues with AI, and pacing suffers when you’ve comfortably gotten the upper hand, this is still a worthy and engaging contribution to the Total War stable that has successfully taken its cues from history’s winners and losers alike.

Nintendo Labo Review: Variety Kit And Robot Kit

Game Spot Reviews - Tue, 05/01/2018 - 16:00

It's very easy to dismiss Nintendo's new line of Labo build-and-play toys as merely cardboard. For adults especially, building the Variety Kit's five toys--or the Robot Kit's suit--and playing their simple games might feel like a short-lived novelty. But there's a surprising amount of depth to what you can do with the kit's stack of cardboard sheets and cutesy software. It's a remarkable educational tool and an opportunity to see your creations come to life, and that's something very special, even if the games themselves don't stand out.

The Variety Kit comes with five different Toy-Cons to build and then play with: the RC car, the fishing rod, the house, the motorbike, and the piano. In that order, the process of building them gradually increases in difficulty, with the more complicated projects expanding on the concepts introduced in the easier ones. The RC car takes around 10 minutes to build and is effectively a practice run, showing you the importance of precise assembly and how to work with cardboard without bending it in weird places. (The cardboard itself is pretty sturdy if you're reasonably careful with it.)

After the "make" portion, you move on to "play." The games are all relatively straightforward; drive the RC car, fish with the fishing rod, play piano using the piano. It's more rewarding to see how the cardboard translates to the software than it is to play any of the games at length, though they're deeper than they look at first glance. Even the most basic one, the RC car, has a self-driving function and a multiplayer battle mode; in the motorbike's game, you can design your own tracks just by moving a Joy-Con through the air. The least interesting, at least from an adult's perspective, is the house--the game there is to experiment with three insertable parts and see what kinds of rooms and mini-games they can unlock when in different combinations.

The piano is the most impressive component of the Variety Kit, with a regular play mode and a surprisingly deep studio mode. It only has 13 keys, but there's a lever on the side that changes the octave, giving you access to a wider range of notes. You can layer recordings for more sophisticated songs, change the envelope and reverb of the notes before you record, and insert cards of different shapes into the top of the piano to change the waveform patterns. You can also create drum beats (composed of bass drum, snare, hi-hat, and cymbal sounds) using a kind of punch card that goes in the waveform card slot; the infrared camera in the Joy-Con detects the shape of the card and then uploads the card's "data" into the studio UI.

Not much of this is apparent when you first start playing the piano, though. A lot of the depth can be found in "discover" mode, where three cheeky characters walk you through the technology behind each Toy-Con, any extra things you can make or do with them, and how the games work. Like with the building process, a lot of the enjoyment comes from learning how each of the Toy-Cons works and understanding why you had to make them a certain way. For kids in particular, there are straightforward explanations of abstract physics concepts that benefit from having the Toy-Cons as hands-on aids. There are also plenty of resources on how to fix the Toy-Cons, including how to repair bent or ripped cardboard (which is good for all ages).

In addition to the Variety Kit, there's also a separate Robot Kit available. Instead of five different Toy-Cons, you build one large one: a robot "suit." The basic suit consists of a visor and a backpack with pulley mechanisms for each of your hands and feet that control the in-game robot. The visor part utilizes the left Joy-Con's gyroscope, while the backpack works using the right Joy-Con's infrared camera and reflective tape. It's a complex project that can take three or four hours to build, but the instructions are as easy to follow as they are in the Variety Kit, and it's broken up into eight steps so you can pace yourself.

The Robot Kit's games are especially geared toward children's imaginative play. The main attraction is a destroy-the-city mode, in which you punch buildings to dust and rack up points. In addition to that, there's a versus mode where two robots can battle and a "studio" mode where you can assign different sounds to the robot's limbs and step and punch your way to a beat. You can also customize your in-game robot and unlock better abilities in a challenge mode. These games do show the different applications of the Toy-Con you've built, but they're not likely to grab you for very long unless pretending to be a robot is your jam. Like in the Variety Kit, the Robot Kit's discover mode is the place to learn more.

In both the Variety and Robot Kits, the secret endgame is the Toy-Con Garage, a mode where you can program your own games using if-then statements. You can pick an input, like "if the Joy-Con is face-up," and connect it to an output, like "vibrate," by dragging a line between them on the touchscreen. Depending on how many rules you weave into your program, you can make some decently complex games as well as mod the Toy-Cons you already made. It's both a great learning tool at its most basic level and an opportunity to challenge yourself and apply everything you've learned so far.

