Inspired by this thread, and my growing appreciation for yesterday's games, I thought I might put together some thoughts on games from my catalogue that have special value or replayability, and share them with this group. There are two 'games' sub-forums down at the bottom, I know, but they are wastelands - one for Sports and one for RPGs, which will not suit all the games I have in mind.
With that out of the way - let's talk about a game!
MechCommander 2 (2001, MicroSoft)
What's better than a good, free game? How about a free game that is still being modded with missions, revisions, and changes? How about all that, combined with strategy, explosions, and 80-ton mechanical war machines?
The original game, MechCommander, took what had been a sort of tired, FPS-approach to the BattleMech world, and elevated it to a real-time strategy. Not the lame Warcraft/Starcraft style, where you mine crap and produce units and upgrades - a realistic strategy, where you run a team of hardened mechwarriors, dropped into a battlefield with limited tonnage and resources, and have to maraud through an entire landscape achieving certain goals.
Now controlling a fleet of MechWarriors may not be as interesting to some as actually piloting one Mech, but as a squadron for hire, you get to salvage enemy Mechs if you see fit - allowing you to grow your mech collection on the battlefield, as well as through regular purchases. You can configure your Mechs individually as variants - lasers, guns, PPCs, flamethrowers, missles, armor, etc - and then save the variants. Mechs range from tiny 25-tonners to huge 100-ton Assault class.
With the added salvage/money/mech design components, this game has a ton of strategic value over the standard RTS fare. With the added support units, such as minelayers, air strikes, and turrets, there are all kinds of ways to destroy your opponent - even if you are outnumbered. Some of the best missions are where you are severely limited in tonnage, and need to use your environment and support craft to take down much bigger enemies.
The missions do a good job of ranging - it's simple for a lot of them to fall into the run-around, blow-up-everything mode, and in the easier difficulties that's what you get. On the harder difficulties, or custom missions, you get anything from a decent challenge, to assured destruction of half of your mechs. There are nice twists, like meeting up with other forces, protecting bases or units, and having to work with 'green' ally pilots that run around and get blown up.
An added piece is individual pilot skills. Not only do pilots get a voice, name, and icon, but they amass kills, medals, and even promotions - earning a new mech piloting skill with each promotion. Since you have about 10 pilots, you get to know your guys. The voicing and short videos from inside the cockpit are a nice touch.
More good news: in 2006, MicroSoft made the game code public, meaning people could install it for mods. I grabbed it for pure playability. Others, like wolfman-X, used the code to improve the gameplay, do additional missions and campaigns, and create incredibly difficult scenarios.
Even years after first beating the game, I returned to load the original on one PC, and install all the modded versions on another for a true challenge. The result has been awesome, and for a net investment of $0, I couldn't be happier.
Give this puppy a try. What do you have to lose?
Microsoft Source Code
The Final Score:
A top-notch sci-fi strategy RTS that is more about strategy, design, and some economic elements that most RTS's today. With no price tag, and user-designed campaigns freely available, the replayability, challenge, and depth is top notch. Eventually you can get bored with teh run-and-shoot method, so be sure to move up the difficulty or move on to another campaign to avoid stagnation.