By Clint 1 Comments
Though there are a handful of games that really stand out in my mind from PAX this year (bearing in mind that I deliberately skew my time heavily towards the indie games fighting for air along the edges of the show floor), AirMech is in my mind the most underappreciated and underreported game of them all. Tucked away into a corner next to Snapshot's non-PAX10 booth and Closure's lone station, newly minted Carbon Games, comprised of much of the core team that worked on Fat Princess and based here in Seattle, was showing off their newly-announced RTS-MOBA-dual joystick shooter-thing game. I ended up stopping by to play the game no less than four times.
Bear in mind that the game is earlier than super-early, and I only got a limited exposure to the game and the developers, so everything I say here is subject to change and could be outright lies.
Ever played Herzog Zwei? Neither have most people. Honestly, I haven't physically touched the game myself either, but I know enough of it to recognize the influence. Trust those who have experienced that venerable game when they say that those are good influences. For the sake of most of you, I'm going to assume you haven't.
In AirMech, you play as what I presume is the titular AirMech, which you may think of as your RTS mouse cursor. Except it can shoot with dual-joystick controls. And transform from a plane to a bipedal mech at any point. Its primary utility, however, is to be your avatar on the battlefield, picking up and dropping a single unit at a time. While you're holding onto a unit, you can change its stance, ranging from holding to defensive to aggressive. When you're not holding onto units, you can become a rather powerful force multiplier for your army by jumping into the fray yourself and doing some dual-joystick shooting. This combination of mechanics is really an excellent way to solve the console RTS "problem", and it's frankly surprising that it's taken this long for someone to cobble together the pieces of it that existed previously and improve upon it until it makes sense in today's terms.
There is a rather large set of units in the game, ranging from main battle tanks to rocket artillery to support units to infantry to turrets and beyond, and while you'll earn many over time, you'll be choosing 8 of them as your deck going into each match. This has become a light trend in strategy games recently (you'll find a similar mechanic in Age of Empires Online) is one I'm really appreciative of, and I hope that like in Age you'll be able to go beyond even choosing your slate of units to being able to customize the stats on the units themselves with points you earn over time, or perhaps artifacts you pick up from in-game maps.
These units, in matches, get built at bases. Bases are prebuilt on the map rather than constructed by players, and expansion happens by capturing bases for your own use. You do this by creating infantry units and defending them enough that you can drop them and they make their way into the base in question unscathed. Doing this some number of times (four times with the bases in the demo I saw) means the base is yours. Each base you occupy adds to your resource output, and you can spend resources to build units. You can queue up to three units to be built at any time, and once a unit is built you can pick it up from any of the bases you own. Though my mind drifted to Onslaught mode in Unreal Tournament, there's no concept of connected bases which you must fight through in some given order; all bases are subject to capture at any time. I think it would actually be neat if some modes experimented with that style of capture.
The absolute most standout part of the game are the tightly streamlined controls. The game feels great on a 360 controller. The last time I stopped by to play, I tried out the mouse and keyboard controls, and while they're extremely competent (you can even right-click to direct your mech to places and drop units), I found myself wanting to go back to the controller to play with. For a strategy game, this speaks volumes about the care that's been put into crafting the gameplay to fit the limitations of the controller without sacrificing depth. Literally the only thing I had trouble with was the fact that pick-up-unit and transform are both on the same trigger, gated contextually on whether you're near a unit or not, and sometimes the game disagreed with me on whether I was near a unit. It should be easy enough to move transform to L3 or some other button and resolve the issue, so I'm not awfully worried.
There will of course be multiplayer, though it wasn't shown off in the demo on display. Carbon is planning at the moment to feature up to four players, with maps to scale to that size. You can also play cooperatively, with multiple people essentially manning the same army of units.
All in all, I'm really looking forward to this one, and I don't think it's gotten the coverage it deserves, so I felt compelled to write something up with a bit more detail than the other articles I've seen. I hope you all take a look and sign up for the alpha/beta.