AirMech presents an interesting angle on a futuristic, 3D multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA) provided as a free-to-play game, published and developed by Carbon Games for Microsoft Windows and Android devices. It runs on Google Chrome’s Native Client and Android/OUYA, and it is also available on Steam. As a game, it’s extremely well constructed and well developed with a lot of compelling reasons to play. MOBA players may find this game quite the catch.
AirMech is one of those odd games that claims to be in open beta, but still has a cash shop available and has been selling virtual items for months. In essence, AirMech is a free-to-play game that has essentially already soft-launched but still claims to be in beta.
As a MOBA, AirMech feels a lot like StarCraft with a player-focused edge.
Add together excellent graphics alongside a soundtrack provided by Front Line Assembly and it’s a game worth checking out in the MOBA market.
And, if you do check out the game, play the Saucer. It’s a bizarre and interesting MOBA champion to play and AirMech’s game mechanics make it a joyful experience.
Sound and graphics: Get your mech on with nice 3D action
From the jump, it’s obvious that the artists and developers worked very hard on giving AirMech excellent graphics. The maps and animations are high definition, easily viewed, and give players the ability to quickly scan the battlefield. Even with missiles flying, explosions everywhere, and lasers etching bright lines across the screen it’s still possible to identify enemy heroes and ground units. All extremely important for the survival of a Mech pilot in the field.
As I played, the maps began to remind me a great deal of StarCraft maps. Home bases exist on the extremes of the map (usually top and bottom) and the area in between is full of gulches, mountains, valleys, roads, and neutral bases that need to be overtaken and manned. The maps are clear enough to read in both the minimap and the main screen.
Even while laying units and fighting off enemy Mechs, I was able to read the map and minimap with ease to tell what the strategic situation happened to be.
The animations on the Mechs proved to be a lot of fun as well. In air Mechs appear like most aircraft–such as B2 bombers, A10 Warthogs, Apache helicopters, and one is even a UFO. On the ground, Mechs become walkers, usually bipedal–although the UFO does turn into a tripod. (Have I mentioned that I love the UFO?)
Each of the AirMech heroes has several skins. Amid these skins are themes such as Gothic, which make the ships dark black with purple highlights and spikes; as well as Steampunk, which adds a lot of brass, transparent segments, and pneumatic elements. There’s a few other skins available for various Mechs that makes them look more like their military counterparts (especially in the case of the one that looks like an A10 or the Apache.)
Cosmetics is a big part of AirMech’s free-to-play strategy and with the excellent graphics involved in the game, its cost effective. Costuming in this game looks good and it’s an excellent way to distinguish oneself on the battlefield.
AirMech’s sound and music is also excellent. Although I quickly turned off the music in the game, it’s well orchestrated and fits the high-energy, action-packed game energy. One reason for this is that AirMech’s sound track is played my Front Line Assembly, providing cinematic industrial-scale EBM music that fills the game with bristling vibration.
As for sound FX, the game seems to work just fine in this arena. Blasting at an opponent has a thumpy-visceral feel when it comes to spinning up the A10’s rotary gun or the UFOs beam-cannon. After a while, many of the weapon sounds blur together; but after playing a particular Mech for long enough I found myself being able to identify the sound of its weapons amidst the din–especially when an enemy Mech had the same gun.
The good sound effects in AirMech do make the battles feel like strategic arcade and add to the dimensions of the battlefield.
Gameplay: It’s a game that feels a lot like StarCraft with units and heroes
Players are given a small set of Mechs to play in AirMech, each of which has its own set of skills and traits based around airspeed, armor, firepower, build speed, and carrying capacity. Players also get to choose from a few different pilots who have strengths and weaknesses that carry over to the AirMech traits–but I didn’t find choosing any particular pilot to change as much about the game as choosing a particular Mech.
The Striker and the Neo both have configurations that mimic military fighter jets; the Helix and Paladin are similar to military battle-platforms that use rotors, with the Paladin being a cargo carrier; the Osprey and Angel fall into an interesting mix of aircraft from old to VTOL; of course the Bomber looks like a stealth bomber, and the Warthog comes with a rotary cannon. Finally there’s the Saucer, which is a straight-up styled UFO with the ability to take control of enemy units.
However, the game isn’t just about the AirMechs. There’s also a secondary game that involves building and positioning units.
AirMechs come with the capability of building and commanding soldiers, tanks, and other units that roll across the the map. Soldier units can capture neutral and enemy bases and change their allegiance–these bases become strongholds and staging areas for picking up troops. As the players build units and increase abilities the final products are collected from these bases.
AirMechs can carry battlefield units–some are better at this than others–and drop them off in strategic locations.
The number of buildable units is quite extensive. They fall into the usual expectation for engines of battle from soldiers, tanks, missile-batteries, armored escorts, and even turrets. By building the right units and deploying them thoughtfully, players can change the tide of battle. Since there’s a lot of different types of units to build and deploy, there’s equally a large number of ways to approach the battlefield.
By using the Saucer, I was given a lot of command of the battlefield. I would build caravans of tanks to harass enemy installations and I could hover over enemy units to turn them to my side.
Since all AirMechs also have a ground mode, it’s also not uncommon to follow a group of creeps and other siege units, land, and start unleashing firepower into the enemy ranks. A single AirMech with a column of armor or specialized units can really make a difference.
Freemium: AirMech follows the same course of many MOBAs with its freemium offering
The premium currency for AirMech is called a Diamond and it can be bought in batches from 900 ($4.99) to 42,000 ($99.99). Each of the packages also comes with rare capsules (containing random items) and VIP store tickets that allow players to buy interesting items from the VIP store. The bigger the package, the more capsules and VIP tickets. Additionally, each package comes with a number of daya of a VIP subscription.
This subscription from buying bundles of premium currency is certainly different than other games which offer premium currency via way of subscriptions.
Much of the premium shop is filled with the standard multiplayer expectations: cosmetic items such as AirMech skins, additional items for gussying the player up, as well as quality-of-life items such as boosters. Specialized units and pilots can also be bought called “unlimited” that offer superior traits to others—of course, “unlimited” items appear to be banned from PvP matches (most likely to keep the playing field level and avoid a pay-to-win effect.)
Parts, Pilots, and other items are, of course, also available for the premium currency; everything else is bought with the freemium currency called a Kudo (marked with a “K”.)
Conclusion: A strong community and a good game means a great experience
AirMech is a MOBA, but it’s not a DOTA-style MOBA that has become the expected norm in the iterative industry of producing MOBAs. The approach of having bases to capture, even with creeps, and the StarCraft style of army production gives AirMech a niche that makes it very arcade-based as well as producing high-energy, and fast-paced combat.
Every match that I played had players willing to chat and for the most part they were friendly. The game modes enabled me to find ways to play cooperatively with other players against AI opponents; and I could also hop into 3v3 battles with teams leading the way in proper PvP styled matches. Often, learning what unit configurations my allies had would lead to how I chose to approach the battlefield.
I didn’t have much time to test out (or see) if there was a working voice comms, but this game would do great work with it in the 3v3 context.
For anyone looking for a game that provides a great deal of variety, while stepping away from the DOTA-styled MOBA scene, AirMech provides quite a contender.