There are a few builds in MWO right now that a lot of people seem to consider to be, if not directly exploiting the game design, some sort of "I win button". Personally, I find this curious. Sure, it has been the case in the past. There have been times when everything from flamers to the much lamented Lunchback have been bordering on utterly game breaking. However, since the Streakapult got double nerfed a while back (both by the introduction of ECM and a reduction in streak tracking strength), there isn't anything that can't be countered by someone who has a clue what they're doing. In an effort to get people to shut their faces about “OMG BOOMCAT IS OP”, I present a quick guide to a few builds that are often declared "cheese" by the MWO population in general, along with suggestions on how to both drive them and to counter them. Sorry to ruin the whining of forum warriors everywhere, but none of these are overpowered and impossible to counter.
Catapult K2 - Mechromancer Link
The Boomcat is essentially a pretty simple mech. Take one Catapult, fit two AC/20s and as much ammo as you can cram in, then go and shoot people in the face. What was once only a borderline useful gimmick until the introduction of endo-steel and double heat sinks, the Boomcat lets a skilled pilot take out any mech in the game with one shot if they can hit the head. If they're not skilled enough for that, they're still dumping 40 points of damage into a single component every four seconds, and there's not many mechs that can stand that for very long. A couple of these working as a fire team can core pretty much anything in a couple of volleys. Three working in concert is fairly terrifying.
There are quite a few downsides though. The AC/20 has an effective range of 270 meters and a max of 810 meters, and hitting a moving target beyond the effective range is tricky (although not impossible). You don't want to be wasting any shots, though; because of the sheer size of the AC/20s, you just don't have the critical slots to mount an XL engine. That means you're stuck with the weight of a standard, and so you really don't have the tonnage to pack in a lot of ammo if you want to be able to move at a reasonable clip. If you're prepared to go slow, you can pack more ammo and even a couple of medium lasers if you want backup. Personally, I like five tons of ammo and no backup weapons. Finally, the Catapult’s cockpit hitbox is huge. That big glass canopy is an inviting target, and if you’re not twisting around while your 'doomcannons' cycle, you’re going to get your head shot off. Do not stare at your target while you reload.
The biggest downside to the Boomcat is shared with its sibling the Splatcat: it presents the enemy with a target they can't afford to ignore. A big, pinpoint 40-point alpha strike on a relatively squishy chassis (compared to an assault) with a big head box is going to be the first thing that any team worth its salt will focus on and smash flat. To make the best use of this mech, you need to approach the enemy without drawing attention to yourself. That usually means hiding behind a buddy Atlas until you're within range.
If you're facing one of these, keep moving at full speed and as unpredictably as you can. If you're in a Catapult yourself (or something else with an easy-to-hit headbox), keep your head pointed away from it unless you know for sure the Boomcat's weapons are cycling. Make sure your team knows it's there as well. It will die quickly to focused fire, and you really can't afford to let it stay alive for long once it's inside its optimal engagement range.
Splatapult (also known as Splatcat, SRMapult, etc.)
Catapult A1 -Mechromancer Link
Ah, the Splatcat. Not since the Lunchback has a robot caused such tears of dismay on the forums. It's not exactly an earth-shattering, super-secret design—take the mech that can mount the most missiles in the game and fit it with the most missiles. It spurts out 90 points' worth of damage, which is enough to strip the armor off everything short of an Atlas, and enough to one-shot lights and some mediums. It's especially hilarious watching a Metal Babby explode in a shower of parts if you manage to catch it just right. It can go faster than the Boomcat too—because all the missile launchers go in the arms, there's no barrier on fitting an XL in there, so you can move faster than your stumpy brother Boomcat. You can even jam some jump jets on there too, if you're into that sort of thing, but I'd rather keep the ammo.
This thing runs pretty hot; you can only get a couple of volleys off before you start to approach the heat cap. After that, you'll need to be careful when you fire, as shutting down in this thing is going to be instant death against any sort of competent team. Having all your weapons in those big arm boxes is a bit risky as well. It doesn't take much to shoot those things off, and there isn't really any angle at which they can't be hit. You're also very rarely going to put that full 90 points of damage on a single component. That's not to say you won't ruin someone's day if you hit them, but unless you're at one of the ranges that SRMs converge on, you're probably going to strip two or three components rather than blowing through one completely. And, unlike the Boomcat, your weapons have a hard and fast max range of 270 meters. At that range, SRMs just self-destruct, so you're in trouble if you come up against a team with PPCs and gauss that are good at engaging at range. Once again, hide behind an Atlas until you're in range and then spurt messy SRM death everywhere. Oh, and remember to open those missile bay doors (default key is "/"), or you'll have a delay before you fire while they open before every shot.
