MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries PS5 review. Releasing on the original PlayStation all the way back in the dark mists of 1995, MechWarrior 2: 31st Century Combat brought the sprawling BattleTech universe to PlayStation consoles, and with it a taste of just how cool stomping about and blowing s**t up in 70 foot mechs could ultimately be.
Seemingly relegated to the PC realm for so many years, 2021 marks the return of the franchise to PlayStation consoles with MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries, and while it’s certainly great to have an OG PlayStation franchise rocking about on PS5, it’s also true that MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries certainly won’t be for everybody (and could do with a boatload of polish to boot).
MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries PS5 Review
A Massive And Tough To Master, Though Unpolished Take On The BattleTech Universe
Despite the fact that MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries has deep roots in the sizable BattleTech tabletop game which released all the way back in 1984, it’s also fair to say that you don’t necessarily need to be intimately aware of the finer details of BattleTech lore to get the most from this game. That said, it’s clear that those who are sufficiently interned in BattleTech lore will certainly find much to love here.
MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries casts players as the inheritor of a decimated mercenary outfit in the far reaches of space who must rebuild the prestige of their company while getting involved in the broader macro conflict that has swept up the larger mech clans of the intergalactic framework known as the Inner Sphere. The problem with the narrative setup for the main campaign of MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries is that it just isn’t very interesting at all.
You see, when you’re not stomping around on missions, you’ll be wandering around your home base, talking to other pilots and taking on missions. The thing is, characters tend to be mostly throwaway constructs with no real emotion or charisma and as such it’s difficult, if not impossible, to really get invested in them or their plight.
Likewise the story too feels a touch rudderless. Sure, MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries makes use of the ample creative latitude of its premise to weave a story of conflict on a galaxy-spanning level that is laced through the various missions you can take on, but without a cast of meaningful characters to relate to, not to mention a lack of themes and stories to captivate the player, it all feels a little flat and dull to say the least.
Into the game itself, MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries is really a game of two halves – the third-person mech combat and naturally, the management of your mercenary outfit. MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries permits players to choose from over 50 different mech chassis types and many more variants, allowing players to customise their mech accordingly depending on the requirements of the mission at hand. From stacking up on a weapon heavy design to unleash destruction on a grand scale to tailoring a mech for faster movement speed on a retrieval mission, there’s certainly plenty of freedom to tailor your massive stomper however you see fit.
When it comes to controlling your mech, MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries makes no apologies here – controlling these towering mechanical monsters is tricky to say the least thanks to the tank style controls that allow these mechs to look in one direction while moving in another. Pleasingly, these mechs feel appropriately heavy too, with their slow movement and stiff turning mechanisms (not to mention the feel of heft when the jump jets are engaged), all adding up to give these mechs a real feeling of physicality.
Speaking of physicality, combat in MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries also has appreciable depth here too. When fighting other mechs (and not the variously dull tanks and helicopters that you’ll often encounter), you can brilliantly elect to target specific limbs on your enemies, blasting their legs away to reduce their movement or targeting their arms and shoulders to deprive them of their weapons systems. It’s entertaining stuff for sure.
Then there are the weapons systems too. Every weapon that is attached to your mech cannot just be fired with reckless abandon as each one requires a period of cooldown when doing so, this means that when you’re in a pitched battle with other mechs, you need to pace yourself accordingly and in this sense, the combat in MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries feels more tactical than it otherwise would.
Sadly though, the flipside of the steep learning curve for this handling model is that it simply isn’t fast or accessible enough for more casual folks to really engage with the game as effortlessly as they might like. Additionally, while the armaments that you can equip on each mech are pleasingly varied, it’s also true that they lack somewhat of the oomph (the laser weapons in particular) that one would readily associate with these bipedal war machines. A shame, really.
Before battle kicks off however, you’ll be exposed to the other primary facet of MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries single-player campaign – namely the mercenary outfit management into which all other aspects of the campaign are couched. As the leader of your very own mercenary company, you are responsible for taking on contracts, managing your inventory and expanding your team.
Where contracts are concerned, you must be shrewd as each contract awards a total pay-out from which additional support such as airstrikes, repairs and so forth are deducted from, meaning that you need to be careful with your mechs when you take them out onto the battlefield as every chink in your armor carries with it a very real cost. Beyond that, you gain negotiation points based on the rank of your mercenary company that allow you to successfully negotiate better terms for your outfit, ultimately resulting in superior rewards as a result.
As well as managing your pay-outs, the contracts system in MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries also lets you pre-emptively purchase insurance for your mechs in order to ward against losses incurred from likely future damage, while Salvage Shares allow you to claim mech weapon and equipment salvage from the battlefield – the more valuable the salvage the more shares it will cost.
It’s an in-depth system for sure that does justice to the fiscal and management side of running your own mercenary company, and while I personally enjoyed seeking out better contracts and discovering how to best manage my team and our ever-growing inventory of murder machines, I can see that it will very likely frustrate those who don’t want to be burdened by such seemingly extracurricular concerns.
Despite that though, it’s obvious that the developer has made some overtures towards action fiends that just want to get their mech on. The Instant Action mode does what it says on the tin and allows players to leap into numerous custom combat scenarios at a moment’s notice, while the four-player co-op mode lets you get stuck into the main campaign with up to three other buddies. Though both of these are nice to have, it still does little to affect the overall old-school design that permeates, for better or worse, throughout MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries.
Though your mileage my vary when it comes to how accessible you may (or may not) find MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries depending on your expectations, it’s clear that no matter your inclination in that regard that the game could use dollops of extra polish. While the level of destruction is impressive, the framerate is not – often dropping far below the 60 frames per second maximum that one would expect. Sure enough this would be understandable if MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries was a visual stunner – but it’s quite that either with sparsely detailed environments and poorly textured environments all looking like they belong to a previous console generation.
It also doesn’t help that the pre-rendered cutscenes, which appear to have been shot in-engine and then recorded, jar massively with the real-time action thanks to an unsightly combination of 30 frames per second motion and artefact ridden video. Certainly then, for those looking actively seeking to indulge themselves in the BattleTech universe on contemporary gaming hardware then MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries hits all the right notes – it brings that sprawling universe to the fore and the simulation style combat and micro-management of a mercenary outfit is sufficiently deep enough to be appropriately compelling.
Though perhaps for anyone else looking for a snappy and spectacular arcade style blaster with massive stomping mechs, MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries doesn’t quite fit the bill, thanks to its hard to master controls, additional strategical depth and relatively unpolished visuals. One for the fans then, or those who have sufficient time to plough into a tough to master third-person mech shooter that has longevity for weeks, if not months.
MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries is out now on PS4 and PS5.
Review code kindly provided by PR.
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