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Game Info:

Mechs and Mercs: Black Talons
Developed by: Camel 101
Published by: Kasedo Games
Release Date: January 9, 2015
Available on: PC
Genre: Real Time Strategy
Number of Players: Single-player
ESRB Rating: N/A
Price: $19.99
(Amazon Affiliate Link)

Thank you Kasedo Games for providing us with a copy of this game to review!

For many years, the United Space Federation maintained a tenuous peace throughout the galaxy. But a devastating war left the U.S.F. in tatters. Old grudges were reignited in the embers of the dying federation as various factions vied for power. The strongest of these, the Tzanar Union, wasted little time in asserting its dominance through conquest, at first gobbling up small, backwater colonies. But now their target is the prosperous Oberon system. 

In response to the invasion, Oberon's leaders sounded a call to arms, pleading for the help of any mercenary group willing to come to their aid. Among others, the Black Talons company answered the desperate call. But when the enemy blockaded Oberon's stargate, the Black Talons became trapped in the system. Now their only hope for survival lay in driving out the invaders. The battle for Oberon had begun! 

Mechs and Mercs: Black Talons is a squad-based, real time strategy (RTS) game where players will command the Black Talons as they battle to survive. In-game time is primarily spent in missions, directly controlling your squads and 'Mobile Combat Units.' Known colloquially as M.C.U.s, or 'mechs,' these large war machines carry devastating weaponry, and are capable of turning the tide of any battle. The time between missions is spent aboard the Paladin, the company's battlecruiser and mobile headquarters. It is here that players are able to accept new missions, level up their squads, and perform other actions. As a mercenary company, missions are given in the form of contracts. These are worth varying amounts of money which the player can use to hire new squads, purchase mechs, and invest in various upgrades. Contracts also have timers which determine how long they are available for - when a timer runs out, the contract expires. 

Mechs and Mercs: Black Talons
Highlights:

Strong Points: Gripping story; tons of potential to be a great game 
Weak Points: Abysmal controls; a shocking lack of cover
Moral Warnings: Soldiers killing each other; some blood

Squads, as well as mechs and their pilots, are persistent. Through missions they can gain experience and therefore receive new abilities, becoming more valuable as the game progresses. Therefore it's vitally important to try and keep them alive as long as possible. Unfortunately this is war, and as such, soldiers will die. But take heart; with enough grit, smarts, and patience, the day can be won and victory achieved. 

The central tenant of gameplay is the maneuvering of a player's forces to flank the enemy. In doing so, players can gain the advantage, allowing smaller groups to defeat superior forces - at least in theory. In keeping with this style of gameplay, there are three general squad types: light, medium, and heavy. Each type is defined by their role, weapons, armor type, and movement speed. Heavier squads are used to soak up damage and distract the enemy, providing lighter squads an opportunity to flank and destroy. It's a great concept, but is sadly eclipsed by the game's problems.

Despite its gripping story and enormous potential, Mechs & Mercs has two absolutely fatal flaws for any squad-based RTS title. Namely: a lack of hotkeys, and an absolute dearth of cover. The result is a grossly artificial level of difficulty. While a challenge is good, and casualties are inevitable, these issues so hamper the core gameplay that it's reduced to a disappointing, and frustrating meat grinder. 

In good RTS titles, every command has an assigned hotkey which allows players to issue commands almost-instantaneously. This is vitally important in the swirling maelstrom of combat, when giving various commands to different units is an exercise in almost-controlled chaos. This is especially crucial for quickly activating key unit abilities, such as retreating to prevent a unit from being wiped out. But in Mechs & Mercs, only a small fraction of the commands actually have hotkeys! This so greatly impacts the speed at which the player is able to control units in the heat of battle, that any such abilities are delayed to the point of irrelevance by the time a player painstakingly clicks across the clunky UI. 

Mechs and Mercs: Black Talons
Score Breakdown:
Higher is better
(10/10 is perfect)

Game Score - 62%
Gameplay - 10/20
Graphics - 7/10
Sound - 7/10
Stability - 5/5
Controls - 2/5

Morality Score - 86%
Violence - 3/10
Language - 10/10
Sexual Content - 10/10
Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

The second devastating problem is a desperate lack of cover. In real-life firefights, cover is often the difference between life and death. To be caught in the open, without it, is an almost-certain invitation to get hit. As such, soldiers in combat will use almost anything as cover, even going prone, and wishing for the buttons on their shirts to be gone, so as to be that much closer to the ground. Even mediocre squad-based RTS games generally provide your soldiers with enough life-saving cover to make highly-mobile warfare, at a squad level, viable. In Mechs & Mercs however, cover is so unbelievably scarce that most fights involve one or both sides in the open, creating a slaughter that's more painful to watch than fun to play. When used occasionally, such a deficit can present a fun challenge, forcing the player to break from cover, and work quickly to aggressively flank and overwhelm an enemy position. But this game actually seems built upon such a gimmick.

Either of these issues, if alone, would be bad enough. When combined however, the lack of hotkeys and cover actually blend into a perfect storm that's greater than the sum of its individual parts. This causes every firefight to devolve into a brutal game of roshambo, the winner of which is determined simply by who brought more troops. This of course ruins the appeal of a squad-based RTS game, and makes even the best tactics extraneous.   

Despite all the gameplay problems, the graphics and sounds are pretty good. Graphically, both the individual soldiers and mechs are detailed and move smoothly. Effects like muzzle flashes and explosions are rendered sufficiently, if nothing spectacular. The maps are visually appealing, and provide enough variety to remain interesting. The soundtrack is decent, and doesn't detract from the experience. Although it can become a bit repetitive. The sound effects are okay, but explosions tend to be at a much higher volume, effectively drowning out all other sound for a second or two... which is the most realistic part of this game. 

As a squad-based RTS game, soldiers are regularly seen killing one another in battle. However there is little blood, and no gore. In about thirty hours of gameplay, I didn't come across any foul language, nudity, or other potentially morally-objectionable material. 

Mechs and Mercs: Black Talons, while not an awful game, is a strange blend of sterling potential, and bitter disappointment. It has so much going for it: a gritty and engaging story, tough-as-nails difficulty, and the foundations of a truly solid tactical game. Yet it feels wholly unfinished and dismally unpolished, as if rushed to Steam before it was actually finished. It's got an interesting gameplay concept, and is more than challenging-enough to provide a few hours of fun. Nevertheless, to date, it fails in two vitally important areas for any game of its genre. At the end of the day, this is a twenty dollar game that delivers not a penny more.

 

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Christ Centered Gamer looks at video games from two view points. We analyze games on a secular level which will break down a game based on its graphics, sound, stability and overall gaming experience. If you’re concerned about the family friendliness of a game, we have a separate moral score which looks at violence, language, sexual content, occult references and other ethical issues.

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