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Metal Fatigue Review

GAME INFO
publisher: Psygnosis
developer: Zono
genre: Strategy

MINIMUM REQUIREMENTS
PII-233, 64MB RAM, 50MB HDD, 3D accelerator
ESRB rating: T
homepage:
www.psygnosis.com/metalfatigue

release date: Jul 31, 00
» All About Metal Fatigue on ActionTrip


Don't you just love surprises? Providing they don't come in a shower with a large group of men, I sure as hell do, and Metal Fatigue was definitely one of the rare titles to "come out of nowhere", sort to speak, and make me go - oh, yeah! With its catchy graphics and refreshing gameplay ideas, it turned my skepticism into a full-fledged, addictive gaming experience.

It all started out as an ordinary 3D RTS... I was never really exposed to the game before popping the Metal Fatigue CD into the drive. I confess, I didn't have a clue what to expect, and I think some office idiot (I won't name names) "borrowed" the Metal Fatigue box thinking it would look good on his desk. Hence, I didn't even know the basic premise of the game! Boy, was I in for a shock! What started out as an ordinary vehicles/structures/resource management organized 3D RTS, turned out to be the only game besides Ground Control to slap me out of my recent 3D-RTS-crappy-titles-induced lethargy.

It's All About Combots and Sibling Rivalry...

The main theme of Metal Fatigue has nothing to do with structures or vehicles, although there is plenty of that in the game; it has to do with Japanese manga-style, huge robots called Combots, and the ever-popular eastern plot structure of three brothers, bound by faith, rivalry, and vanity, locked into a mortal conflict over the power of the ancient alien civilization. The story revolves around three CorpoNations, each led by one of the three brothers: Rimtech - well-rounded militaristic corporation, Mil-Agro - the world's warmongers, and excellent melee fighters, and Neuropa - mysterious, religious sect of shady individuals, using the newly-found alien gadgetry.

During the 23rd century man has discovered faster-than-light travel and finally reached the stars. Galactic exploration has confirmed man's worst two fears. First, an alien warlike race with vastly superior technology does exist. The exploration fleet reports sentient structures which appear to have been annihilated eons ago, scattered all over the galaxy. The reports suggest that a single race dubbed "Hedoth" has systematically swept through galaxy and pulverized every sentient civilization.

Incidentally, the exploration was comprised of vessels from three large Earth CorpoNations (Rimtech, Mil-Agro, and Neuropa). It began as an industrial alliance, and the opportunity to plunder alien technology spurred them onwards towards the Hedoth homeworld. As survey ships finally reached the Hedoth sector, the three CorpoNations massed their war fleets nearby. They were prepared for the ultimate conflict, only to discover that man's second worst fear was realized --- we are all alone. The Hedoth homeworlds were vacant...

The Hedoth left no clue of where they went, but their departure was remarkably tidy. Scattered installations and miscellaneous war machines were all they left behind.

The discovery set off a frenzied "gold rush" amongst the three CorpoNations, only better. Being the first to plunder pristine and operational Hedoth technology meant more than currency. It meant power.

Exciting Gameplay Concepts, and a Boatload of Tactics...

As I have mentioned earlier, beautifully animated large-scaled Combots, represent the major military force behind the CorpoNations. The game includes all sorts of "usual" vehicles and structures, but I've found them only to be the "supporting cast". Some missions require vehicle rushes, but the real fun comes from bashing the living hell out of opponents with your Combots. Combots are comprised of parts produced in bot factories. As you battle your way through numerous missions (around 30 single player missions, I think), you'll keep unlocking different Combot parts, ranging from standard arms to things like, Electro Grip, Katana Sword Arm, Howitzer Torso... etc. The introduction of customizable, huge robots in the game, goes far beyond a simple novelty trick. It actually introduces numerous tactical elements into the game. The Combots can be constructed with either defensive or offensive tactics in mind. it's totally up to players to decide if they want to go for the more melee or long-range units; heavily armored or hit-and-run designs... There is always the possibility of balancing out the customized models in order to reach your goals in a more efficient manner. Combots can salvage some of the remaining enemy parts (MechWarrior anybody), giving players the chance to even tryout some of enemy's weapons during campaigns. If that doesn't sound strategic enough, throw in a host of structures and a wide range of ground, and air vehicles, and what you have is one complex, yet immensely fun strategic gaming experience (some may find it a bit overwhelming at first). The "more tactics" syndrome doesn't end there though. There are plenty of more innovations. For instance, there is not one, not two, but three battlefields in each mission. The action is either happening underground, on the surface or on the "upper level". The best way to explain the concept, and the interface would be to compare it with The Sims upper floor. If by any chance you haven't played The Sims, I can assure you that the navigation through differet battlefield levels in Metal Fatigue remains easy and intuitive throughout.

