Activision, in losing the MechWarrior license, found a huge hole in their own product list. What to do? Naturally, find another title that features mechanical constructions piloted by human beings. Enter Heavy Gear II. That being said, Heavy Gear II resembles it's more famous pseudo-sibling MechWarrior 3 only in surface issues. There's a lot here done differently than you might expect, which is not to say that things are bad, because they aren't. It's much more similar in significant respects to Looking Glass's Terra Nova (and in fact, the action takes place on a world called Terra Nova), both in terms of the units you will be playing as and in plot.
For starters, Heavy Gear II doesn't feature the mile-high BigBots you've come to expect. Instead, the BigBots (called Gears) hover around the only moderately large range, with the biggest of the group topping at about 15 feet high. Instead of being in a gigantic bipedal tank, you are more or less in a suit of incredibly powerful, incredibly well-armed body armor. You can crouch or kneel, even crawl forward much like an infantryman can. This, at the very least, makes for some interesting tactical derivations from other games in the genre. Cover becomes critical at certain points in the game; a factor enhanced by the tactically-significant terrain offered on many of the missions.
Like most of the BigBot games, and like Terra Nova, Heavy Gear II takes place on colonized worlds in deep space. The world of Terra Nova is uniquely divided in two, thanks to an equator that is almost completely a desert. Naturally, two different nations formed, the industrialized North and the agricultural South. The two countries united to throw off the yoke of Earth, and developed Gears by modifying construction vehicles. Unfortunately, after the war was won, another war broke out between the nations. This war lasted until an armada from Earth returned, which forced the two warring factions into a united front once again.
The Gears, by this time, had become a mainstay of the armies of Terra Nova. Because of their incredibly adaptability and usefulness in war, the Gears were the greatest advantage of the Terra Novan armies. A new battalion of Gears has been created, with you as its head.
What really bogs Heavy Gear II is the control scheme, although it has been streamlined as much as possible. It's just that there are so many commands that you can and need to use that you feel like you need at least one extra hand on the keyboard. I spent a lot of time with my fingers fumbling for the right key, and getting my virtual butt soundly thumped as a result.
I got thumped mainly because Heavy Gear II is exceptional in that it gives you very little advantage over your enemies. You aren't equipped with the best toys on the battlefield in many cases, and running into a mission like a gunslinger will have you restarting in zip-flat. This is a true strategic contest set in an action environment, a fact that may very well alienate some players looking for a MechWarrior-style romp. On the other hand, for the strategist, this is a welcome change from the norm. You have to think about your actions, be patient and careful in what you do. In short, it's a highbrow thinker matched well with lowbrow fighting and killing.
Another success of this title is in the adaptability of its source object. Before the missions, you can design your Gear in hundreds of different configurations of weapons. This gives the game a certain amount of replayability, and causes that element of thought to rear up again significantly. Before you enter a mission, you need to figure out the best weapons to take for the job, and even the best way to configure your Gear for movement. Take too much power, and you will have to add flaws to your Gear that will cause weapons to short out, or vital areas of the Gear to be more exposed to enemy fire. In terms of game balance, this is a fabulous addition.
And what's more, Heavy Gear II is pretty to look at. It doesn't rise to the level of its competition in terms of overall glitz, but it's got plenty where it counts. The weapons effects are good on the whole, the environments are attractive, and the frame rate is more than acceptable, providing you've got the PC muscle to run it.
Provided you aren't looking for another brainless kill fest, you'd be remiss to let this one slip past.
Graphics: Provided you have the muscle, the graphics are excellent.
Sound: In the main, very good.
Enjoyment: Once you clear the initial hump of the control scheme, this is a wonderful game to play
Replay Value: A lot of different configurations and several modes of play make for a lot of gaming time.
People who downloaded Heavy Gear 2 have also downloaded:
Heavy Gear, MechWarrior 2 (Limited Edition), Mechwarrior 4: Mercenaries, MechWarrior 2: Mercenaries, MechWarrior 3, Freelancer, MechCommander Gold, Shattered Steel
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