Heavy Gear II for Linux

It's a step in the right direction if the direction you want to go is away from the same old boring first-person shooters.
Game Play

Heavy Gear II isn't simple. This isn't something you can install from your CD and immediately jump into action. HG2 seems nearly flight simulator-like in complexity when one first sits down to it. In fact, to become thoroughly acquainted with all the controls and modes of game play requires a full seven-course meal of rather involved training missions and should probably include the convenient placement of the included keyboard-shortcut command placard just to keep track of the myriad commands used in the game. The payoff, however, is extraordinary; the level of control a player has in HG2 is amazing. For instance, even general movement consists of several axes of control, as one must coordinate the separate movements of the upper torso of your Gear to work in concert with the lower portion of your body. In turn, your lower body has several modes of operation, including jump jets, walking, kneeling, crawling and even, in Gearspeak, an SDS or “Secondary Movement System”, which deploys what amount to all-terrain rollerblades from the soles of your Gear's feet to allow you to, quite literally, skate into battle (or away from it) at high speed. Radar modes allow one to scan actively for nearby enemies, increasing the likelihood that they will be able to detect your Gear's presence. Or, you can enhance your Gear's stealth by switching to a passive-only mode. Your Gear is equipped with maneuvering thrusters for control in the weightlessness of space, and the act of accurately space-maneuvering a Gear in all its possible axes of motion while in a combat situation seems as difficult as neurosurgery the first few times at bat.

Figure 1. HG2's Gear Lab Boasts More Customization Options Than You Can Shake a Vibroaxe at.

The amount of customization possible in the game is unparalleled. Since you're fighting for two wealthy governments, your budget isn't really limited; you can have anything you want and as much of it as you can carry. The list of possible Gear models is seemingly unending (by my count about 70 primary models) and divided into four main categories: Light, Medium, Heavy (of course) and Assault. There are typically several base configurations for each primary model, and the Gear lab has the functionality to create and save your own custom configurations as often as you like. As for guns 'n ammo to attach to your Gear, again, the list is truly huge; just the names of weapons in the vast array at your disposal take a few minutes to read and a detailed study to understand fully. To create some modicum of balance in the game, a system of “threat levels” has been implemented. Missions have a maximum total threat level that the entire team can have, as well as the maximum total threat level for any single Gear in the team, and you are forced to configure the weapons and equipment of each Gear on the mission so that neither of these limits are exceeded. Added to the mix is a complex system of “Perks” and “Flaws” that can be assigned to alter the threat profile of each Gear (Perks increase the threat score, Flaws decrease it) and make it truly unique on the battlefield. If you're into this sort of highly detailed customization, you won't be disappointed.

Figure 2. Heavy Gear Missiles

So, does all of this preplanning and detailed control pay off in superior game play? Well, kind of: it's enough fun to keep you up all night. However, it also has some problems. Activision redesigned the entire game engine for HG2 (the so-called “Dark Side” engine) and, though it's very nice at times, it seems less robust and has poorer effects than some of its non-Linux-ported competition. The scenery is completely indestructible, allowing no cratering or deformation of any kind except for the exact targets that HG2's programmers thought you should be blowing up (which are typically only the handful of final goal targets, not just any ol' tree or rock along the route). There is also some curious clipping issues with the engine that can cause your Gear to, at times, slide right though mountains, rocks and even walls as though they don't exist. The AI is basically pathetic; although you have a great deal of control of your teammates through the relatively simple team-control commands, these guys are often as brain-dead as hockey pucks. On several occasions, squadmates become stuck in various landscape features, and I once had to destroy an entire base's defenses just to get to a single enemy Gear who was stuck against a wall, trying to go through it to get to me. The landscapes, although a bit dark, are quite spectacular at times, but the clipping distance is too short and, without the fogging effects activated, you can often clearly see the edge of the world dropping off on the horizon or appearing abruptly in the distance as you walk along. Again, these issues, while unsightly, aren't really enough to ruin the fun of the game, but they seem to leave a bad aftertaste at times.

There are several modes of game play available in Heavy Gear II. The campaign mode is very cool, the missions are short enough to keep you glued to the action, and the story line is compelling and unfolds in briefings and creative cut scenes that use the game engine to draw the action. Also available is a “Historical” mission section, which lets you relive and refight some of the greatest battles in Terra Novan history. For those of you who simply want basic combat, and want it right now, there is an “Instant Action” mode of play available that does just what it should; it puts you in the thick of your choice of a wide variety of highly customizable combat situations. There are several missions in the single-player training mode (which this reviewer highly recommends) and, last but not least, the multiplayer mode. HG2's multiplayer mode includes several types of game play: a one-on-one duel-type game; the traditional multiplayer “death match” free-for-all; a “steal the beacon” game where players accumulate points for the length of time they are able to hold onto the “beacon” before someone blows them to bits; a “strategic” variant where players form teams and attempt to destroy their opponents' bases; and, lastly, the classic “capture the flag”. Unfortunately, there are no cooperative multiplayer campaign-style modes in HG2. I think this would have added a great deal of fun to the game. However, I've heard that the historical missions were originally intended to be cooperative, but a scarcity of in-game resources forced the game designers to abandon the idea and make them single-player instead.

Figure 3. Shooting It up in Instant Action on the Ice Arena