As you would imagine, having to manage three battlefields, one of which is underground of all places (elevators connecting the two levels) ads even more... you know ...tactics. Establishing dominance in the game is not a simple matter of winning the "surface war". Sometimes in order to get the most out of resource management it is absolutely imperative to win the ground closer to Sun (resources are represented in Joules - Physics 101). I personally enjoyed using the medieval siege tactics, destroying everything on the upper levels, and just keeping the poor-old opponent, crammed underground with all the lids shut. Although the sucker has been known to put up a struggle, it's pretty much a done deal. I just really enjoyed torturing the unlucky bastard while I had the upper hand...

You though that was the end of tactical innovations, didn't you? Well think again, Zono programmers have added some subtle gameplay changes reassuring me further still that they have given some serious thought to this game. How about a mobile defensive laser/gun turret?! Hell yeah! I don't remember playing an RTS where you had the option of reconfiguring the position of the defensive turrets... And didn't you just once in your RTS career say - damn, if I had only built this turret there instead of there!

One other feature worth a mention is an RPG-like distribution of points at the end of each mission. Depending on the number of accomplished mission objectives the player receives experience points to distribute between the Combot crew, advanced structure building, and vehicle development. Again, in the classic RPG manner, you get to "shape your army's profile" any way you see fit, and the results have a direct impact on your future mission strategies.

I told you... Metal Fatigue features a boatload of tactical details, nothing quite revolutionary on its own, but when combined together, packing a "refreshing gameplay punch". (Refreshing gameplay punch - now, there's a term I should be using more often)

Total Annihilation AI, and Dodgy Pathfinding...

There are two sides to Metal Fatigue's AI, and they're both well summed up in the above subtitle. The enemy AI is solid enough, resembling the aggressive style of the original Total Annihilation (little less aggressive though). Your computer opponent is quite resilient --- he'll try to take all the resources, rush you as soon as it can, and just make you pay for any lapses in concentration that you might've had during the development phase. When struck with mighty force, AI recovers fairly quickly making you work/produce double-time, double-smart. Not that I have seen any really advanced strategies from the computer, but as it is, this is good enough for today's standards. The real fun in Metal Fatigue comes from cranking up a LAN or Internet game... With the abundance of strategy feature, it can be a joyful experience to thresh some of the less experienced strategists around the office...

The most annoying thing about the AI certainly has to do with the less-than-fortunate pathfinding abilities of your units... Boy, do they ever love marching in lines and just idiotically rushing the enemy... And you know what happens when about 20 of my Combots walk into a narrow canyon, all neatly packed in a single line... It doesn't really take more than two well-placed defensive turrets to annihilate my poor troops. Further more, because of the sub-par pathfinding (I'm just now beginning to wonder if anybody can get that part right in a game) the units take a little longer to assume a formation, which can again have devastating effects on your army's well-being... Not really a gameplay-shattering bug, but annoying enough... Fortunately, it seems that Metal Fatigue has "friendly fire" turned off by default. Trust me, that's a good thing... Otherwise, you'd loose about 40% of your troops just having to regroup them so that they wouldn't shoot each other.

3D Impressions, Visual Galore...

Metal Fatigue is one of the rare titles to make that RTS transition from 2D to 3D, and actually succeed in providing a more enjoyable gameplay experience. There is only one reason for that; the programmers weren't over pretentious. The units are beautifully animated, and in full 3D, so is the terrain, but one real advantage over some other 3D RTS games is the fixed, isometric camera view. You can still zoom in and out, nothing too extreme, just a nice little zoom in, and that is exactly how a 3D RTS should play. This makes the player (me at least) instantly accustomed to the environment, but with the added advantage of 3D terrain, and 3D units. There's no rotating the camera like crazy and losing your units all over the map. It's just like playing a 2D RTS, as far as gameplay is concerned.

Japanese Manga style is certainly a factor in the overall visual design. Again, it's not over pretentious, and it fits nicely into the game world. Combots look spectacular - just leave them alone for a couple of seconds, and enjoy the animations, and the sounds of huge metal parts. The maps are full of variety, and you'll never get bored from watching the constantly changing landscapes. The graphics are easy on the eye, yet rich enough to make the eye-candy addicts interested...

Wrap-Up...

Metal Fatigue was at least to me, a surprise winner. Zono was "big in Japan" with some of their previous console work (X-Men, X-Men2), but I never really played any of their PC titles (maybe because Metal Fatigue is their first). I didn't have much faith in Psygnosis either...

It just goes to show you can't take publishers for granted. You should give games with generic titles like Metal Fatigue a chance... You never know, sometimes they may even surprise you, in a good

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8.7   Very Good


HIGHS
Innovative, refershing, feature-rich;

LOWS
Ugly path finding, a bit overwhelming interface at times.

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