Quickly recovering from its loss of the Mech-Warrior license. Activision cut a deal with Target Games to develop a series of mech games based on Target's popular Heavy Gear board games. The first game out of the gates (with the obvious title, Heavy Gear) is set on Terra Nova, a planet filled with Earth refugees enmeshed in mech warfare.
Activision reports that most of the MechWarrior II team is hard at work on Heavy Gear, and the main thrust of its efforts revolves around ramping up the game's real-time 3D engine. On the graphics side, these early images showcase mechs with a much higher level of detail. We'll have more on this hot prospect in an upcoming issue.
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Looking to replace the MechWarrior license it recently lost to MicroProse, Activision turns to Heavy Gear, yet another giant robot dice game. The result is a shameless MechWarrior 2 clone--but if you're going to steal, steal from the best, right?
The differences between MechWarrior 2 and Heavy Gear are minimal: There's an improved front end (it's now simpler to just fight without the story), and your "Gear," or giant robot, can perform new tricks like attacking from the ground after your legs have been blown off. The controls are complicated for first-timers, but anyone who's played a flight or robot simulator will pick them up right away. Heavy Gear supports the Microsoft Force Feedback Pro joystick magnificently, delivering kickback with gunfire and slams when you get hit. Unfortunately, this makes the game leagues more difficult by disturbing your aim.
The missions start with pure combat and become more involved as the story progresses through full-motion video cutscenes. The acting is average for PC games (if you haven't guessed, that's an insult) and the story fails to compel. A 3D accelerator makes the already beautiful graphics stunning, and the enemy A.I. is impressive, but there isn't enough variety between Gears or missions to keep you interested for long.
First-timers to the giant-robot-derby genre will enjoy Heavy Gear, but, ultimately, it's nothing more than a disappointing MechWarrior knockoff.
There is more than a solid argument that Activision is what made MechWarrior and BattleTech what they are today. Now that they no longer have the rights to the MechWarrior franchise, they needed to fill the space they had open for a "Giant Robot Action Simulator;" thus, we are given Heavy Gear. Once again, Activision has managed to push the envelope in graphics and gameplay. This time around they've given us not only a great action sim, but a great story too.
And if Heavy Gear is any indication, this title will not be a stand alone, but the cornerstone for an entirely new universe that will undoubtedly rival BattleTech.
That's right, this time around there's a real story. Unlike MechWarrior, Heavy Gear has a story path that you can follow, complete with live action cut scenes and a cast of characters. If you choose the story path, you will be thrown into the role of Duelist Edward Scott of the 67th regiment of the C.N.C.S. (Confederated Northern City States). Upon completion of the first several missions, Scott will be thrown into a situation where he is deemed a traitor and must clear his name before his regiment catches up with him. The story helps provide a sense of purpose to the game.
In addition to the immediate storyline of the game, Activision has spent a great deal of their time and resources developing a time line, universe and planets where these characters exist. As I said, this game sets the stage for a whole new universe that many games will be built upon in the future ... assuming this one is successful.
The gameplay in Heavy Gear is really a step up from previous efforts made by Activision. There is tons of stuff to do outside of the sim itself. The customization possible on the sixteen different "gears" leaves endless possibilities for new and fun-to-play gears. The gears themselves are smaller and faster than mechs. I think the biggest jump in gameplay in this game is the articulation of the gears. The gears have an absolutely endless range of motion with their upper bodies. Not only does this give you more freedom of movement, but it allowed the game makers to put enemy gears in some unusual places too. Watch yourself in mountain ranges, for an enemy gear can come from almost anywhere.
When you see pictures of the gears, you'll also notice that there is a great deal of personality to them. They don't just look like big metal robots; they actually have character in their face, stance, and movement. A lot of this has to do with the Japanese animation look the artists gave to the back story. I think the new range of motion gives a whole new dimension to the game, and ups the ante for followers to come.
One important thing to mention is that if you don't want to play the story line, you can still go on a tour of duty with any one of the nineteen different regiments in this game. There are literally dozens of missions you can play with each regiment. You can earn promotions, each giving you higher priority for gear parts. The higher you go, the better the gear you can build. Needless to say, the game does not tire easily, and adds a good replayability factor that I didn't see in Mechwarrior 2.
Heavy Gear offers a wide range of graphics support. If you have a 3Dfx card, then you'll really like the graphics here. The game offers great 3D support. The light sources and texture mapping were excellent in this game. However, I couldn't help but be a little disappointed in the graphics, as they simply didn't blow away everything that's come before them. It may have just been hype, but I was really hoping Activision would blow us all away with the graphics in this one, and it just didn't happen. In fact, the graphics showed little to no improvement compared to the 3Dfx version of.
There is, however, one big difference in the graphics of Heavy Gear. You may notice when you're playing that something is different, but you can't quite place a finger on it. This game, even the sim itself, was given a more cartoony look. The environment you're in is more animated than you may expect. Once again, this is probably due to the Japanese animation look they were trying to give the game. Some people will like it better, some won't. I found it a refreshing change.
The audio in Heavy Gear isn't anything super-special either. The cut scenes are clear and concise, and the music comes through very nicely, but I personally wasn't a big fan of the musical scheme they added to the sim. While in combat, they're playing a light type of heavy metal music that I found distracting, and eventually disabled. If I were to venture a guess, I'd say that the developers didn't spend quite as much time on sound as they did on other parts of the project.
Of course, Heavy Gear offers Internet, LAN, and direct modem multi-player support. As of right now, I haven't been able to find any online gaming services that have Heavy Gear up and running. However, Activision is promising an all-out war that will be taking place on the Internet. I think this brings a sort of Ultima Online concept to a multi-player sim. Hundreds, maybe even thousands of people playing at once, each affecting the outcome of the situation in one way or another. I think the idea has a great deal of potential, and I look forward to future games that push the limits even a little further. But I will say this, if you're a multi-player freak, get ready to rumble.
The documentation in Heavy Gear is excellent. You'll notice from the second you pick it up that the box is pretty heavy. You'll be provided with comprehensive installation information as well as a great deal of information about how to build and customize gears, and play different types of games. You'll also get quite a bit of back story information on the whole universe that Activision is creating with Heavy Gear. There are also a lot of source books out there to be had if you really get into those things. I think the whole universe is very interesting, and makes for a lot of fun.
Required: Windows 95, DirectX 5, Pentium 133 (166 for 3Dfx), 16 MB RAM, 150 MB installation, 100% SoundBlaster-compatible sound card.
Once again Activision has pushed the limits of gameplay. All action sim fans should pick this one up; you won't regret it. There's a whole lot o' replays to be had, and a whole lot o' gears to build. There's also a pretty good story involved, and this game launches a new universe. So sim fans, action fans, and sci-fi fans alike, pick it up: Heavy Gear is definitely worth the heavy coin.