Heavy Gear II
Activision may have lost the MechWarrior licence, but they have proven expertise in developing games of this ilk.
The development process isn't hindered by third-party involvement. Unlike the MechWarrior games, the 'Mechs, weaponry and mission structure of Heavy Gear 2 can look and behave however the developers want them to.
The sequel sports a rather nifty new 3D game engine and is fully optimised to take advantage the latest 3D accelerator technology.
Smaller 'Mechs will hopefully mean more mobile and agile units that can twist and turn and take greater advantage of the terrain. Get ready for some great one-on-one gunfights.
The original Heavy Gear didn't exactly set the world on fire when it was released last year. The landscapes were flat and uninspiring, as were the 'Mechs (or Gears, if you must) - some even had wheels, which meant that Heavy Gear was essentially a mini-'Mech game on roller skates. Early indications suggest that the sequel has more to offer the discerning 'Mech-head. Let's face it: it can't really get much worse.
When it comes to first-person giant robot games, MechWarrior3 and Starsiege Universe are setting the pace. Curiously, neither of those games actually achieved Classic status, so theoretically the crown for the undisputed king of the metal monsters is still up for grabs. Cue Heavy Gear 2, the sequel , to one of the worst futuristic robot jaunts ever on the PC.
With a pedigree like that, a surprise crowning glory seems unlikely. However, in Target Games' second adaptation of Dream Pod 9's pen-and-paper RPG universe things have changed. The developers have spent the last two years completely rebuilding the despairingly bugged Heavy Gear in admirable Steve Austin fashion, with tti excellent new light-sourced Dark Side engine at the heart of it all.
Hazy Shade Of Winter
Heavy Gear 2 takes your standard non-stop action robot game a little further by adding a big, fat dose of 62nd-century stealth. In fact, comparing Heavy Gear 2 to MechWarrior 3 or Starsiege is just the start of it. Because of the new engine, gameplay is closer to Thief: The Dark Project and Hidden & Dangerous. Sure, there are more than 40 'Gears', with a brazen offering of Gatling guns, rockets, lasers, particle accelerators and pretty much every other weapon of pure destruction ever encountered, but what you have to remember is that these nifty little' exoskeletons measure a mere five and a half meters tall, maximum.
Such slight frames mean plenty of commando-type fun and games. Your highly mobile Metal Mickey can lie on its belly, crawl to the crest of a hill and pop off distant enemies with a long-range sniper rifle; running, kneeling and diving for cover under a hail of missiles are part and parcel of most of the singleplayer game's 37 missions. Cunning is what gets you through this epic struggle, and an overhead tactical map of the level adds strategic substance by enabling you to organise your troops' movements precisely - Warzone 2100, almost.
The enemy forces are also clued-up on battle tactics. They dodge and weave all over the place while piloting a formidable assortment of walking, hovering, rolling and flying machines. If damaged, they do their utmost to get the hell out and find reinforcements rather than die like mindless cannon fodder. Al, it seems, is spot on.
A stealth indicator shows how visible you are to your foes, and with the mm added intrigue of having missions H throughout the day with varying degrees of light (not to mention changing weather conditions, with rain, snow and lightning), the stealth indicator becomes a pivotal part of the game. Managing the rest of your squadron is something else you need to master. In true Wing Commander stye, each of your ten-strong team has a different personality. Your current mission dictates how many and what type of pilot you need, and care must be taken to avoid potentially disastrous personality clashes.
Beauty And The Beast
The eventful (if linear) plot is easy to follow and relatively interesting. Basically it all kicks off when a terrorist bomb explodes on your home planet of Terra Nova. By slowly working your way across the universe via a plethora of rocky, swampy, icy and generally inhospitable planets, you discover that Earth is responsible for the bombing. Yes, Earth. Our lovely, peaceful, benevolent homeland is the aggressor in all this, and is thrusting its greedy paw across space in an effort to claim Terra Nova as its own.
And why not? Terra Nova's a nice-looking place, with atmospheric 3Dfx-only graphics courtesy of the aforementioned Dark Side engine. The trees look solid, textures on all surfaces are convincing, and special effects such as dust clouds and transparent water are among the best around. It doesn't stop there. The rest of the universe is equally impressive. The only disappointments are the Gears themselves which, contrary to the rest of the game, seem bland and devoid of colour or imagination.
But then maybe that's because you can create an almost infinite number of them by using the Modify Gear screen. This kind of option is usually more trouble than it's worth, with screen after screen of pointless information about techie things you never knew you had or didn't care about anyway, but here it's actually a joy to give birth to these new creations and see them succeed in the task they were created for.
In At The Deep End
The in-game interface isn't tamed as easily. Controlling your Gear is a waking nightmare: legs go one way, body goes the other. We're talking contortionist robots here.
If it wasn't so frustrating it would be amusing. So if virtually insurmountable learning curves put you off, don't even think about buying this game. Frankly, you'll end up harming yourself - or somebody close to you.
You can't even rely on the training mode. The tutor's voice sounds like a depressed life insurance salesman, and the tasks you're asked to perform are tedious to say the least. There's only one thing for it: dive straight in at the deep end with a trusty sniper rifle at your side. Campaign, instant action or historical battles are your killing fields, or you can choose to log straight in to the well-populated multiplayer world.
When everything does finally click into place you won't want to let go. HG2 is a commendable stab at creating a balanced blend of strategy and all-out bot-blasting action. But does it claim the crown? Sadly, the awkward control system prevents such a triumph. Apart from that, Heavy Gear 2 is a huge improvement over its predecessor and highly recommended.
Heavy Gears multiplayer game is well-conceived and well-supported on the Internet
Click on the multiplayer option and you're instantly informed of all active HG2 servers. Click on the one you want to join and away you go down the Net We managed to appear on a Spanish server, and caused a bit of a stir when we unwittingly slaughtered our Hispanic team-mates due to a slight communication problem. Still, if you join up with gamers who speak your language, you can partake in a variety of CTF missions and one-on-one duelling tournaments. You can even find a thriving clan structure and plenty more. It's a whole new world out there.
Download Heavy Gear II
Systems: Windows 9x, Windows 2000 Windows XP, Vista, Win 7, Win 8, Win 10.
Game features:Single game mode
Heavy Gear II Screenshots and Media
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