There really aren’t enough mech games on Steam. For such a prolific, classic genre, there just aren’t many options at all. And this goes double when it comes to games where you can actually build and customize your mechs. But M.A.S.S. Builder, which enters early access today, changes that up. If you like action games about building mechs, this game does an admirable job of scratching that itch.
One of the coolest things about M.A.S.S. Builder is that every last mech part is changeable. Each piece, down to the feet and joints, can be swapped out and painted however you like. As you collect items from defeated enemies, you’ll unlock a ton of new parts that you can swap out in the game’s armor menu. It’s honestly a little overwhelming at first, although it doesn’t take much time to figure out.
There are multiple slots that you can save new mech frames in, but each must be started with the default build. Every part can be colored to your liking, and you can pick colors via a list or by choosing one via a palette. I colored mine like a Gundam and the results look pretty good. My frame ended up looking a good amount like the Exia. There are even different kinds of paint, such as metallic coats or ones that glow.
But the customization doesn’t stop at appearance. The way weapons work in M.A.S.S. Builder is a little unusual. Normally, most games have you buy or develop weapons. Here, though, you have to build them yourself, which is fairly simple. Guns and swords have two parts and you just choose each one. For instance, you can turn your guns into Gatling-style weapons simply by changing the barrel. It’s pretty intuitive, although I was a bit confused at first.
Just for show
Strangely, all of the part and weapon changes seem to be just for aesthetics. The parts you can swap often have icons on them, but I’m not sure what they mean, if anything, as it isn’t explained anywhere I could see. From what I can gather, you’re pretty much stuck with the same melee and ranged weapon types. If they do different amounts of damage, I hope the menus are changed to reflect this. I did, however, paint my sword to glow pink, which made my damage go way up in pretend land. They do vary by shot speed, weight, and whether you carry them with one or two hands, although I’m not sure what difference any of that makes.
The main way it appears you actually change your mech’s stats is by using the development tab to create new engines and gear. Engines change the amount of armor you have as well as your speed. Each engine has three gear slots that can be filled. There’s also the option for swapping operating systems, but I don’t think that’s been implemented yet. One thing worth mentioning is how I had to reset the game whenever I tried to modify a weapon’s attributes, which caused my menu to get stuck.
Boost ‘n slash
The combat in M.A.S.S. Builder is also pretty decent. You have five combat options at your disposal at any time — a melee weapon, a gun that uses energy, a gun that uses bullets, a missile launcher, and an energy launcher. You can’t have a gun and a melee weapon equipped at the same time, so you’ll need to switch between the two, which is slightly awkward but works well enough in practice.
The melee attack feels alright. It’s pretty standard hack-and-slash fare. You’ve got a ground combo and an air combo that keeps you suspended in mid-air while hitting enemies. You can also hit multiple enemies at once, which the game requires often, as it can be a bit of a crowd-fighter. Switching to guns is generally a good idea against larger, melee-focused foes, as you can’t stun them like you can smaller ones and you’re naturally going to want to minimize damage.
The best defense
For whatever reason, your defensive options are limited to boosting. The movement is fine and the boosting works well. It can function as a dodge if you need to get out of the way of an attack and lasts a decent amount of time as well. But you can’t block, which is problematic as you’ll often be up against a lot of enemies that will just wail on you while you try to get your bearings. Crowd-fighting is fine, but there needs to be some way to avoid damage. A visual indication that an enemy is attacking would be helpful here, as would being able to block or counter.
The shooting is fine as well, but guns all have a finite amount of ammo and don’t seem to do much damage. You can free-aim in addition to locking onto foes, which is a nice option that many mech games don’t offer. Bullet-based guns can be reloaded, while you have to wait for energy weapons to recharge. The missile launcher recharges similarly to the energy gun and is your best ranged attack. The energy launchers are two small drones that follow you around and attack your enemies.
Combat works well enough overall, but it could really use some kind of special attack, as hitting an enemy while totally surrounded by a sea of foes chipping away at your health just doesn’t quite cut it. Especially when you’re totally out of ammo and have no way to fight other than melee. You also can’t heal, but you do get two additional retries if you fall in combat. There are a surprising amount of enemy types, though. Some fly, some shoot you, some are big, and some are small. You do have to vary your approach if you want to stay alive at times. There are only two biomes so far, a desert and a snowy place, although each of the game’s six currently available story missions all feature different level arrangements.
M.A.S.S. Builder is shaping up
Overall, M.A.S.S. Builder is pretty good, especially considering that it just entered EA today. The combat needs to deal with the crowd-fighting issues and better defensive options are needed, but the game is fun to play and I’ve enjoyed my time with it. The last story mission has a bit of a difficulty spike, though, and the amount of enemies made it hard for me to fight them all at once.
The game also has visual novel-style sections where the areas are described to you and you have conversations with the other characters. These are the weakest aspect of the game, as they appear to have been hurriedly translated and read very poorly. The story didn’t grab me at all, but hopefully that will improve once the text is heavily edited. At any rate, if you’re in the market for a mech game, M.A.S.S. Builder is certainly one to keep an eye on, as it helps fill the void in good PC mech games.