Let me preface this review by saying two things:
1) This is my first experience with John Wicks work (nope I never played or even read Legend of the 5 Rings gasp!) so I really had no idea what kind of product this would be. I can say that I really DID enjoy reading it. Really liked the creativity of it and definitely was entertained by it.
2) I have no idea what kind of time and money constraints John Wick had placed on him or that he even may have placed on himself. I know by looking at some of his YouTube videos it seemed like he was working with a very set deadline in mind and that may have had some bearing on why he made certain decision about what was included or left out in the game. I just stumbled across the game via RPGNow and I love sci-fi, mecha and the like so I decided to give the game a shot. This review is coming from someone who was very in the dark about how this product came to be and I'm judging solely on MY interpretation of how the game is to me and from what little I had to go by on the product's description page. AFTER I bought it I did some exploring and realized that this game was originally some kind of community or patronage type product.
Now having said all of that...
The Aegis Project is definitely an interesting game. It's seeped in gritty, hard, military drama (think Aliens, Space Above and Beyond or the reinvisioned Battlestar Galactica) which is a very good thing ;)
It is filled with some really unique and interesting ideas and gaming concepts. The theme is nothing new, but it the treatment of it is. It's an epic scope game as well, covering 3 seperate eras of human strife and battle. There's a lot of background the game covers. It has many unique concepts and it really offers some cool ideas for a setting.
Unfortunately as a "gritty 80s mech game" my opinion is that The Aegis Project misses it's mark. When I think of 80s mech the first things that come to my mind are games like Battletech and Robotech. Companies like FASA and GDW really defined hard sci-fi rpgs in the 80s with settings like Renegade Legion and Traveller 2300, but The Aegis project is nothing like any of these games or settings.
Now to be fair the author states that Battletech does what it does and it does it well. No one can make a "better Battletech". Battletech has all of those fiddly little bits like size, weights and various points allocations (armor, heat, movement, etc.) and there are many other games that mimic this or expand on it in their own way. Battletech spawned an entire style of rpg genre - the "wargamers RPG" where tabletop hex or inch based combat dominates the game, but a roleplaying element pervades the whole setting allowing players and gamemasters to experience the world outside their giant robots as well. There are tons of mech and sci-fi games that follow this great lineage (CAV, Heavy Gear, Renegade Legion, Crimson Skies, and so forth)
The problem to me is that because there are so many mecha games that follow in the pattern of Battletech (including things like tons of points allocation, wagame style battles, schematics for various mech and/or other vehicle types, divided clans/houses/tribes/what have you, etc etc) I automatically assume some of these "tropes" are necessary, or at least expected for this type of genre.
The Aegis Project does not have any of these things. In fact it is the polar opposite, being a very narrative style fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants, loosely defined and make it up as you go kind of play. Not that I think that kind of gaming is bad or wouldn't be fun to play or run, but it just doesn't seem to fit the whole 80s mech style rpg.
Which brings me to my next point. The Aegis Project is BIG. With cover and ads in the back it runs at something like 177 pages. For an indie style game this is a pretty large PDF. Despite it's size however it lacks a great bit of DETAIL. The Aegis Project presents a lot of different kinds of character classes and pieces of gear, but it doesn't detail ANY of these very much at all. In fact in paints in broad sweeping strokes and leaves everything else to be developed by the GM and players. Again this is not necessarily a bad thing, but in a game of this genre and scope you would expect some things to be fleshed out a bit more than they are. I found the mechs especially lacking, which of course should be the main focus in a game of this style. Details about organizations, corporations, and planets is sketchy at best. Gear for the most part is glossed over except for some very cool specific pieces to individual character classes. Even The Enemy of the players is kept for the most part pretty generic. While I can appreciate leaving sections of the game open to customization by individual gamemasters I think maybe overall it's a little TOO open to interpretation. I don't think I seen a game which touches on a rich history be so... undefined.
Art is pretty sparse as well with only maybe a dozen or so illustrations used throughout the book. There are some ambiguous pictures of first era mechs, but I think they are intentionally illustrated in a way to show that mechs really don't have a set defined look and (like everything else in the universe) can look however the players and gamemaster want them too. There are no detailed line drawings of weapons, schematics of vehicles or images of intense combat. In fact not much of anything is depicted reinforcing the feeling of "lack of crunch". I was really yearning for a lot more visual or descriptive context for this game.
Where The Aegis Project really shines is it's system. It seems very fast and easy to run with lots of opportunity for chracters to shine as heroes. It's based on rolling several 10 sided dice for skill checks with certain results producing successes and multiple success stacking to produce more powerful results. Hmmm... my description makes it sound kind of bland. It is not. There's a lot more to it, but I hate to spoil it here in the review. Suffice it to say I thought the system looks very easy to use, run and modify. It reminds me in some ways of popular "fast and furious" play styles such as Savage Worlds (though it is a completely different kind of system than that game)
At the time of writing this review there were quite a few grammatical errors throughout the PDF, but nothing too terrible (and clearly I am NOT an English Major and have no room to throw stones). Hopefully though a revised version will come out fixing some of those errors.
Overall I think the game is really interesting, a good read and a great idea mine both for campaign ideas and rules concepts. As a complete package though I find it a little lacking and I personally couldn't run it as-is without a lot of extensive planning, but I'm sure there are other gamemasters that could read through this and have a game up and running in just a few hours.
Thanks for reading through all of this review and I hope it helps you make a decision about The Aegis Project.
[4 of 5 Stars!]