Windows - 1997
Description of Heavy Gear
A year ago, the name Heavy Gear would have been enkindled little more than a glimmer of recognition or interest among gamers. While rising in popularity among pen-n-paper role playing fans, it was a no-name and a non-factor in the world of computer gaming. Mechwarrior 2 was king, and that was that. Much has changed in the past year. FASA Interactive has since relinquished Activisionof its development rights under the Mechwarrior license, presumably in search of a bigger piece of the profit pie. However, for Activision, the unceremonious severance of one of its most successful series has not left it high and dry. Instead, the company has answered the challenge in respectable fashion, promoting a whole new identity and bringing it under the spotlight. But now that the trumpeting of fanfare has subsided, and Heavy Gear is among us, are we due for a coronation or a funeral?
A New Face, A Fresh Start
Heavy Gear is based on the RPG-system created by Dream Pod 9 , an independent pen-n-paper developer out of Montreal, Canada. With a heavy anime flavour and a focus on mechanised battle suits called gears, the Heavy Gear universe had long been fleshed out with character and richness when Activision took interest. The translation of this universe to the computer game has been well done, and the manual does a good job of detailing some relevant background information concerning the game world, its perks, and its people. However, as will happen with any world with such distinctiveness, there are poor representation at times. Imagine yourself being introduced to Star Wars for the first time and only allowed to watch The Empire Strikes Back, the second movie of the trilogy. There will be plenty of questions left in your mind--loose ends left dangling, obscure references left unexplained. One thing that Activision assures itself, though, is plenty of breathing room and creative freedom for sequels set in this new sandbox.
The game itself is set a gazillion years from now on the planet Terra Nova, a human colony tucked away deep in the nether regions of the galaxy. Independent of Earth's influence, the colony has thrived and now hosts two distinct and powerful civilisations. Geographically separated into the Northern and Southern hemispheres of the planet by an equatorial band of desolation known as the Badlands, and culturally distanced by varying ideals and theistic beliefs, an Interpolar War between the two factions has broken out. You take the role of Senior Ranger Edward Scott, the ace of the Northern landship (think 50,000 tons of hovering metal), Vigilance. As you proceed down the game's Wing Commander style story mode, an interesting plot unfolds via a string of movie scenes. While it's everyone's favourite hobby to poke fun at the acting in video games, I quite enjoyed the storytelling effect of the FMV clips and found the acting to be decent. Without trying to spoil any of it for you, there's a good mix of romance and conflict, centered around a quest for personal redemption. Given a longer, dynamic plot with a branching mission tree, and less one-sided characters, Heavy Gear 's story-driven missions could have really shined.
The missions themselves are a well assorted lot, and jive well with the story. They are integrated into the plot and are connected linearly to one another. You must successfully complete each mission before proceeding to the next, and thus advancing the game. The variety in mission types is good, and each has a series of objectives to complete. They range from standard reconnaissance in which all you need to do is patrol a series of waypoints, to surgical operations with step-by-step procedures to follow. The objectives are usually fairly obvious, and often fall along the lines of destroying all hostiles in a target area, moving onto the next area and repeating your performance. The game does however offer a handful of thinking missions to relieve you from the monotony of consecutive blast-fests. For example, in one mission I had to infiltrate and disable a Southern landship while disguised in an enemy gear. It took several restarts before I finally realised what the mission was all about, and then a couple more tries before I successfully completed the assigned objective. In another mission I had to escort a friendly corvette through a web of enemy patrols. The key here was to not to engage the enemy, while weaving a timely path through the holes in the enemy's lines. In general I found the game's scripted missions to be very enjoyable because they added some flavour and cohesion to the action. However, the thirty missions can be completed all too quickly.
The design of the gears is fairly interesting, although more so on paper than in practice. Both of the Southern and Northern forces have a full complement of gear types, ranging from lightly armed scouts to heavy striders. At the beginning of the game, as a Northern pilot, the only models available to you are the Cheetah, a scout gear, and the Hunter, an all-purpose workhorse. As the game progresses, more exotic gear types are made available such as the monstrous Kodiak and tank-like Mammoth. At the beginning of the mission, you must make a judgement call on which gear best fits the task at hand. This decision will greatly affect your performance in the field. You can also design your own gear from available parts via a simple-to-use editor that allows you to customise your gear's body parts, armour and weapons to add a personal touch. However, I found that predesigned gears covered most of the bases, and didn't spend too much time tinkering with my own designs.
The Old is Renewed
The gameplay itself is quite familiar, which is not surprising since Heavy Gear uses the Mechwarrior 2 game engine. Mech veterans will find no problems strapping into a gear and begin playing right away, as the look and feel of the game has changed very little. For newcomers to the genre, or pilots who are simply rusty, the game provides several training missions to teach you the basics of gear combat. These short lessons are presented with some humour using a sassy lieutenant instructor and her toadying cadet, and will help to make you a competent pilot, if not a good one. The basics of the controls are quite intuitive, and I found the default control layout to be just fine. I used keyboard for controlling the movement of the gear, and the mouse for torso tilts. This manner of control is very similar to Quake with mouse-look turned on, and provides easy manoeuvring and aiming. The gears also have wheels that can be deployed to sacrifice some responsiveness for a lot of speed, and are great during combat for zipping in and out of fire, as well as for quickly covering large distances. Some gears also have jump jets that can be used to gain a little flight time, although I did not find myself using them a great deal.
