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Gundams, Jaegers, battlemechs, Zords. Whatever name their respective setting gives them, they can all be described as mecha. It’s undoubtedly an evocative idea, and one that lends itself to a myriad of different, often quite fanciful designs.
But enough of the games that were. Let’s talk games that still are.
Harebrained Schemes’ BattleTech game is set in the same universe as the famed MechWarrior games, which, in turn, are adaptations of the BattleTech board game. This is important, because the studio is headed by the creator of the board game: Jordan Weisman. As a result HBS’s BattleTech is detailed and steeped in lore that’s been developed since the eighties.
The game plays out on two levels. The first is your ship, where you oversee engineering, negotiate new contracts, find new recruits, and travel between planets. The other are turn-based battles in which you control a single lance (four MechWarrior pilots in their mechs) on a variety of assignments. The mechanics are deep enough to keep fans of number crunching occupied.
Brigador, first of all, is a game which looks great. It has vibrant colours, and it’s pixelated in the way we view old PC games through nostalgia-tinted glasses. Gameplay wise, it’s focused on tactical vehicular combat and unlocking new toys to play with in either of the games two modes: Campaign and Freelance and wreak havoc on the maps thanks to a great destruction model.
You’re going to have plenty of tools of destruction to choose from. The game boasts over fifty different vehicles, and many of those are mechs of various sorts, and weapons they can equip are capable of tearing the city apart, provided you can survive wasting your time on building rather than staying alive. Run’n’gun is extremely fun when you’re piloting a mech.
Earth Defense Force is, in a way, a Starship Troopers by way of Dynasty Warriors. It gladly puts hordes of monsters ahead of you, and gives you the tools necessary to defend Earth. It’s in the title. The reason why this isn’t the original EDF 20125 but its remaster EDF 4.1 is because the extra content included in the new version is a kaiju-level mech.
It’s called Walking Fortress Balam, and it’s a very accurate description. It’s basically a Pacific Rim Jaeger given to you to facilitate smashing a gigantic monster’s face. While by far no the point of the game, it’s notable and fun enough to warrant a spot on this list. It’s slow, cumbersome, and has punches powerful enough to stagger monsters bigger and heavier than it is. Perfection.
EARTH DEFENSE FORCE 4.1 The Shadow of New Despair
If MechWarrior games are too ponderous for you, and you don’t enjoy being the squishy human in Titanfalls, then maybe Hawken will be more to your taste. Announced as “mech combat meets team-based shooter” and its does deliver on that promise. It even has three classically shooter modes: Team Deathmatch, Co-op Deathmatch, and just Deathmatch.
There are three mech weight classes: light, medium, and heavy, and within each class there’s a number of options, each with a different recommended tactic in mind, such as Mid-range suppression for Incinerator (Heavy), or trap and ambush like CIV (medium). Unfortunately right now the game is only playable on Xbox One and PlayStation 4, the Steam version was discontinued.
Into the Breach is like chess. It has clear rules, the board is fairly simple, and it nevertheless generates incredibly complex tactical scenarios, made doubly challenging due to the presence of structures your humongous mech needs to protect from monstrous invaders called Vek. And should you fail, you can send one of your experience pilots back in time, Edge of Tomorrow-style.
As a result of being able to retain one pilot on what’s essentially a new playthrough, and the procedural generation of individual scenarios, Into the Breach bears partial resemblance to rogue-lite games. It also has its writing done by Chris Avellone, one of the most respected writers in the industry, to provide emotional and dramatic structure to the game.
Into the Breach
Most games on the list are pretty dour, but not this one. Override: Mech City Brawl is bright, colourful, energetic, and completely uninterested in any semblance of realism. If the mech designs from the likes of BattleTech or Hawken feel a bit too hard to distinguish at a glance and you’d like some creative variety, Override has that in spades.
You have a dinobot, a mech with a goat-like head and energy spikes, something that looks like an Aztec statue, a Samurai Godzilla and other weird designs are waiting for you with their special moves and love for destroying an innocent city. And you can even further customise them, because what’s the point of having a machine of death if you can’t apply a custom paintjob?
