Who doesn’t love giant, walking humanoid combat machines? With one foot planted in anime and the other rooted in table-top games, mech (or “mecha,” as it’s known in Japan) video games let players pilot these typically bipedal, quadripedal, treaded, or even wheeled vehicles equipped with massive firepower and tough armor.
North American publisher Namco Bandai and developer From Software are preparing to release Armored Core V on March 20 for PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, so we’re running down some of the best mech games available. Have a favorite not mentioned here? Let us know!
Armored Core 2 (2000)
Armored Core 2 and its full retail expansion, Armored Core 2: Another Age, hit the PlayStation 2 in 2000 and 2001, respectively. Like in other mech games, much time is spent on the battlefield, and completing missions advances the story.
The sequel to the series from developer From Software and publisher Agetec introduced extension weapons, which are mounted to the armored core’s shoulders, and interior parts in the core that function as bombs or decoys. In addition, the Overboost feature pushes your AC into overdrive, giving you an edge when you’re seconds away from destruction.
Armored Core 2 includes multiplayer, and although Another Age made alterations to the basic mechanics and modes, it offers players a fest of over 100 missions, the largest selection for an Armored Core game at that time.
Steel Battalion (2002)
Capcom created Steel Battalion for the original Xbox, and now the publisher and developer From Software (fresh on the series but a veteran of mech games) are preparing to release the third game, Steel Battalion: Heavy Armor, for the Kinect on June 19 of this year.
Steel Battalion offered more immersion than other mech games of its time, and gamers who dropped the steep $200 on the game also took home a sizable special controller, which featured 40 buttons, three panels, and three pedals. This helped reproduce the sensation of sitting inside a Vertical Tank’s cockpit.
Metal Wolf Chaos (2004)
Released only in Japan, Metal Wolf Chaos decorated the genre in an intensely patriotic theme as developer From Software (Armored Core V, Steel Battalion: Heavy Armor) gave players control over fictional President Michael Wilson, who goes head-to-head with the opposing Vice President Richard Hawk. (Acting as the Japanese publisher for Silicon Studio’s 3D Dot Game Heroes, From Software made a nod to Wilson with the playable character model “President.”)
What could be better than saving the country from terrorists as a bad-ass president who stomps around in power armor? The premise is an over-the-top, fun match for a mech game. Players tour the United States, moving from Washington D.C. to Miami Beach to Houston and more, with over a hundred weapons to collect.
And yes — it's import-friendly.
Gundam Battle Assault 2 (2002)
Developer Natsume and developer/publisher Bandai worked together to create the second Battle Assault game, released for the PlayStation and based on the anime series Mobile Suit Gundam.
With 2D sprites and multiplayer versus gameplay reminiscent of both Street Fighter and Marvel versus Capcom, Gundam Battle Assault 2 comes loaded with content: a story mode, survival mode, two time attack modes, unlockable characters, and additional bonuses. The game offers players a distinct experience thanks to features like a jump boost ability that needs recharging and weapons that run dry of ammo, causing the mechs to more closely resemble working machines with parts rather than unstoppable juggernauts. The cast includes 30 different mech suits, each characterized with a unique style.
Front Mission 4 (2004)
Square Enix’s Front Mission 4 brought the tactical RPG series to the PlayStation 2. The story involves characters who must deal with giant mechs called wanzers, which can be customized with various weaponry and parts. It switches between two separate perspectives: those of a new recruit named Elsa, who has recently joined the E.C.'s Durandal corps, and Darril, a U.C.S. Army sergeant in South America. The E.C., if you’re wondering, mainly consists of Europe and the U.S.N. and is an amalgamation of North and South America.
The game follows a standard approach: Moving your wanzer or attacking with it in battle costs AP of varying amounts, depending on the action. Shots can target different regions on the enemy wanzer’s body, such as the head, torso, arms, and legs. Each part has an HP bar and, when destroyed, can be repaired, but defunct limbs and bodily regions affect how the battle plays out. Wanzers without legs can’t move, and a decommissioned arm cannot fire its assigned weapon.
