A turn-based BattleTech game has been a long time coming, but the wait is now over and the lumbering mechs deliver an alpha strike straight to the core. While Battletech by Harebrained Schemes isn't perfect, it delivers that addictive "just one more turn" loop with its interesting mercenary economics and robust battle system, which means the wait has certainly been worth it.
Expecting a more open-ended and lighter narrative, BattleTech surprised us with its solid campaign setting. Your character is a beaten and exiled former royal guard, forced to flee the former life and join a mercenary gang. You can customise the look of your Mechwarrior and later the mercenary group from a large selection of options to make the ragtag group your own, and what starts slowly with a prologue/tutorial grows into a greater journey with a large selection of campaign-missions amidst the more randomly generated freeform ones. You're also not just dealing with the galaxy-wide conflict but also the wellbeing of your fellow lance-mates (lance being a full complement of four battle mechs). It's not a full-blown RPG experience, but Harebrained's track record in the Shadowrun roleplaying series is definitely showing here. These systems keep things personal and remind you of the human element under the tens of tons of armour and laser-weaponry.
Mercenary life is presented well in other ways too, as you're constantly battling not just against SRM turrets and heavy mechs but your budget as well, since every single hit, crew member, mech, and purchase takes a toll on your C-Bills (BattleTech's currency). A successfully completed mission might end up in red if half your lance is missing arms, legs. and weapon systems that have been blown off in combat and that now need replacing, but in turn, picking off your opponents' legs or pilot might net you some shiny mech parts needed to build and add that particular model to your own selection. This creates an intriguing risk-reward situation to battles, where for example a particularly heavy or powerful mech is dishing out damage to your lance while you try to knock it out with as little damage as possible. The tactic might literally cost you an arm and a leg, but a Catapult mech with full racks of long-range missiles might just be worth the pain (and repair cost).
Economics aside, the meat of the game belongs to the battlefield, and despite BattleTech being a turn-based and highly tactical game, the systems are reasonably well-explained. The user interface is clear and simple, and offers extra information when players want it, but doesn't clutter the map needlessly. Without going into every single detail, the basic gist revolves around using each mech's advantages against the enemy's disadvantages as often as possible. Light mechs might as well be made of paper, but they act sooner in the turn order, move way faster (with or without jump-jets) and are harder to hit. Highly specialised mechs like the Catapult, on the other hand, can act as missile boats, delivering indirect fire to targets marked by the speedy Locusts and Spiders. Big, bulky heavies can take punishment like no other, and Assault-sized mechs level city blocks with their weaponry.
If you're not happy with the default loadout, mechs can be customised down to the smallest detail, including how much armour to put on each limb. Direction of fire has a huge effect on how effective your attacks are as well, so flanking is always encouraged, and heat dissipation and ammo limits require you to pick the best weapons for the right situations instead of offloading everything at every turn. There's quite a bit to learn before mastering each system, but the slowly ramping difficulty curve doesn't force you to pick up everything on a single mission. A word of warning though: the "difficulty indicator" isn't very precise and a level-two mission can end up being a near-impossible nut to crack compared to a similarly valued random mission just after. This is especially true with larger campaign missions where the sheer number of enemies can make survival aggravatingly hard.
BattleTech is a pretty if not exactly jaw-dropping game to look at. Trails from multiple missile trails light up the sky nicely and atmospheric effects like darkness or dust-storms create unique visuals to different planet surfaces. Also, the camera goes low to an over-the-shoulder position from time to time, although that makes playing the game a bit slower. As a minor annoyance, there are second-long pauses on many occasions from hits landing and actually registering to enemy movement and so forth, making longer and bigger battles unnecessarily cumbersome. The game definitely shines most on lance vs. lance battles without no base turrets, support vehicles, and the like. It also crashed twice, so some work under the hood is still in order. The latest Nvidia patch helped with occasionally tanking framerates, but sub-60 numbers with these visuals on a powerful PC shouldn't happen.
Considering its pedigree, BattleTech the turn-based tactics game is long overdue, but the good thing is it's finally here. The mercenary life and its constant decision making, money issues, and tactical battles kept us nailed to our seat for hours on end; the campaign setting is unexpectedly robust, and there's always something motivating you to expand your garage of death-dealing metal monsters. Some technical aspects still need some work (especially the frame-rate and odd second-long pauses), but there's nothing that'll stop you from enjoying this Xcom-with-mechs from day one.