Override: Mech City Brawl
If there is one thing better than a space fighter craft, it’s a space fighter craft which can transform into a space fighter mech. Strike Suit Zero, its title already evoking associations with the like of Mobile Suit Gundam and other mech anime, is a no hold barred intense space-fighting flight sim, with vibrant colours, missiles leaving long streaks of light, and beautiful deep-space imagery.
The fighter-form of your craft looks cool enough, but what lands the game on this list is the mech form, which provides substantial performance upgrades over the ship-form. Either way, the game can be controlled with a joystick, a rare treat for fans of flight sims. It’s may not be a realistic game, but it certainly is entertaining.
Strike Suit Zero
Have you always wanted to field massive armies of futuristic units and can’t wait for Creative Assembly to make a science-fiction Total War? Made by Gas Powered Games, SC2 allows you to fulfil your heart’s desire. If you want a smooth transition into the game’s mechanics, the story campaign is going to provide such, with a variant for each of the game’s three playable factions.
And, gloriously, among your units are, of course, mecha in many shapes and sizes, including some that would seemingly crush several divisions at once just by falling prone. If you want you can unleash an entire infantry battalion worth of mecha units like they are regular human grunts.
Supreme Commander 2
Both Titanfall games are fundamentally about pilots and the mecha they, well, pilot. The usual flow of the multiplayer mode is that you begin a match on foot, shooting NPC grunts and other players as you parkour around with Respawn’s great traversal system, but once a meter fills, you can call for your titan, which comes like a falling star onto the map, changing the way you play.
The second game added a really good singleplayer story campaign, which features a filed-promoted pilot forming a neural link with his fallen teacher’s Titan. It’s not frequent that mecha get any kind of personality, but BT-7274 is a great counterpoint and partner to the protagonist Jack Cooper. There are other titans in the campaign, but there’s only one BT-7274.
Firaxis Games’ reboot of the classic X-COM franchise asked many questions. What if Earth was attacked by aliens. What if we performed questionable research on dead and live aliens. In the expansion Enemy Within two more questions were added: what if we give humans aliens organs, and, more importantly: what if humans, but mecha. A lot is possible with Meld…
You can give your handpicked volunteers (it makes sense in the context) the ability to interface directly with a massive mech. The price? Your soldier has their limbs amputated so that the MEC can be used in their place. At least they get normal-sized limbs when off-duty. MEC Troopers make short work of every alien they encounter, providing a substantial power boost to your squad.
XCOM: Enemy Unknown
Here in the real world we are still far from building a useful combat mech, but we can imagine what mech warfare and piloting might look like thanks to video games.
As a result, there’s been quite a number of mecha games released over the years, from which we’ve drawn the list below, but some games are bear mentioning outside the ten, because they are interesting in their own right.
One of them is Steel Battalion, by Capcom, which was famous for coming with an (optional, but helpful) custom controller, which reflected the controls of mechs you pilot. There is no overstating how it affected the immersiveness of the experience, especially since you had to deal with a lot of different mechanics.
Another notable game is Armored Core, chiefly to those of you who liked the Soulsborne series. Not because it’s similar in gameplay, but because it was made by the same company, FromSoftware. The series dates back to 1997, and the last release was Armored Core: Verdict Day in 2013, but the franchise probably isn’t dead just yet.
There’s also MechWarrior, based on a long-running board game (and represented by one of the games on the list itself). New entries come out rarely, and the 2019’s MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries came 17 years after the last main entry, MechWarrior 4: Mercenaries.
Thus concludes our list of mecha games that you can still play. Hopefully, you’ve found one with gameplay that matches your gaming preferences as well as your aesthetic tastes. The success of BattleTech might have revived the interest in mecha games a bit, and expecting a new Armoured Core from FromSoftware likely isn’t a losing proposition. And in the meantime, well, there’s ten games to make waiting easier.