MechAssault: Phantom War Review
MechAssault: Phantom War box art
System: DS Review Rating Legend
Dev: Backbone 1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid 4.0 - 4.4 = Great
Pub: Majesco 2.0 - 2.4 = Poor 4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy
Released: Sept 2006 2.5 - 2.9 = Average 5.0 = The Best
Players: 1 - 4 3.0 - 3.4 = Fair
Review by Lee 3.5 - 3.9 = Good
The MechAssault series arrives on the DS and it's a warm welcoming indeed.
by Lee Wu

It was virtually impossible to imagine, even a few years ago, that comparisons could be made between Xbox and Nintendo-produced handheld system games. But this is the future and thankfully the future is rife with rampaging giant robots that can be piloted from the palm of your hand.

MechAssault: Phantom War screenshot

MechAssault: Phantom War is so darn good that direct comparisons can be made to the MechAssault series on the Xbox. Despite some obvious shortcomings in production such as the quality of graphics and length of missions, MechAssault: Phantom War captures the battling-mech genre so well that I would dare to proclaim this the best version of its kind on any handheld system – it’s not perfect, but it’s as good as it gets for this epoch of the future.

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A hammer may not be the perfect tool for making a hole on drywall, but when it comes to putting a nail in a board, nothing beats it. MechAssault: Phantom War can also be used in a way that you will find it moving closer to the definition of perfect. First of all a purchase is not necessary. You can escape the full brunt of the purchase price by taking advantage of mostly everything the game has to offer during a weekend - but some preparation is in order. The four-player multi-player mode will require that you find three other players with their own copy of the game. Hopefully you can synchronize it so that they can rent their copies at the same time. The single-player story mode is great but it’s short. It shouldn’t take you longer than a dedicated evening. So there goes Friday. On Saturday and Sunday you can take part in the various multi-player modes that include variations of Deathmatch and King of the Hill. There isn’t much replay value in the story mode, as far as collectibles and unlockables go, and a few days of battling it out with your friends should be more than enough for the average gamer. For the amount of money that you would spend on a rental and for the intense fun that you will experience, I would say that this would be the perfect way to approaching playing this game. It may take a little bit of work to coordinate the logistics with your friends but it will be worth it in terms of fun and finance.

The storyline is presented through fully animated cutscenes which are spectacular. The voiceovers blare over the radio the same way they do in the Xbox version. There is virtually no physical contact between mech jockies and their comrades which makes the radio chatter believable. However, the mech pilots will be able to leave their giant mechs in an attempt to hack into enemy computer systems and also to hijack their vehicles and mechs.

MechAssault: Phantom War screenshot

In the year 3134, all means of communication between planets has been shut down due to some kind of terrorist-style attack. The Republic of the Sphere, once content with the prosperity and peace it had brought to the galaxy, is called back into action to restore the Hyperpulse Generators and neutralize any threat to this mission. Without sufficient means of communication, the Republic does not know what kind of opposition it will face, nor does it know when or where. As a mech warrior with the ability to hack into computer systems you will enter missions with limited information and fly by the seat of your pants, piecing together whatever bits of recon you can acquire for the next series of missions. The storyline could have been more suspenseful by placing more importance on the information that you collect but the focus seems to be more on mech fighting and that’s fine with me.

As the third-person shooter the gameplay does not let you down. There are plenty of bots to choose from, some 18 in all, with different attributes such as armor, locomotion and weapons. Basically all of the mechs have similar weapons sets. They consist of projectiles such as bullets and missiles as well as energy weapons such as lasers, plasma and electricity. Most of the mechs walk upright like stiff, lumbering, arthritic giants but there are some tanks that roll over the ground at a fair clip. Some of the mechs utilize a jump jet feature that allows them to float across valleys, rivers and puddles of lava. The weapon system allows you to lock-on the enemy and give them "what for." This is important since the AI will require many, many, many hits before they go nuclear and self-destruct. You will want to stay away from their nuclear blast as well as other "hot" spots such as lava fields. Power-ups can be found which will upgrade your weapons and restore your energy. While the ammo is virtually unlimited, your mech will overheat if you fire continuously. If you do overheat, you will not be able to fire until you cool down. This is a great feature that prevents the game from becoming a cakewalk since the AI is not as aggressive as it could be. You are forced to pace yourself and adopt more strategy in your gameplay. While the AI may be a little slow on the draw there are typically numerous enemies attacking you at once which is just as challenging.

MechAssault: Phantom War screenshot

There is no shortage of control configuration options, but I still miss the analog stick. You can choose to use the D-pad to control your mech which seems to work just fine. The top screen gives you the third-person perspective and the bottom screen gives you an interior view of the cockpit as well as a map of the terrain with radar. Touch controls let you access commands such as weapon swapping and the hacking abilities with are puzzle-based mini-games. You can press the shoulder button to fire or have it mapped to a face button. If that’s not to your liking you can use the stylus to aim and fire. It takes some practice and try as I might, I just didn’t find it comfortable. That doesn’t mean it’s not a great way to do things but it just didn’t feel natural to me. It’s only natural to feel that way after logging a few hundreds of hours on non-stylus controlled mech games.

Graphically the game is very impressive. The environments may not be incredibly detailed but they are rendered in 3D and aside from the odd popup, there is no slowdown or clipping. The bulk of the detail was saved for the mechs. They look formidable and imposing. They have individually animated parts that move independently for added realism. Weapons will leave vapor trails, smoke, shell casings and environmental destruction. The explosions and the lightning-style energy blasts sound as good as they look. All of the weapons are loud in the mix. The soundtrack is ominous yet subtle, as it only hints at the intensity of the mood.

MechAssault: Phantom War screenshot

MechAssault: Phantom War is a great game that you can’t go wrong with. But unless you’re prepared to play the multi-player modes for months on end with your buddies, (remember there is no online play), then you’d be advised to rent this.

Features:

  • Commandeer over 20 types of vehicles, including 'Mechs, Tanks, Turret and BattleArmor
  • Wreak havoc on the enemy and environment with a powerful and fully upgradeable arsenal including a plethora of ballistic, energy, missile and special weapons
  • Brand new story drawn from the popular BattleTech series which spawned highly successful games like MechWarrior & MechCommander for the PC and MechAssault & Mech Assault 2: Lone Wolf for the Xbox video game system
  • Use the touch screen to hack into enemy territory, hijack enemy 'Mechs, customize your HUD layout and wield the most secret weapon in the Inner Sphere
  • Master 24 single player campaigns across four planets and three exciting multiplayer game types
  • Wireless multi-player combat for up to four players simultaneously
  • Activate one of the seven Def Mods, the defensive systems equipped on many of the vehicles, to give yourself an advantage over the enemy
  • Interactive music underscores the intensity level of battle
  • Unlockable 'Mechs, maps and cheats enhance gameplay

    By Lee Wu
    CCC Freelance Writer

    Rating out of 5
    Rating Description

    4.6

    Graphics
    The mechs look amazing with individually animated parts. The 3D environments are virtually flawless though not heavily detailed.

    4.5

    Control
    I miss the stick but there are enough control options to please everyone. The touch controls don't make or break the game.

    4.8

    Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
    The soundtrack is subtle but the weapons are anything but. The plodding footsteps of the mechs will give you chills.

    3.5

    Play Value
    The only replay value is the multi-player modes which are not accessible online. Everyone will need a copy of the game but it's certainly worth playing.

    4.4

    Overall Rating - Great
    Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.
  • Screenshots / Images

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