The combat tactics that were popular in Mechwarrior 2 are still generally viable. Rushing down the barrel of an enemy's cannons is a sure way to fry your gear, so the key to surviving is to make yourself a moving target when out in the open. The classic circle strafe attacks work wonders, especially with wheels turned on. If you turn at the right rate with your torso titled to one side, you can pummel an enemy target, while literally driving circles around it. The weapon variety is standard fare with rifles, rockets, grenades, etc, although the game could have benefited a great deal from a little more creative effort in this department. I found grenades to be rather useless, as they are hard to aim, bounce around erratically, and don't do enough damage to warrant the trouble. The only time when they of any use to me was when I found an enemy gear camped behind a rock, and an indirect lob was the only safe form of approach. Also, I found bazookas, and other heat-seeking projectiles to be rather unbalancing to the gameplay. They are the easiest weapons to use with simple lock-and-fire aiming, have a huge range, and come in relatively large loads. Half-a-dozen hits can usually take out all but the heaviest gears, and they're devastating when employed from afar. I would like to see a patch to tone down the efficiency of heat-seeking missiles somehow, either by increasing their target-lock times or by providing the target with some sort of defence such as decoys. In multiplayer games, when one side is equipped with heat-seekers and another side is not, the results are usually pretty predictable. One feature that I was surprised to not find, was the implementation of hand-to-hand weapons. Use of hand-held swords and similar weapons in Dream Pod 9's Heavy Gear universe is acceptable practice, and would have made an interesting addition to the computer game.Activision has also stressed the durability of the new gears and their ability to function even after loosing key body parts, and this is more or less true. During battles, it is not too rare to lose an arm and the weapons attached to that arm. However, losing an leg will send your gear sprawling without any hope of recovery. (Although in one game I was killed by a legless gear that I had left for dead.)
Two Sides to Every Coin
Heavy Gear 's AI is a Dr. Jekyll-Mr. Hyde affair. There are times when it the computer gears seem to act brilliantly, and other times when it's just inexplicably stupid. There are obviously instructions programmed that allow the AI to take advantage shelter among the terrain, and it does this quite effectively. However, instead of lobbing grenades at you from behind cover, they often simple just stay there waiting for you to flush them out at your leisure. The computer also seems to be too conservative on ammunition--which is a nice way of saying that the AI is too passive. Nevertheless the missions are arranged such that they are fairly challenging, giving the AI the standard advantage in numbers. Then, of course, there's the other half of the time when the AI does behave sensibly, if not ingeniously. All in all, if you played Mechwarrior 2, you'll have a good idea of what the AI is all about. It's decent, it's even effective, but there will be times when it's laughable, easily exploitable. Don't expect any miracles or major advancements in Heavy Gear 's AI and you won't be disappointed.
In terms of graphics, Heavy Gear looks very good under Direct3D or 3Dfx acceleration. Activisionclaims that with faster CPUs, Direct3D actually provides better performance than native 3Dfx mode, although I did not notice any significant changes in framerate one way or the other. Both provided very satisfactory, smooth gameplay. Visually there should be no differences between the two, but I found that handling of lighting on my Diamond Monster 3D was more pleasing under 3Dfx. For those without 3D accelerators, the game also runs under software graphics in both high and low resolutions. However, you are sadly mistaken if you plan on actually playing the game at 320x200x256 resolution. If you don't have a decent 3D board, I would not recommend buying Heavy Gear with anything much less than a P166 system. Visually speaking, the graphics are very crisp--the gears themselves look especially good. The terrain texturing is also well done, although the battlegrounds could have benefited from a bit more variety and life. The special effects on the other hand are somewhat disappointing. The explosions look too weak, and having seen the likes of Wing Commander: Prophecy, are almost pathetic in comparison. The effect of moving light-sources is simply boring, and the dust clouds raised by gear wheels is laughable. Night missions are brightly lit, meaning that you'll never use the infrared 'goggles' that the game provides. Some other interesting features that fit in the could-have-been category are water environments, visible cockpit fires, and realistic weapon-fire. Activision just hasn't pushed the envelope in this department, and it shows.
The movie scenes are above average in quality, although the smoothness of the playback is reduced by this. Even with a 16X CD-ROM and 32 MB RAM the movies stuttered every few seconds. I suspect that if I tinkered with my drive caching a bit I could probably smoothen out the performance but I haven't found the need to for any other game. As it is, it has not bothered me enough to make me do anything about it.
