Although skeptical at first, I quickly grew to like MechWarrior 4. Although it has a few failings, these are minor irritants at best, and do little to detract from the actual gameplay.

You start off with a rather nicely done FMV sequence showing the invasion of House Davion's homeworld by House Steiner. Once you've entered campaign mode, you get another FMV sequence that details the plot: Your family is dead. Your homeworld taken from you. You're the only noble son of House Davion left alive, and it's up to you to take back the planet.

Shortly after, you hit the first stumbling block: The mission briefing. While the map provides an idea of the layout of the mission area, and some small videos provide intel on the mission, there is rarely a solid description of what you're going to be doing (aside from blowing things up) spelled out anywhere. It's almost just as easy to ignore the mission briefing completely and proceed to the next stumbling block...

...The Mech Lab. Gone are the days of full customization. In its place, we have slots that are designated for energy, ballistic, or missile weapons, and only up to a certain size of them at that. You can control your armor arrangement, but there's a maximum limit on how much you can have, and what is probably most irritating is the fact that you cannot control what limbs or torso sections any of your equipment goes in. This becomes especially appalling once the realization sinks in that you're relying on salvage for most of your parts from here on out, and nine times of ten, your most valuable, hard-to-find weapons are in the easy-to-eliminate arms. You'll be hearing 'Weapon destroyed' a lot in combat, and gnashing your teeth each time.

Once you've gotten past all that, the game is actually fairly solid coming out of the gate. The graphics are nothing short of stunning, with lasers painting the landscape red or green with each blast, trees shattering as you walk through them or blast them out of your way, and explosions seeming almost real, particularly 'Mech detonations. You have the option to play each mission during the day or night, and if you don't play at least one night mission, you're missing out. Light-amp view works as one would expect, and each mech has its own little headlights, although the reach on those is somewhat limited. A 'mech with its lights doused is a dangerous thing to be hunted by. Mechs hulls are blackened and charred by weapons fire, and damage to enemy mechs actually has some effect on their combat capability for a change, from limping to being unable to reverse.

Sound is overall on the mark, with lasers screeching, machine guns chattering, and the distinctive banshee wail of the PPC cannons sounding each time you fire. The music is fairly unobtrusive, but still well done and entertaining, and the voice acting is decent, although it won't win any awards. One minor problem I found is that there is no option to subtitle the voices of your lancemates, which left me without much of a clue what they were saying sometimes, as I was usually trying to not be dead while they prattled on.

Gameplay is a bit different from what we've become accustomed to in Mechwarrior titles, with the biggest difference being that of speed. Mechs no longer plod along, picking their targets carefully... they RACE. This gives it a bit more of a feel of being an action game than a simulation, and might be one of the hardest things for old-school Battletech fans to adapt to. Joystick controls are thankfully intuitive enough to help make up for this, with rudder axis controlling torso-twists while the x and y axis control turning and pitch respectively. The missions follow the plot for the most part, although the fact that they are linearly scripted lowers the replay value a bit. Fortunately, you've got Instant Action and multiplayer options to keep it on your play list for a bit longer.

Overall, the game is fairly solid, and makes a respectable addition to the Mechwarrior series despite its shortcomings. Now, if you'll excuse me I must be off to go teach some Steiner scum the true meaning of the words 'heavy metal.'