The best way to counter a Splatapult is to keep it at arm's length. Most weapons in the game can reach past 270 meters (even if they don't do full damage past that distance), and the Splatapult can't, so use that. Try to make sure that if you're rounding a blind corner, you're not doing so as tight into it as you can; unless you're also running a Splatapult and can mash the trigger faster than your target, it's going to work out badly for you if you cut that corner and end up with 36 SRMs hitting your face from close range. Going for the ears isn't a horrible idea, as they're easy targets, but by the time you've blown both ears off (40 points of armor each plus 20 internal structure), you could have just nailed the CT (68 points on the front, plus 42 internal structure), and removed the thing from the fight instead of turning it into a potential base cap threat. The absolute ideal is to hit it in the head (as mentioned, there is a huge head hitbox on the Catapult) or side torsos, as you're only looking at slightly more armor than the arms and there will almost certainly be an XL in there to blow up. Sadly, the Catapult's side torso is pretty difficult to hit, so the center torso probably remains your best target. Whatever you do though, don't lose track of where the enemy Splatapult is. If you can't see him, chances are he's behind you and about to strip off all your rear armor.
Cataphract 3D - Mechromancer Link
Full disclosure: I hate this thing. In the four-man/solo queue, it doesn't show up much, as a lone one can only do so much damage. In the eight-man queue, though, these things can be a real pain. That isn't to say that they need a nerf or anything. They can be dealt with... I just dislike the ways of doing so.
Using a Cataphract requires steady aim and a degree of patience. Basically, set up somewhere with a ridge line or building in front of you. When you know the enemy is present, jump up, fire, and jump back down. You can use your PPCs with impunity and throw the gauss in there if you're more confident of a hit. One of the benefits of the Cataphract's torso energy mounts is that they're high up on the torso, basically level with the cockpit. If you can see something, you can fire the PPCs at it. The arms, however, are a bit low-slung, so you need to just make sure you're properly clear of obstructions before firing. Save some fuel for when you're coming back down as well, as you don't want to leg yourself after a few jumps. Being able to spit out 35 points of damage at 500 meters, and then immediately get back behind cover is pretty nice, and if your team is all built out as snipers, then any frontal assault on your position will be utterly ruined before it even gains momentum. With a good position to hold and decent aim, you'll control whichever part of the map you want to.
Downsides, then: PPCs and gauss at range have a skill threshold to be properly effective and scary. With the travel time on the PPC, you'll likely be able to land hits at distance without too much trouble, but keeping those hits concentrated on the same component is a tad harder. The gauss projectile has a different speed to the PPC, so landing all three on a moving target can be a bit tricky as well. I guess you could swap out the gauss for another PPC and some sinks, but then we get into the other downside of this build—up close you're going to get into difficulties. The minimum range of the PPC isn't as much of an issue as people say it is, as few engagements wind up inside of 90 meters for very long. However, the bulk of your firepower being in your torsos makes dealing with fast-moving targets at short range pretty challenging.
The best way to deal with one of these things is to flank through cover with something fast and hard hitting (a Centurion, Hunchback 4SP or a light of the Not-A-Spider variety is a good choice for this), and get in its face. If you can stay on the move and keep it twisting about, you can capitalize on the difficulties it has in dumping all its damage on you when you're up close. If you're facing an entire team of this sort of setup though, you need to do something to try and pull them out of position. That's either putting one of your team out there as bait to draw them out (which is mostly not going to work, and even if it does, you're giving up a robot for a chance at killing some of theirs rather than being certain of killing them), or you send a fast mover to take their cap. This frequently provokes cries that you're terrible and bad at the game. But, hey, those are the rules of assault. If you don't want to risk a base cap, go drop in the conquest queue. Or, you know, don't drop with anything but heavies and assaults, and then cry when someone takes your base rather than engage you. Go look up the Maginot Line for why relying on a static defensive position is a bad idea.
There you have it: a bunch of robots that, like everything else in MWO, can be beaten with a bit of thought and some half-decent maneuvering and gunnery. For all the complaining that goes on about certain builds and weapons being overpowered, the balance is actually in a pretty decent place right now. In eight-man queues in particular, a lot comes down to how well-coordinated your group is and how well you're able to gather intelligence on the enemy team while denying them information on yours, rather than it coming down to who brought the "best" mechs. Obviously, there's a baseline of mech build quality below which you're going to get screwed no matter now smart you are about positioning, but I'm assuming that you're not deranged enough to think a quad AC/2 Cicada or a six ER PPC stalker is a good idea.
Next time we'll discuss how a lone pilot who runs off on his own can defeat an entire enemy pre-made composed of mediocre pilots. Spoilers: he can't; they will focus him and kill him. Teamwork is therefore overpowered; nerf teamwork.