In early 2016, we got our first look at a "cyberpunk, cybertactical party-based cRPG" called Copper Dreams. A couple of months after that, it completed a successful $40,000 Kickstarter campaign. The project looked very promising, but the Kickstarter's estimated release target of May 2017 proved hopelessly optimistic, and at that point it fell off our radar. Development continued, though, including a name change in mid-2020 to Mechajammer, and today at the PC Gaming Show we saw how far it's come courtesy of a world-exclusive premiere of a brand new trailer.
At first glance, Mechajammer bears a passing resemblance to the original Fallout games. But Hannah Williams, co-founder of developer Whalenough Studios, said that it draws more heavily from the great action/sci-fi films of the 1980s, like Escape From New York, Robocop, and The Terminator.
"There's something wonderfully gritty, dark and campy about the way the future is portrayed in these films that really resonates with us," Williams explained. "These low tech worlds are both awful and relatable at the same time, and while Mechjammer is more of a sci-fi setting, the world itself is analog and familiar. We love creating dense, abstract visual atmosphere in our games, and we wanted to channel that lack of CGI used in these kinds of sci-fi films. The environments are a dense wall of grungy, sweaty pixels, and we think it captures the grungy feel of movies like these."
Interestingly, while Mechajammer has a lot in common with "tabletop-rooted CRPGs" like Fallout, Williams said that its basic foundation is more of an immersive sim, "like an isometric Deus Ex." That approach to the game's design led Whalenough to try making combat more simulation-like as well, with actions playing out simultaneously over multiple turns.
"Because actions are nuanced throughout multiple turns and lose the usual turn-based abstraction, the result has more real time tactics, but with the control of traditional turn-based combat," Williams explained. "You see an enemy pop up from taking cover and is pointing a pistol at you, but they haven't shot yet, so you can assume they are in an aiming turn for the moment. You could choose to duck behind your own cover and wait, run for different cover to flank, take a shot yourself if you think you'll be faster, or throw up your shield to deflect."
"It makes combat tense and allows for a variety of tactics like side-stepping a thrown knife (which takes turns to get to you) or interrupting someone mid-attack that wouldn't be possible if everyone took their turns one at a time or all at the exact same time."
And if fighting isn't your thing, Mechajammer also readily supports stealthy play with enemy sight cones, audio detection, cover, and non-lethal takedowns, so conflict avoidance is a perfectly viable option as well.
Your ultimate goal in Mechajammer is not to save the world or the people, but simply to survive and escape, which Williams said is another element of the game that draws from those '80s action classics.
"In Mechajammer, there aren't any hero subquests of saving dogs in a well or helping people," Williams said. "Like Snake Plissken, you just want to escape your own chains and claw your way out of the hellhole you've found yourself in, even if you leave the city in worse shape than you found it. Despite this, the campiness and satire in these movies give them a lighter tone, chandeliers bolted to cars, single hand combat with a giant with a spiked club, etc, and we love the contrast that the bleakness of everyday life and the ridiculousness of the camp bring to the genre."