[Cleaning the Backlog] BattleTech

Mechs… Giant human-piloted combat robots… What a concept! Utterly impractical and mercilessly captivating. Mechs are the perfect embodiment of guilty pleasure. Nothing can come close to mechs in being so simultaneously awesome and stupid (except for giant monsters, maybe). Therefore, if giant robots play a central role in your story, it doesn’t matter what other components are being thrown into the mix—a coming-of-age drama with biblical references, a cloak-and-dagger epic about medieval-styled futuristic empires, or nothing at all except pure spectacle of destruction. Because mechs are ultimate scene-stealers, every story they participate in ultimately becomes about them.

I’ve been familiar with the BattleTech franchise since the 90s, thanks to MechWarrior and MechCommander games. But when I played BattleTech—the game—I was surprised by the depth and complexity of this universe’s lore. It’s a tale of epic futuristic feudal wars spanning over a thousand years. This game even made me interested in BattleTech novels! It seemed that my friendship with Warhammer 40k was ending while a new best friend’s gigantic robotic silhouette appeared over the horizon.

It’s been two years since I finished BattleTech. What do I remember from its story? What do I remember from the lore? Have I ever read a BattleTech novel? Almost nothing. Nothing. No. But I remember mechs! I remember their juicy fat-sounding explosions, apocalyptic rocket fire salvos, and machine-gun crescendos! I remember them stomping each other, losing limbs, slipping and falling, overheating, and exploding, exploding, exploding!

BattleTech is a turn-based tactical strategy game in a style known as XCOM-like¹. It has a campaign with a story, an overarching macro-strategic layer with base management and upgrading, complicated tactical mechanics, etc. I won’t talk about all that stuff—it’s all well done and gratuitously playable. The thing that makes BattleTech a god-tier game for me is, above all else, its audio-visual aspect—with a powerful accent on the audio part.

First of all, the music kicks ass—it’s that particular fusion of medieval multi-cultural roots with some futuristic electro-gloss, perfectly suitable for futuristic feudal wars that lie in the center of BattleTech’s universe (apart from mechs). It also gives me a blueberry ice flavor in my mouth—I was vaping this shit while playing this game immensely.

The sounds are pure magic. If I started playing BattleTech for its mechs, the game’s sounds made me finish it. The word «immersive» is undeniably overused, but it fits like a glove in the context of BattleTech’s sound direction. Listen to how mechs walk—each step lands with a thud that states how massive these robots are. Listen to how they shoot—each salvo shrieks like a bloodthirsty banshee. Listen to how they explode! You’re one-on-one with an enemy mech; it’s all or nothing. Here it goes—you fire everything you have, risking overheating your systems. Rockets and bullets fly toward a target, and there’s silence. Pitch-perfect dramatic timing that intensifies the emotional pressure so crucial for XCOM-like games—is it a hit or a miss? Is it a hit or a miss?! POOM! There’s an explosion in the bastard’s pelvis. But wait, there’s more! BOOM POW CRACK! His ammo exploded! SMASH! The enormous burning carcass falls to the ground. Pure happiness and justice for all.

Now I don’t care whether BattleTech has some mechanical imperfections or maybe utilizes a couple of narrative cliches. It just feels so good to play! A perfect scratcher for this specific battles-of-giant-piloted-robots itch.

Full disclosure—I’ve played only the vanilla version. But there are several impressive mods over there that, at least by their descriptions, make wonders. Vanilla Plus, BattleTech Extended, BattleTech Advanced, RogueTech—these are the big ones, as far as I understand. I’ll definitely check them out sometime in the future, but vanilla’s career mode is delightful by this day.

¹I wrote about 2k words on this niche genre over here. Please give it a read: it’s good!

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