It's nice to have something to tinker with long after building the Toy-Cons, and that's mainly because the official games are more like demos to show you how everything works. The only one likely to keep your attention for any length of time is the piano; everything else is a jumping off point, and you're limited by how much it inspires you to create. And that's just what Labo is at the moment: a great tool for creation, rather than for playing.

Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze Review - A Blast From The Past

Game Spot Reviews - Tue, 05/01/2018 - 14:00

Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze arrives on Switch in great shape after four years confined to Wii U, and it's a treat to revisit. It's a straightforward platformer packed with delightful moments, but a steady stream of peril ensures that any fun you're having is underscored by ever-present tension. It doesn't have as much added content as other Wii U-to-Switch ports, but even so, Tropical Freeze is an easy game to recommend.

Retro Studios' second Donkey Kong Country game doesn't deviate too far from the series' familiar foundation. It presents you with six worlds and a handful of levels in each, as well as a bunch of optional challenges that considerably ramp up the difficulty if you're in the mood. You can attempt to beat stages as Donkey Kong alone, but you can also team up with his fellow Kongs: Dixie, Diddy, and Cranky. Riding on DK's back, each sidekick offers a slight advantage that he wouldn't have on his own; Dixie can extend the length and height of jumps, Diddy can hover in place, and Cranky can bounce off of his cane to attack enemies. There's also the option to play with a friend controlling one of the secondary Kongs independently from you. Surprisingly, the coordination required to find success as a pair can make things more difficult than playing alone, despite the extra set of hands.

Regardless of how you play, the Kongs' abilities are dutifully tested by Tropical Freeze's tightly orchestrated gauntlets of obstacles and enemies. There's little room for hesitation, and the emphasis on commitment is one of many factors that makes Tropical Freeze's charming cartoon world so stressful. More often than you'd expect, platforms and structures transform on the fly, and you more or less have to rely on instincts when making blind jumps. Tropical Freeze thrives on keeping you at the edge, where death-defying performances feel like the norm. There's practically always a twist or gimmick waiting to upend your expectations and test your reflexes.

With enough memorization and muscle memory, you shouldn't have too much difficulty clearing the game's main path in less than ten hours. You can, however, dial up the challenge and longevity quite a bit by making it your goal to find the many collectables scattered throughout each level. There are coins that you can collect to purchase single-use items, but the real hidden prizes are the puzzle pieces and K, O, N, and G letters in every stage--one of the consumable items is built explicitly to help you find them, for example. Finding these will help you unlock bonus content, including extra-difficult stages in each world. These items are often situated in difficult-to-reach corners of levels, but they can also be obscured by environmental structures that you have to move, by either obvious or cleverly disguised means.

Hunting for hidden items is usually manageable in stages where you control the overall pace. However, Tropical Freeze has many levels that scroll automatically, say, with you outrunning a lava flow, flying on the back of a rocket, or tumbling down bumpy tracks in a rickety mine cart. These can be such exacting challenges that you will most likely be too concerned with staying alive to discern a means of collecting that seemingly out-of-reach item that you so often zoom past. Of course, once you have the confidence and knowledge under your sleeve to replay a level without trepidation, the challenge of pushing yourself further than before (in different ways) makes repeat playthroughs just as exciting as the first time around.

The primary addition to Tropical Freeze for Switch is the addition of Funky Kong, a surfer who has a far easier time of things than his relatives. Funky comes with his own mode, and the rule changes therein are significant. Where spikes instantly hurt everyone else, Funky can land on them without taking damage. He can also double jump, swim underwater indefinitely without an air supply, and comes with more than double the health of DK. The only thing he lacks is the ability to team up with others when playing alone, but with all the other advantages, you won't exactly miss them.

Playing as Funky Kong is essentially playing Tropical Freeze on easy mode, but it is also a nice treat if you want to revisit the game under a new lens. Funky is fast and can fly through levels without much hesitation on your part. While there's no doubt plenty of opportunity to speedrun the game as DK, for the less talented or ambitious, Funky can give you a taste of the fast life with little fuss or frustration. It's not a game changing addition, but it's one that mixes up the feel of play in an immediately enjoyable way.

