"Save Me, Giant Robot!"
A few years back, when Activision first lost its license to the FASA BattleTech
gaming system (and with it the extremely classy and lucrative Mechwarrior
games), most of us really didn't know what to make of it. We were then pleasantly
surprised to discover that BattleTech was not the only quality robot-combat
game in town and we waited eagerly for Activision's Heavy
Gear, based on the Dream Pod 9 role playing system. However, Heavy Gear
turned out to be a fairly rough game that could have used another 6 months in
development to work out some gameplay, graphical, and glitch issues. Activision
immediately went to work on Heavy Gear II, intended to lift gamers into
the magical la-la land of gaming euphoria.
we are at a unique moment in computer gaming. The long awaited Starsiege,
Mechwarrior 3, and the comparatively quickly
produced Heavy Gear 2 have all arrived at retail shelves everywhere,
and for the first time, there is real competition in the ranks of oversized
robot combat simulations. To Activision's credit, Heavy Gear 2 manages
to come out in the lead position thanks to a slick combination of excellent
production values and refreshing, high-energy, intense gameplay.
HG2 is set in the 62nd century, roughly 100 years after the events
of the original Heavy Gear (the box takes a noticeable swipe at Mechwarrior
by proclaiming HG2 to be '62nd Century Combat' which is double that of
2's '31st Century Combat'). Blissfully, this means that you are no longer
playing Senior Ranger Edward Scott who must prove his innocence, slay the dragon,
and run off with the... yeah, better he's gone. Instead you are the nameless
commander of a crack team of special ops commandos, dubbed 'Black Talon.'
Your squad is sent to investigate the recent anti-matter destruction of Peace
River, a large city on Terra Nova. The destruction of Peace River was caused
by those old enemies, the New Earth Concordance (NEC). Because of the new outside
threat from the NEC, the Northern and Southern powers have decided to put aside
their differences and fight the common foe. Your investigations into the destruction
of Peace River will end up taking you to Caprice, a gateway world for interstellar
traffic and the staging area for an imminent attack on planet Earth.
Although the vehicles in Heavy Gear 2, the Heavy Gears, may resemble
their BattleTech brethren, it is important to note the differences in the design
and focus, because they make the gameplay an entirely different animal from
that of Mechwarrior or Starsiege. The most notable dissimilarity
is that Gears are only 12-15 feet tall, as opposed to 30-50 for Mechs. The small
size grants much greater maneuverability in the form of being able to sidestep,
jump, and extend wheels from the bottom of a gear's feet to double velocity
but halve maneuverability. In a salute to Anime, Gears are also extremely anthropomorphic.
Their arms are actually able to punch, hold guns, utilize cutting weapons such
as swords or axes (a little like in Shogo), and pick
up new hand held weapons. A Gear's armor is much thinner than that of a Mech
and so it takes a lot less to either kill or be killed, making Gear combat much
more fast paced and tense than the BattleMech variety.
The plot, far more compelling than the corny tale of betrayal found in Heavy
Gear, provides a plausible and dramatic send up for HG2's absolutely
Missions range from prison breaks, to sorties through swamps, to stealing
spaceships, to driving around the skyscrapers of an Uber-Metropolis, to spinning
and diving through the void of outer space. Although the objectives, length,
and situation of the missions vary widely, they are easily some of the very
best missions designed for any game. They call for a great deal of stealth and
keen use of your intelligent and effective squad mates. All of this makes Heavy
Gear 2 the most strategic 'bot game out there.
inevitably fails, or when you choose to enter combat on your terms, Heavy
Gear 2 really comes into its own as the preeminent robot combat game. You'll
find beefy weapon sounds, terrific graphics and special effects, extremely destructive
guns and tense action. Simply put, Heavy Gear 2 is an incredible blast
to play. Side stepping out of the way of a rocket strike, jumping over an enemy
Gear, turning in mid air, and vaporizing it with a single rail-gun strike to
the chest is delirious fun.
Heavy Gear 2 is based on an entirely new graphics engine. Dubbed "Dark
Side," this new engine does wonderful things. The textures, highly developed
landscapes, Gears, special effects, kick-ass explosions, believable 3D trees,
near perfect shadows, wispy dust and smoke trails, and everything else under
the sun is rendered beautifully. It is simply far more pretty than the cartoon-ish
Starsiege or the inconsistent Mech 3.
Sadly, there are a few small issues with Heavy Gear 2 that stop it
from being a better game. The Campaign, juicy though it is, is only about 25
missions long. Without the dynamic campaign option like in the original HG,
the game is far too short, even with the extra Historical Missions and the 'botmach'
Instant Action. Another gripe, which many may not consider a flaw, is that you
are allowed only one specific Gear for the entire Campaign. Although the Gears
are incredibly customizable (down to assigning very thoughtful 'perks' or 'flaws'),
limiting the Gear choice makes variation only possible if you replay the campaign
from the beginning with a new pilot. And while there are over 70 gears available
for use in the Historical and Instant Action modes, only 5 are available in
Mild complaints aside, Heavy Gear 2 is a fantastic game. The engaging
story, taut action, meaty sound, epic music, great voice acting, squad mates
who actually kick ass, excellent AI, and eye-watering graphics make it the best
of the three 'Mech' contenders. Multiplayer even gets a good rub down in Heavy
Gear 2, because it's functional and exciting right out of the box. If you
have a fast enough computer to handle the heavy load (Pentium 300 recommended
by me, 3D accelerator required by them), you'll find that Heavy Gear 2
is just about as good as it gets for the genre.
There are simply too many things to gush over to cover them all into this
review fairly. It's a pity. But, suffice to distill it as this: get your ass
out there and buy the game... now, if you please. I'll be waiting online.