Review - Metaltech: EarthSiege (DOS, 1994)
If you know the slightest thing about computer games you're well aware of the fact that PEOPLE WANT TO PLAY BIG ROBOT GAMES. The craze started well over a year ago when Activision announced its grandiose plans for MechWarrior 2. Dynamix quickly climbed aboard the "me too" bandwagon with its announcement of Metaltech: Battledrome. After a while Dynamix decided to put Battledrome on the shelf for a while and work on a similar game that could better compete with Activision's impending high-profile title. That turned into Metaltech: Earthsiege, a game that offered missions and campaigns instead of just the one-on-one skirmishes of Battledrome. Now Earthsiege is here and MechWarrior 2 is one of the all time vaporware champions. So Earthsiege will reap the rewards of being first out of the gate. Even with Mech 2's absence, it would be easy to discount Earthsiege as a quickly churned out knock-off. Easy, that is, until you've played it.
Earthsiege is one of those games that treads the line between action game and sim. The goal of the game is to make lots-o-carnage, but to do that you'll have to master the controls of a pretty sophisticated piece of hardware. You'll be piloting HERCs, gargantuan battle robots designed expressly for destroying Cybrids, which are computer controlled gargantuan battle robots designed expressly for destroying YOU. This isn't quite as simple as pointing a gun (rocket launcher, BFG, cellular phone) at a creepy scary monster and going blam-blam-blam. These things require you to control their movement, torso rotation, instrumentation, and weapon systems all at once in real-time combat. Toto, I don't think we're in Pac-Land anymore.
Control is obviously a big factor. The ideal setup for playing Earthsiege would be a full set of Thrustmaster products: FCS, WCS, and rudder pedals. Two joysticks would work fine as well. But for those of you who are neither fanatical nor rich enough to own $8000 worth of joysticks, Dynamix hasn't forgotten you. If you own a Thrustmaster FCS or CH Flightstick Pro with no other peripherals you'll do just fine. In these cases, the top button changes the control mode of the joystick. In movement mode the stick controls your throttle and direction; once you're more or less on course a click of a button allows you to angle your HERC's torso left and right and up and down, allowing you to target enemies and blow them into smoldering pieces of lawn sculpture. It takes a little getting used to, but once you play a training mission or two you should have little problem getting your HERC to behave.
Although initially intimidating, the cockpit of a HERC is actually a fairly user-friendly place. There are sliders on the top and left side of the forward view screen which act as simple indicators of where your torso is facing in relation to the rest of your body. Above the top slider is a green triangle, which marks the direction of the next way point you need to go to. A multi-function display offers such useful information as radar, damage reports, and the physical status of your target. Your weapon systems are clearly laid out, allowing you to check their status at a glance. Occasionally it's awkward fumbling for the mouse or keyboard commands to toggle radar modes or turn target tracking on and off, but you have to expect a little bit of overkill when you're cruising around in a vehicle the size of the World Trade Center.
Which leads us to the best part of Earthsiege: cruising around and blowing stuff up. When the robotic fit hits the shan Earthsiege once again shines through with top-notch performance. It's pretty choppy on a 486SX/25, decent on a 33, and on a 66 or Pentium it's one bad mother of an action game. Enemy Cybrids jump out of the atmospheric hazing with startling speed and malice, with all guns blazing. Once you've mastered the control, combat is just the way you'd like it to be: slick, smooth, and frenetic as all hell. I especially liked the ability to target specific systems on a Cybrid – taking out a missile launcher or blowing off a leg and watching the thing collapse into a useless hulk in front of me. Dismemberment. Ah, the little things in life can be so rewarding.
If you're itching to play a big robot game, Earthsiege should be in your sweaty little hands right now. It's got great graphics and sound, extensively customizable control, and enough multi-person shoot-outs to make Quentin Tarentino break into an ear-to-ear grin. If you're steadfastly waiting for the Big M to arrive, don't. Earthsiege is here NOW, and it'll be your loss if you pass it by.