Finally, it's worth noting that Tropical Freeze looks great and plays smoothly on Switch. Docked, the game is beautiful at 60 frames per second at 1080p (it ran at 720p on Wii U), with the vibrantly colored and expressively animated world looking better than ever. Surprisingly (as reported by Eurogamer) Tropical Freeze runs at a sub-720p resolution when played handheld. Truth be told, the downgrade isn't that apparent, likely an effect of the Switch's relatively small screen. Regardless, playing handheld on Switch is a significant improvement from streaming it to the GamePad's 480p screen from your Wii U, leaving no question that this is the definitive version.

Tropical Freeze isn't a heavy-hitter from Nintendo in the same way Breath of the Wild or Super Mario Odyssey are, but it's a fantastic platformer that's bursting with creativity and expertly designed challenges. It's tuned just right--always tough but rarely frustrating--to ensure that even the most common moments feel great. If you missed out when the game first debuted back in 2014, give it a shot today. It easily stands the test of time.

Battletech Review - Slow And Steady

Game Spot Reviews - Tue, 05/01/2018 - 08:09

Enjoying Battletech takes time and patience. Born from the decades-old tabletop game of the same name (which also gave birth to the Mechwarrior series of games), the Harebrained Schemes version of Battletech places the universe into the genre most suitable to its origin: turn-based tactical strategy. It's a successful endeavor in that playing Battletech very much feels like playing a complex board game, both for better and worse. There are deep systems to be found in its meaningful mech customization, detailed combat scenarios, and enjoyable fantasy of running an interplanetary mercenary outfit. But reaching the point of thoroughly enjoying Battletech requires the willingness to weather its steep learning curve and laborious pace, which can sometimes veer into excruciating territory.

Individual missions in Battletech are protracted, plodding conflicts, averaging around 45 minutes in length. You command a group of four battlemechs, each piloted by unique and specialized pilots, with the goal of either blowing something up or keeping something safe against outnumbering forces composed of hostile mechs and vehicles of warfare. The enormous mechs of this universe are the lumbering, industrial behemoth kind, bulky tanks with legs characterized by ugly chassis and weapons overtly fused to their limbs. They are graceless, unwieldy machines, and Battletech doesn't hesitate in belaboring their nature as they slowly trudge through the game's vast, sprawling maps like pieces on a military sand table.

Observing a unit's actions play out can be a quite a process. You'll watch them steadily stomp to a point on the topological grid-based terrain, leisurely rotate their torsos to their designated angle, wait for their weapons to spin up, watch the weapons fire, and wait again for a few moments as the damage report comes in to assess the aftermath. Mech animation speed aside, there are often pauses during this string of actions that feel unnecessarily egregious, and given the number of turns that need to be played out, long missions have the capacity to feel never-ending. There are more exasperating examples, too--during escort missions you'll find yourself watching up to four autonomous convoy vehicles taking turns to crawl through the map, slowly and one at a time, and the display is nothing short of agonizing. At the time of writing, there is a debug mode you can use to help artificially alter speed, but these are not officially endorsed options. By default, Battletech debilitating pace, combined with the game's lacking tutorials, firm difficulty, complicated UI, and persistent technical stammers mean the experience of Battletech's early hours can be tough to brave.

But it's worth it. Growing acclimated to Battletech's attrition-focused warfare and making enough of your own critical mistakes to get a handle on its systems feels liberating, when it eventually happens. Being able to parse initially obtuse information allows you to internalize and appreciate the suite of mechanical nuances and helps you recognize the game's detailed and hard-nosed approach to strategy. Like any great tactical game, each decision requires multi-faceted risk analysis for the best possible outcome. But the joy of good choices in Battletech doesn't come from bombastic maneuvers where your team precisely eliminates a whole enemy squad without a scratch, as it might in XCOM or Into the Breach--that's an impossible scenario here. Being truly successful in Battletech relies on being prepared to get into scrappy, aggressive fighting, and coming to terms with what an acceptable loss might be to you at the time, whether that's an objective, a limb, or the lives of multiple pilots.

With only four mechs to eliminate a larger number of adversaries in a turn-based ruleset, with no allowances for mid-combat repair, learning how to maneuver your mechs in order to endure a reasonable amount of damage becomes one of the most gripping aspects of decision making--how far do you push yourself to take on enormous odds? On the battlefield, this might mean something as simple as studying the impressively varied terrain in each map and finding the most advantageous spot to hunker down, or using buildings, forests, and mountains as cover during an advance. But on a more advanced and necessarily specific level, it might mean rotating your mech to present a fully-armored side to an attacking foe and obscure a side already damaged. Taking additional damage to a body part stripped of armor can result in structural damage or loss of limb, requiring replacement and repairs at significant cost, on top of running an increased risk of having your mech pilot permanently killed.