The game also breaks down during gameplay when too objects meet. Heavy Gear suffers from some of the worst clipping problems that I've seen. When you crash into a slab of rock, you don't collide as much as you meld. You partially go through the rock, allowing you to see the other side. At times you can even shoot through the rock while in this state, and be invulnerable to the enemy's direct return fire. While this was great fun to take advantage of at times, it does little to create any sense of realism. Buildings, landships, and other gears are behave in the same manner, with sides of polygons flickering in and out at certain positions and angles. Clipping is a problem that many 3D games suffer from, but in this game, it's doubly annoying.
In the audio department there are no complaints. The soundtrack is top-notch and very mood-setting. My complements go out to the game's composer. The sound effects are also good, although I would have expected such heavy machinery to make more noise. The use of speech during combat as well as mission briefing sequences is also tactfully implemented.
Once you have completed the story missions, the game also provides a Tour of Duty option that effectively provides an unlimited supply of missions to carry out. While, this option seemed to have great potential at first, I quickly lost interest. It simply lacked the atmosphere held by the story missions, and despite all of the different mission types, each sortie always boiled down to the same showdown between a handful of enemy gears at a certain location. The idea of being able to enlist in the side of your choice, increasing in rank, as well as actually being able to influence course of the simulated war, is rather enticing, but also quite superficial. The Tour of Duty does, however, allow you to eventually gain access all of the gears of both sides, something that the story does not let you do.
One of Heavy Gear 's most talked about features before release was the Virtual War Internet play. This is essential an online Tour of Duty in which hundreds of players can take part and play for free over Activision's servers. Both the Northern and Southern forces sides are composed of human players, and as missions are carried out, the battle-lines slowly move to reflect the outcome of each battle--eventually one side triumphs over the other. I played the Virtual War feature as a Northern pilot, and because the North was close to capitulating in the face of overwhelming Southern forces at the time, suffered many disadvantages such as limited supplies and lower level gears. While some players have cried foul at the unfairness of such a system, I do not agree--all's fair in love and war. This is simply another aspect of war that is completely real and Activision has done a good job of capturing the spirit of. Personally, the prospect of fighting of desperate battle against impossible odds has its own merits. But then again, I always root for the underdog. In regards to performance over the Internet, over a 33.6K modem the game maxed out at around 4 players. Each mission can support up to 8 players, but, Activision recommends that each player be on a T1 connection for that many. The game also does not provide the option of filling empty slots with computer players, which is a rather surprising omission. Sacrificing some play balance for companionship at times doesn't seem too drastic in my mind.
The main problem with Heavy Gear 's multiplayer mode, though, is the fact that it's quite unstable, and crashes regularly. Activision has now admitted that the multiplayer code that was retailed was indeed beta code and has promised a patch to remedy the problems. However, this is simply irresponsible conduct on the part of Activision, and I hope that someone up there on the corporate ladder eventually regrets this move.
Despite these grievances though, fans of the robot combat simulation will want to seriously consider Heavy Gear. It's not perfect, and definitely not Mechwarrior 3, but it is a contender and an enjoyable one at that. The game's greatest failing is probably the Mechwarrior 2 engine, which gives the game somewhat of a been-there-done-that feel, and accounts for the substandard graphic effects. The scripted missions, though, are well done, is instilled with life through the use of good FMV. The innovative Virtual War is also quite fun, offering interaction at a grand scale--you can bet that I'll be spending a fair bit of time with a gear on those battlegrounds, especially if the promised patch is delivered promptly. Having said all that, it should be obvious that Heavy Gear had made an impression on at least one Mechwarrior fan, and I assure you that kindred spirits will not be hard to find.
Review By GamesDomain
Comments and reviews
10018 2021-07-09 0 point
Started the game and everything went fine until I got to start first mission and I got communicate that program called "sim" stopped working
MrJingles 2018-06-25 0 point
HG was like the opposite of MW you had sleek robots smaller the mech's but faster at everything else, you could walk or even drive around with skates. It probably felt more like classic Gundam in a can, unlike MW looks were not the major thing here you didn't need twenty meter cactus on stilts to fire rockets. You tore through battlefield in a machine that felt like it was designed for warfare, not some silly bulk moving around with a pea shooter and gauging armor and hull damage like a bad game of Battleship.
WeekendWarrior 2018-06-14 1 point
The easiest way to run this game today is to search on YouTube for "PC 586 Pentium Emulator and Windows 98 with Games" and click "Show More" to see the links the poster provided to download a working PCEm copy from Google Drive. You can install Heavy Gear I or II on this PCEm emulator and they run perfectly.
HPym 2018-06-13 -2 points
The best way to play Heavy Gear I and II today is to use a PCEm emulator and install HG on the virtual machine. Worked great for me. I got a head start by downloading the PCEm emulator from here - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xq9W1xAkgd0 -
Mojoswagger1980 2018-01-12 1 point
Activision was the king of mech games in the mid 90s. I wish they had developed elements of this ones gaming engine into mechwarrior 2 mercenaries. Mostly there external camera mode has target reticle making it kind of playable in third person . We will call it limited 3rd person lol but still if this had come up out just a little sooner . Or if activision hadnt lost the title.
motaba 2017-09-29 0 point
con win 7 e cpu amd e scheda video radeon intagrata purtroppo non funziona
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