One of the classic PC games of the late 1980s was the action/strategy hybrid, MechWarrior. Released in 1989 by Activision, MechWarrior was based on the BattleTech game by FASA, and was programmed by Dynamix. At its heart BattleTech is a game that allows futuristic giant mechanized soldiers bristling with advanced weaponry to do battle with one another, and the MechWarrior PC game delivered accordingly.
Players assume the role of Gideon Braver Vandenburg, a prince whose family was murdered and his throne usurped, and who must assemble a team of MechWarriors to avenge his family and take back his throne. Of course, this is not an easy task, as poor Gideon begins the game with a less-than-mint Jenner and little else. Gideon heads out on a variety of missions to add to his reputation, ‘Mech inventory and cash reserves. The goal is to outfit a lance of four ‘Mechs before heading out on your (well, Gideon’s) final mission, all within a five year time frame.
Although you start with a Jenner, players ended up being able to play with eight different ‘Mechs, and a wide variety of missions showcased each of their advantages (and disadvantages if you chose the wrong ‘Mech for the job!). For the quick in and bug out missions, the Jenner and Locust were best. For missions that required greater ‘Mech mobility, the Shadow Hawk and Phoenix Hawk’s ability to jump into the air and pass over their enemies was invaluable. For the straight smack ‘em down and keep ‘em down missions, the Marauder, Battlemaster, Rifleman, and Warhammer each had their strengths.
One of the more merry moments I had while playing MechWarrior was targeting specific parts of the enemy ‘Mechs I faced. Combat was shown in the first-person perspective from your cockpit, which had an array of sensors. An effective strategy was to target an enemy’s leg until it exploded, then salvage and nearly complete ‘Mech. More salvage meant more credits and more credits meant bigger and better armed ‘Mechs. Ah, the sheer joy of methodically piloting a Battlemaster and destroying all I surveyed.
Of course, not every mission goes like clockwork, and sometimes you take a bit of damage which needed to be repaired before shipping out for your next mission. Sometimes that meant bringing a partially repaired ‘Mech into your next combat round and hoping for the best. And anyone who played MechWarrior will tell you that overheating your ‘Mech’s heatsinks in a frantic attempt to avoid more damage was just icing on the FAIL cake.
There had been other PC games set in the BattleTech universe before MechWarrior – the Crescent Hawk saga – but MechWarrior really got it right. Yes, the graphics are dated and gameplay is limited by today’s standards, but in 1989, this was a tour-de-force. Between a great storyline and amazing gameplay, MechWarrior deserves a spot on the retrogaming “Best of” list. After all, this is the granddaddy of MechWarrior 4!