Similar considerations are always on your mind when you're on the offensive. You might decide to temporarily switch off some of your weapons when attacking to avoid overheating your mech, which can cause immediate, all-over internal damage. One of your mechs might be out of ammo but has the option of using its jets to leap off a mountain and crash onto an enemy below to knock it down--but can you afford the risk of breaking both your legs and being floored yourself?

With a complete understanding of how each unit can affect another at different locations, with various skills, weapons, and modifiers at play, your perception of unfolding battles becomes one of utter fascination at the minor details and outcomes of each strike. Seeing the battlefield in a different way in order to devise your own alternative approaches and formulating creative backup plans are things that begin to occupy your thoughts, instead of the tempo. Conflicts are still lengthy, and some drawn-out maneuvers still feel unnecessary, but with the time devoted to each turn, you start to use it to observe and internalize what exactly is happening and why. Pivotal turning points in a battle can be narrowed down to the exact action, which can become tactical learnings for future use. There are still a few random elements that can occur, attributed to the probabilities that drive attack calculations--lucky headshots that instantly injure your pilot regardless of armor durability are the prime unfair example--but regardless, the increased focus and time spent on each distinct action means that the anxious feelings that come with even the most trivial of anticipated hits and misses are amplified tenfold.

Battletech also gives you an interesting ability used to preserve your squad--when a mission becomes overwhelming and dead pilots are almost certain, you can choose to immediately withdraw from a mission, at the cost of sullying your reputation with the factions that hired you and surrendering your paycheck. The latter is an especially vital consideration, because money quickly becomes a huge concern in Battletech's campaign and begins to affect all your decisions, both on and off the battlefield.

The dynamic between the tactical battles and logistical management means almost every decision you make feels like it has rippling, tangible consequences elsewhere. The campaign sees your custom character rise to the leadership of a mercenary company which has accrued an enormous debt, with monthly repayments to meet every month. Naturally, everything costs money, from post-mission repairs, mech upkeep, pilot salaries, ship upgrades and even travel costs--this is a game about business management as much as it is about commanding a squad. Accepting missions allows you to negotiate a contract to determine what your fee should be in relation to your post-battle salvage rights (valuable for maintaining and upgrading your mech configurations as well as unlocking new models) and faction reputation, which opens up more lucrative opportunities. Request too little money on a mission you take carelessly, and the cost of mission-ready repairs afterward might send you into bankruptcy. Without enough salvage and spare cash to play around with, you're impeded in your ability to play with one of the most vital and enjoyable parts of Battletech: building and customizing individual mechs to improve the combat capabilities of your squad.

There are close to 40 different models of stock mechs, varying in tonnage and intended purposes. But the joy of spending time in the mech bay is experimenting with different configurations using the parts you have on hand. Every alteration you make on a mech is at the sacrifice of something else--you can carry more weapons and ammo at the expense of dropping things like heatsinks and additional armor plating, for example. Taking the time to fine-tune that balance and seeing your decisions translate into a more efficient unit on the battlefield feels exceptionally worthwhile.

The lore and epic narratives of the Battletech universe are as important as the mechs themselves, and this game puts a heavy emphasis on them. The main plot begins with the coup of the head of a parliamentary monarchy--your custom character's childhood friend--and continues as you regroup years later to rally forces and take back the throne. The recorded details of the fictional history and politics between factions are unsurprisingly scrupulous--glossary tooltips for universe-specific concepts litter the game's text. But there are enough broad strokes and familiar feudal parallels to enjoy it at face value, and the comprehensive presentation--well-written and diverse characters, beautiful 2D cutscenes, inspired soundtrack, crunchy sound design and convincing radio chatter--do more than enough to completely sell this brand of mecha fantasy.

Battletech is a game that selfishly takes its time to be meticulous in every respect, and pushing through the density and idiosyncrasies of its many, slow-moving parts can be tough. But if you have the will to decipher it, albeit, at a deliberate and punishingly plodding pace, you can find yourself completely engrossed in its kinetic clashes. Battletech's intricate components ultimately foster a fascinating wealth of nuanced systems that build a uniquely strenuous, detailed, and thoroughly rewarding tactical strategy game.

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