Added to the lair: 9/28/20
The rebellion starts here.
There were no shortage of mech sims back in the 90s, thanks largely to the major success of MechWarrior 2. Iron Assault is not MechWarrior or Earthsiege, and in truth most of the similarities are primarily superficial but I'm okay with that.
Iron Assault is actually less mech sim and more first person shooter with mech sim trappings. In fact, in the humorous (but overly critical, I would say) Interactive Entertainment review, they called it a "Doom clone." I wouldn't go that far but I can understand their point. To be fair, "Doom clone" was, at the time, essentially synonymous with what we now refer to as first person shooters, but I still think that might give the wrong impression. The game finds itself in a weird middle ground that's far too simplistic to qualify as a true mech sim and too slow-paced to appeal to someone expecting Doom. Despite all that, I found that I actually enjoyed the game quite a bit.
To start things off we're treated with a pretty fantastic intro cutscene thanks to some fabulous stop motion robot models. I absolutely loved that. I suppose the average person would probably look at it and either laugh or just say it looked terrible but I had a gigantic smile on my face watching some plastic robot toys walk around and shoot at each other while movie-trailer-man tells us about the evil corporations trying to take over the world. The story is pretty generic and thin, honestly, but the stop motion robots mostly make up for it.
Before each mission, you have a few things you can do in your home base. You can read the news, select your mech and loadout for the next mission, read the mission briefing and watch intel, use the simulator and, eventually, choose some team mates to come with you. The mech and weapon selection are small, although they do increase over time as you complete missions. It's much more limited than what you'll find in a proper mech sim, but it's still a bit of customization so that's something. As the game progresses you'll change bases at different points. I really wanted to have something meatier to do between missions, more along the lines of say Wing Commander III. I think that's something that could have really improved the game.
When you finally deploy on the missions, you'll have a primary objective and a secondary objective. These usually involve destroying all of a specific enemy type, recovering some cargo or prisoners, destroying generators, etc. You'll often have to destroy doors and go inside various bases and outposts to complete one or more of the objectives, which I thought was kindof neat. The missions do get rather repetitive at times, but they do evolve over time and get more hectic the further into the game you get. Once you progress to the point that you start getting allies to deploy with you, the game starts throwing more enemies at you.
As for the actual gameplay, you accelerate and decelerate, strafe, and can turn at the torso, you have a couple weapons to switch between including an infinite-ammo machine gun (that can overheat), ammo-limited rockets and missiles, and eventually things like mines. You can lock targets to see more information on them and to fire guided missiles. There are also a number of different information monitors that you can switch between (via the F-keys), like your armor status, map, radar, countermeasures, lock target status, etc. The mechs have what the game calls an upper and lower cockpit. Essentially what these amount to is a tradeoff between viewscreen real estate and the utility of being able to have multiple monitors usable at one time. In the upper cockpit you have a large viewing area, but can only use one monitor at a time. In the lower cockpit you have a smaller viewscreen but you can have up to three monitors visible at one time (the number varies based on the specific mech that you're using). I like this idea in theory, but in practice I didn't find it really necessary to use more than one monitor at a time anyway. Typically what I would do when I started a mission was switch to the countermeasures monitor, toggle on ECM and Anti-Missiles, switch to the lower cockpit and set the monitors to the objective list and status, swap back to the upper cockpit and switch to radar and I'd be all set; occasionally switching between radar and map (the radar doesn't work while in buildings, for example). At that point if I need to check my progress in the objectives or see my mech's status I just press the cockpit toggle button to look and then again to switch back. Gameplay then involves moving through the maps and destroying whatever targets / picking up whatever items the mission calls for. It's simple, but it works.
If you take enough damage on a mission, some things will start to malfunction like your reticle will disappear after sustaining enough damage to Visionics or your speed will be limited and the mech will shake while moving if you take too much damage to your engine. It's a nice little touch, even if it's all rather surface-level. After the mission's over, the summary screen will either compliment you for keeping your mech in good condition or complain that you should take better care of it, and that it's going to keep the mechanics busy for a while. This doesn't seem to have any actual ramifications though - you can still reuse the same type of mech in the next mission, there are no resources that you lose (there are no resources in the game period)... I just expected this to actually matter in some way and it doesn't seem to.
Probably the biggest problem here is that it doesn't really feel like you're controlling a giant lumbering robot. You glide along the ground like you're driving a giant killer Hoveround. It's like they got the speed part right, but completely missed the mark when it comes to making the movement feel like you're in a hulking mech. Now, to be fair, not every mech game goes for that - games like Armored Core and Zone of the Enders clearly don't. The problem is that Iron Assault is clearly trying to ape games like MechWarrior in that aspect - as evidenced by the speed the mechs move - but really missed the mark in that specific area.
With that said though, I still found myself having a good time with the game, going through missions and blowing up everything in sight, and slowly gaining more advanced equipment as I progressed. It's simplistic but fun. It's certainly flawed and misses the mark on a few points but I still came out of it with an overall positive experience and thought it was a pleasant discovery considering I'd never heard of the game until I happened to come across it while looking for potential projects for the site recently. I think if you go in with the right expectations - a simple mech-themed shooter - you'll have a good time. If you're someone that's had some amount of interest in mech sims in the past but found them too daunting to get into, this might actually be a good place to start. It's a bit like "babby's first mech sim" but that's okay. I still had fun with it, so that's all that matters in the end.