Sakura Wars: So Long, My Love (2010)
One unusual mech title is Sega’s Sakura Wars: So Long, My Love (the fifth game in the Sakura Wars series), a tactical RPG and dating sim that came out on the PlayStation 2 and Wii in North America two years ago. The story follows naval ensign Shinjiro Taiga as he is summoned from Japan to New York, set in an alternate timeline during the 1920s. There, his all-female mechanized fighters — disguised as a musical troupe — must topple an evil warlord and his underlings before they gain dominion over America.
Combat occurs on the ground and in the air, using the bipedal mechs as weapons to eliminate the demons popping up all over New York City. Before battles, you interact in the story segments to strengthen your friendships for the forthcoming skirmish. The game combines visual novel anime storytelling with mech strategy, making it one of the more singular entries available.
Zone of the Enders: The 2nd Runner (2003)
One of the best mech games is associated with Hideo Kojima and another veteran of the Metal Gear Solid series, Yoji Shinkawa. Kojima acted as producer and Shinkawa served as designer on Zone of the Enders: The 2nd Runner, which centers entirely around mech combat. It’s also one of the rarest installments for the PlayStation 2.
Thankfully, the Zone of the Enders HD Collection is coming to the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and Vita later this year and will contain the first and second games from developer Kojima Productions and publisher Konami.
The 2nd Runner focuses on protagonist Dingo Egret, who works at a mining facility on the moon Callisto. Upon discovering the hidden Orbital Frame Jehuty, Dingo climbs into the mech and fends off the BAHRAM forces that swarm him with the intention of seizing the technology for themselves. Despite its short length, the game enjoyed positive attention over its pleasing graphics, intense boss battles, and stable controls.
Rumor has it that once Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance is out of the way, Kojima will commence development on a Zone of the Enders 3.
MechWarrior 4: Vengeance (2000)
Aside from Vengeance, developer FASA Interactive split MechWarrior 4 into two subsequent parts: an expansion pack called Black Knight, and Mercenaries, a stand-alone game. Using first-person and third-person gameplay, Vengeance arms players with mechs and more traditional military vehicles, such as tanks and helicopters, and gives them major control over customization. Various modes and attractive multiplayer options are included.
The PC and arcade game, published by Microsoft, balances action and military simulation without compromising one or the other. It offers significant depth for seasoned players and a reasonable introduction for those only just discovering the series.
Players control Ian Dresari, son of a hero and the rightful heir to Kentares, who joins the Resistance to wage war against his traitorous cousin William and whose fate coincides with that of his sister, Joanna, also poised to ascend the throne.
Command & Conquer 3: Tiberium Wars (2007)
This real-time strategy game from developer/publisher Electronic Arts is a direct sequel to Command & Conquer: Tiberian Sun from Westwood Studios and can be played on Xbox 360, PC, and Mac. Its expansion, Kane’s Wrath, released a year later.
In Tiberium Wars, an alien faction known as the Scrin cuts between the Global Defense Initiative (GDI) and the Brotherhood of Nod. Spread across three campaigns are thirty-eight missions that explore the Third Tiberium War as it unfolds in the year 2047, the game supports online play and features vehicles and aircrafts and additional units and structures, such as GDI Juggernauts and Nod Avatar Mechs, capable of ripping the weapons off other units and harnessing their power against the enemy.
Like MechWarrior, the first MechAssault takes place in the BattleTech fictional universe, in which humans fight using robots called BattleMechs. Developer Day 1 Studios, in conjunction with publisher Micosoft Game Studios, set the action on the planet Helios, where factions feud over swaths of space.
The player commands one of the BattleMech pilots in the employ of the elite mercenary group Wolf’s Dragoons, who need him to investigate why the planet has ceased communication. After crash-landing on Helios, players learn over the course of 20 levels that a cult order has dominated the planet, the zealous Commander Strader having imposed himself as ruler.
MechAssault was one of the first games on the original Xbox to use the Xbox Live service, allowing up to eight players to simultaneously engage in an online match. The always present concern of overheating mechs adds an element of strategy to the action-intensive game.