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DS  header logo

MechAssault: Phantom War

For: DS

It's a romper stomper

Product: MechAssault: Phantom War | Publisher: Eidos plc | Developer: Backbone Entertainment | Format: DS | Genre: Shooter, Strategy | Players: 1-4 | Networking: wireless (adhoc) | Version: US
MechAssault: Phantom War DS, thumbnail 1
With everyone so concerned about global warming, it's heartening to disappear into a fantasy world that positively encourages the consumption of fossil fuels. Just how many trees would you need to plant to offset the carbon footprint created if you could stomp around in a 40-foot-high battlemech laden with ballistic missiles?

Probably a damn sight more than the hundreds you'll crush during the course of this game. But that's okay, since Phantom War is set in the year 3134. It's a 'dark age of excommunication' and a pretty bleak place if you're not a car owner, as civilisation is built upon heavy weaponry and humongous vehicles, much like 21st century America in fact.

What plot there is involves the conversion of interstellar communication devices called Hyperpulse Generators (HPGs) into planet-busting weapons. It's your job as technical genius and battlemech warrior par excellence, Vallen Brice, to find an HPG in an attempt to secure the future of the Lyran Alliance. In game structure terms, this involves a series of 24 engaging and varied missions to bring down rival war clans and houses who are hell bent on getting to the HPGs first.

This DS title itself is largely based on the established and enjoyable Xbox MechAssault games; the first thing you'll notice is just how robust and empowering everything feels. The third-person controls are particularly tight and responsive, with movement assigned to the D-pad while typical first-person shooter strafing is operated with the face buttons. Alternatively, a Metroid Prime-style 'look and shoot' stylus set-up can be chosen.

Each mech comes with a selection of weapons – energy, projectile and missile-based – all of which can be temporarily upgraded by collecting power-ups on the battlefield. These are selectable using the touchscreen.

There's a lot to take in at first (a jet-boost, grappling claw and defensive mods like cloaking devices become available, too), but it's pretty instinctive after a while.

Missions involve destroying key objectives, clearing enemies from an area or defending a vital position. The clockwork enemy artificial intelligence is generally predictable so the challenge comes from utilising the best available battlemech and weapon combination for the enemies at hand. Creeping around hills to blast a towering Belial mech with a charged up particle cannon then turning your machine gun on tiny ground troops is very satisfying.

There's also an impressive range of battlemechs available to pilot – 18 in all – and while these are rationed out somewhat thinly (usually just one or two per mission), they each feel different enough in terms of movement, weight and weaponry to keep you hankering for the next. Taking to the battlefield in a flamer-armed Hellbringer is a world away from the nimble but relatively weakly armed Cougar.

Developer Backbone has also paid particular attention to the sense of scale, which is enhanced tremendously by enabling you to exit the lofty cockpits of mechs to scamper across the ground. This is necessary so you can jump into other more powerful vehicles, especially if yours has been reduced to a crumbling wreck. But there are also some tense moments when you have to manually hack into terminals or lay detonators beside key targets.

It's these 'land of the giants' moments that give Phantom War a more human and engaging feel. When you're running over to a terminal, you're painfully exposed, especially when large mechs and tanks are firing in your direction. One hit and it's game over. Once at your destination you can trigger a hacking touchscreen mini-game, and while basic in their shape-matching logic, these add yet another layer.

Overall, MechAssault Phantom War is an entertaining experience that's only let down by the technical limitations of running a fast, varied 3D action game on the DS – environments and vehicles lack that extra polish and detail. There are also instances of scenery tearing, and not quite enough enemy types to stretch you tactically. Disappointing too is the lack of online multiplayer support, though basic four-way multiplayer battles are possible with friends who have a copy of the game; there are eight arenas, and modes include Deathmatch and Kill of the Hill options.

These quibbles aside, Backbone has done a commendable job. The level of presentation is high with full-motion video cutscenes and spoken radio dialogue, and even if the game is a little short, the single-player campaign is sturdy and fun enough to keep you engaged to the end, and even encourage replayability. Quite a big footprint for a little-hyped action game...
MechAssault: Phantom War
Reviewer photo
Mark Walbank | 23 May 2007
Too short, but MechAssault Phantom War is an engaging robot combat game
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