AirMech is a top-down Action real-time strategy game with its main concepts influenced by the old Herzog Zwei from 1989
Before giving a review of the game, I should elaborate on my taste in games as the reviewer. I like new ideas and new game mechanics, I prefer old classic strategy games over modern ones and I'm not very fond of the Free-to-play model in principle. I have been playing strategy games since the original Herzog Zwei in the very early 90s.
Your play and control one of various mechs, where the default one is a jet fighter. What they all have in common is that the unit is directly controlled by you as in an arcade game. Compared to a "normal" RTS game, this unit acts as your mouse cursor.
When you are in the air as a jet/chinook/saucer you can pick up units, fly them off somewhere and place them where you want, as well as giving units different commands such as "hold ground" and "attack enemy base".
When you transform into a mech you walk on the ground, can fire on ground targets and generally support your troops with different mech abilities.
You start with a home base where you can build units. The goal of the main game mode is to destroy the opponents base. In addition to the starting bases, the maps have outposts which can be taken over to earn resources faster, in addition to act as recharge stations when your mech's health gets low or when you run out of energy.
The game matches are played 1vs1, 2vs2 or 3vs3 either in player-vs-player or player-vs-AI. A survival mode similar to tower-defense games lets up to 4 players defend a base against several incoming waves of enemy units.
Since your opponent will be constantly fighting you over additional outposts as well as harassing your main base and your units, the game can become very hectic and fast-paced. The times you win, it feels very rewarding.
The game has tons of customization options. Where Herzog Zwei had around 8 different units, AirMech has over 60 units. However, you have to select a subset of these for your avatar character before starting a match, and only 8 different units can be in your build menu at any time. In addition, your mech can be enhanced by various upgrades.
There are also cosmetic upgrades to make your mech and units stand out from the rest. Which brings us to..
Free-to-play profit model
The game is free of charge, which in of itself is amazing. I'm also happy to say that there aren't any balancing issues due to the profit model; the game is not "pay2win" as some people accuse free-to-play games of being. The company earns money on people buying the in-game currencies, which is used to buy units, mechs and upgrades in the game store. If you don't use your hard-earned cash however, you get credits for just playing the game and meeting daylies. If you are familiar with Blizzards Hearthstone, you know basically how it works. Someone who spend money on the game save themselves from maybe 4-6 hours of gameplay, which is the time you would need to get the basic units. Other than that, the things for sale are mostly cosmetics, such as a tank skin with a gothic look.
I love the main game mechanic! In RTS games such as Starcraft, when you get over a certain skill level, the game is won based on who can dish out the most commands to the most units in the least amount of time, all else being equal.
In AirMech the mouse-clicking fest doesn't happen because unit commands are given via your mech, and your mech is limited in how fast it can fly around. It gives people with not-so-great reflexes (hello me!) a fighting chance, but still requires skill. It's just that AirMech requires a different skillset than RTSes like Starcraft and Command & Conquer. It's an RTS, but also an arcade game.
The graphics style in the game is superb, and my modest computer from 2011 plays the game at a decent framerate. I know that a lot of gamers like flashy graphics, and the more realistic games look the better. If you're one of those, you won't find that here. But AirMech doesn't try to look realistic. Rather, the developers went for a more cartoon-like look with very colorful scenes. I prefer game graphics which decides for a certain art style, rather than games that adds all sorts of HDR lighting, blooming and depth-of-field.
The whole game interface is really well made. Menus are sharp and descriptive. After logging in, you'll see a chat window where you can talk to other players, find opponents or people to play coop with. The community seems very friendly towards beginners.
This is mostly nitpicking, however there are some things that goes against my personal preferences.
While the overall artistic style of the game is great, some of the abilities or unit skins you can get are just strangely out of place graphics-wise. The "boomer" unit can be made to look like a Creeper from Minecraft. That doesn't fit the game at all! The overall style of the game is a kind of post-apocalyptic future where mechs control the earth, but here you have creepers in the battlefield, and mech abilities in the form of witches on brooms? If other players like it, that's fine by me, but it would be nice to be able to turn it off or be able to choose default skins/models for all players that are more consistent.
As the game is in the free-to-play category, the developer/publisher needs to make money somehow. And that brings me to annoying attention-grabbing and nagging. Whenever I start the game and enter the main menu / lobby, the game nags me to give referral links to friends (basically free promotion) and get in-game currency in return. In addition, the game highlights the store icon and your current credits sometimes, and hints you to spend your credits and buy more in subtle and not so subtle ways. This is incredibly annoying! I'd like to focus on playing the game, not get nagged on to spend money and treated like a walking wallet. Even if a game is free to play, it should be possible to turn off all the stuff which distracts you from the main game.
Note that the actual game matches are void of this problem. It's only in the main menu/lobby.
Herzog Zwei which this game is influenced by was great because of its game mechanics and its simplicity. But the free-to-play model is incompatible with simplicity. The end result is that the number of units and items in AirMech is inflated quite a bit. It might sounds strange that more choice and customization could be considered a bad thing, but here it is. The game would be vastly better by less choice and complexity, but I suppose the publisher would be making less money that way.
Despite the nitpicking above, AirMech is incredibly fun to play. And it has something for everyone, whether you are a hardcore competitive RTS player or a casual gamer. Play PvP ranked if you enjoy competitive play, or team up with other players against the AI otherwise.
You can use mouse+keyboard or an Xbox 360 joypad, and getting into a match takes seconds. A match lasts for between 10 and 20 minutes, so you have time to play in your lunch break if that's your thing. The strategy and tactics in the game can be incredibly deep depending on the experience of the players, and no two rounds are the same.
The game's presentation suffers a bit from the free-to-play market model and it would be nice to be able to pay once to get rid of the "give me more money!" nagging, but nothing is perfect. And again, the game does *not* give paying players any advantage.
I give AirMech 7.5 out of 10. It's free! At least install it and give it a try.