Mechwarrior reboot dead, Mechwarrior Online rises from the ashes

There’s no single-player action game from the last twenty years that I enjoy as much as Mechwarrior 4: Mercenaries. There are games that I think are better. There are games that are more important. But Mercenaries is the rare action game that has aged well; it’s just as playable today as it was in 2002. So it was with great excitement that I watched the 2009 reveal trailer for a Mechwarrior reboot from creator Jordan Weisman and Pirhna Games.

It was everything I wanted it to be. These weren’t the ‘mechs of Mechassault, robot toys with no sense of heft or weight. This was Mechwarrior respecting its simulation roots. You can see how heavy the mech feels, and the amount of damage modeling and tactical options (not to mention heat management) displayed in the trailer made it my #1 most wanted game. The studio even got Microsoft to release Mechwarrior 4: Mercenaries for free (give it a go if you never have).

Then everything went dark. No one heard a peep from Pirahna about the reboot. Now we know why.

In a blog post published earlier this month, Pirahna revealed that despite enormous public interest, publishers simply wouldn’t bite. The game was going to cost some money, and publishers viewed it as an unproven quantity. I can’t imagine why: this was a game making use of one of the most powerful sci-fi licenses in gaming, with an enormous built-in fan base and a design different enough from all the derivative Call of Duty clones to attract interest. But the fact that it wasn’t derivative was, I guess, precisely what scared publishers. Pirahna also reveals that they couldn’t publish on PS3 due to licensing issues, and publishers weren’t willing to accept anything less than full multi-platform (whatever happened to making the most of a single platform’s strengths?). So the Mechwarrior reboot died.

There’s some good news, though: Pirahna has decided it’s viable as a free-to-play PC exclusive, and they’re taking as much of the core design from the single-player reboot and putting it into multiplayer shootouts. It’s sad that we won’t get to experience a classic Battletech campaign, advancing from small light ‘mechs to 100-ton Assaults, but I think this has a lot of potential. They’re promising that it won’t be play to win, and while developers always say that I have some faith that these guys will follow through, because frankly none of the built-in fanbase would play it otherwise. I also think that it’s PC-exclusive design is going to help it: the fact is that a true simulation requires a lot more buttons than a gamepad can provide, and the series last trip to consoles (in the form of the Mechassault games) were so simplified as to be something entirely different. They were fun, but they were closer to Twisted Metal than Mechwarrior 4. Pirahna has confirmed that while there will be a range of control schemes, they’re working with hardware manufacturers to offer great peripheral support: this will include the classic joystick control method, though it might also include an insane custom controller ala Steel Battalion.

You can register your callsign at now. I’ll keep you updated as the game progresses.

Sources: Mechwarrior Online, Rock Paper Shotgun