REVIEW: Mechajammer (PC), All Jammed Up
Mechajammer begins like other CRPGs. It starts with a brief overview of the world, and then you are presented with a screen for creating your character. This is the end of the average experience. This is not your CRPG. This is Mechajammer. It’s something.
The story is set in the future after humanity has colonized the stars. Catana is a backwater planet that has been forgotten and left to its fate. It was overrun by mutants, rampant pollution and unchecked industrial activity of the Syndicate.
Your ragtag crew escapes from an unsuccessful raid on an enemy compound as a spacefaring soldier. Your memories are shaky after landing in a swamp on Calitana. You seek refuge in a nearby building where you can meet Medic, the disembodied head, a mechanically enhanced clone that is an influential psionic person, and Barry, the crewmember whose hotheadedness leads to more trouble than he deserves. Talking to Medic can help you learn about the game’s combat system, even though it is not something that anyone will tell you. To understand the complex combat systems of this game, the tutorial is a must. Otherwise, you will get lost very quickly.
The process of creating your character is similar to an RPG creator. You are given roles that will determine your specialties in combat. These include healing ability, social checks and melee or ranged combat weapons. These roles can include your personal history before the story’s events.
However, there is a catch. Each occupation you choose will harm the previous roles in your life. You could develop PTSD if you are a soldier. This can cause you to become frightened by combat or retreat if your bravery is not checked during battles. You could become highly naive if you are unemployed and end up paying more for your goods at the shops.
Building your character with these negative traits can be difficult, but it is possible to build a dedicated role. Do you want to engage in lots of combat but not be killed by two well-placed shots? You can choose to be a military scout or Syndicate Security. These professions give you more dice rolls in weapons and unarmed combat. Do you want to navigate your way through the story diplomatically? You might consider a job as a nurse or data entry clerk, which is more socially advantageous. Non-combat jobs encourage experimentation in how you do things in nature between fights. Hacking computers is one example. You can also use the Charm roll to recruit NPCs or bribe them with rumors or special quests, or any other valuable actions.
You are not just going on quests for party members but also a new twist to RPGs. Players will be able to charm any NPC that is available on the streets if they can interact with them. Charming an NPC will increase your character’s social stat and allow you to recruit the NPC as a member of a controlled squad. You can have up to four NPCs in a controlled squad with multiple characters. My squad had more than 10 players that could be individually controlled to move and attack each turn. Squads work like an RTS. They can be controlled manually with simple commands such as move and attack. However, they can also be given tactical behavior that automate their actions once they enter combat. This allows you to focus on the main character.
Mechajammer’s battle system and controls are where things get a little weird. Mechajammer uses a unique turn-based battle system instead of a traditional system in which players and opponents take turns. The game will freeze time when combat is initiated. The UI will change to display actions above the weapon your character is using. Right-clicking on any target will execute the action you have selected for your weapon. Any squads that are not individually commanded to attack it will also be executed. Combat doesn’t happen in a vacuum. You can miss the target from a distance and stray shots can hit nearby targets, friends, or foes. Your character’s chosen dice rolls or pips can influence every aspect of combat. This includes a chance to hit, score critical hits, and a roll to perform non-combat actions during combat. You may find it cumbersome or even tedious to leave fate to the dice rolls. This can lead to you using quicksaves to save time and prevent losing precious minutes between difficult fights.
All of this is unique to the genre. However, Mechajammer’s most painful aspect is the double-edged sword that is how baffling it all is. After the tutorial level, you are taught basic combat skills and then you are dropped into the world. With no clue of what next, you can explore the world as you please. The Terminal screen is your only source of quest log information. It shows you notes from terminals and NPCs that you have interacted with in this world. You can also manually enter instructions and hints in a notebook, but it can be cumbersome (especially when you are talking) and you may miss something. The objectives given to you are extremely vague and you don’t have any indications of what interactive or not. You’re left pointing at random pixels on the screen, which look very much like a phone or device on the wall, in the hope that something will happen.