Kaelin Consulting

Mark W. Kaelin

I have over 25 years of experience in the electronic publishing industry. I was an editor for CBS Interactive for eleven years, where I was responsible for acquiring, editing, and writing technical content for daily publication on CBS Interactive properties TechRepublic.com and ZDNet.com. My duties included the recruitment and development of contributing talent. Prior to CBS Interactive, I was an editor with ProQuest for 12 years, where I developed, designed, edited, and maintained an array of university and business school supplemental curricula products. Before ProQuest, I was a public accountant for five years, specializing in tax preparation and in compilation and review engagements. In addition, I have performed independent consulting services over the last 30 years for various business clients.

Heavy Gear II – Ready to rumble

Genre: Simulation/Action

Format: PC on CD-ROM

Developer: Activision Inc.

Publisher: Activision Inc.

Multiplayer: Yes

Requires: 166 MHz Pentium CPU, Windows 95/98 with Direct X, 64Mb RAM, 450 Mb hard disk space, 4X CD-ROM, 3D Accelerator, Sound Card.

Recommended: 233 MHz Pentium CPU, Internet Connection for Multiplayer

Retail Price: $55

Street Price: $40

Originally published in October 1999

In the never-ending battle between giant robot simulations, Heavy Gear II from Activision rises above the rest to take the prize as the best of the genre, at least for this year. Combining detailed simulation components with a technically brilliant gaming engine, skillfully constructed scenarios, and an engaging back-story, Heavy Gear II sets the highest standard. If you have to choose only one game from this genre, this is correct pick.

The Heavy Gear universe, as created by Dream Pod 9, takes place in the 62nd century, when humankind has colonized planets throughout the galaxy. As is human nature, these colonies form their own societies and their own cultures, which leads to the inevitable conflict over which society is superior and thus more deserving. The conflict to be resolved in Heavy Gear II centers on a surprise attack on one of these colonies, Terra Nova, by forces from Earth. The player assumes command of a squad of Gears in a struggle to save the colony.

Many changes have taken place since the release of the less than stellar Heavy Gear from last year. However, two of the changes in Heavy Gear II make this sequel stand out. The first is the new game engine designed by Activision called Dark Side. This new game engine allowed Heavy Gear designers to create an interactive environment. Unlike the Mechs of Mechwarrior fame, Gears are smaller, quicker and more agile. Gears can crouch, kneel, crawl, ride on wheels or treads, and pick up discarded weapons lying on the battlefield. The expanded capabilities of the Dark Side engine make the animation of these detailed movements seamless and fluid.

Because of the Dark Side engine, the environment in Heavy Gear II is alive. Players can use terrain for cover and to set up ambushes. Squads can be maneuvered into flanking positions, to literally surround the enemy. Gears with special equipment can even be deployed in space, where the ability to think in three dimensions is critical.

The other change from the original Heavy Gear that fans will greatly appreciate is the improved design of the campaign scenarios. It is no longer adequate to merely dive headlong into battle. The successful Gear pilot must consider the tactical layout of each scenario and make wise use of squad personnel and the gears they pilot. For many of the scenarios, the difference between winning and losing is determined by choices made at the squad management screen before entering the battle. This level of pre-battlefield management is often missing from games falling into the combat simulation category.

Players can pilot Gears in several different areas of the game: 1. Instant Action, 2. Campaign Mode, 3. Historical Battles, 4. Multiplayer Mode, and 5. Training. Instant Action is a highly configurable scenario creator. Players can set up scenarios ranging from action free-for-alls to stealthy reconnaissance missions. In addition, players can choose from a dozen different worlds or environments, each one presenting a particular challenge.

The artificial intelligence of the computer controlled Gears is very good. The enemy will use terrain and stealth to cover their attacks, enemy squads will split up and try to flank your position, and enemy Gears will be sacrificed in order to draw you into the open. The scenarios are very challenging not only in terms of mission objectives but in terms of enemy tactics.

My only real quibble with Heavy Gear II is the control interface. While the controls are configurable, the mechanism for changing controls is not intuitive. In true Newtonian fashion, every action has an equal and opposite reaction. Changing one control key will likely result in a conflict with another command, but that command and its control settings are invariably located deep in some other area of the setup function that is difficult to locate. This back-and-forth and trial-and-error is frustrating to say the least. However, once you get the keyboard, mouse, or joystick they way you want, the combinations quickly become second nature.

The power of the Dark Side game engine means that the artwork in Heavy Gear II is quite striking. With a vast amount of optional environment settings, players will find little repetition in available settings. The campaign mode in particular offers environments ranging from desolated deserts to high-rise urban areas reminiscent of the movie Blade Runner.

Often overlooked by the novice game player, but very important to the overall feel of any computer game is sound. Heavy Gear II takes full advantage of the newest sound cards and uses 3D positional systems to enhance the gaming experience. Enemy Gears attacking from behind sound like they are behind you. Small weapons fire in the distance over a rise sounds like it is in the distance and over a rise. I recommend the purchase of a good pair of headphones for the best 3D sound experience.

The only other problem that I can find with the game is the occasional clipping of environmental animation. Clipping, for the un-accelerated among you, is the odd anomaly that appears in a 3D computer generated world. The anomaly usually manifests itself in the form of a floating tree or a translucent mountain range. These problems are sometimes annoying, often humorous, but seldom game ending.

Heavy Gear II features a robust multiplayer system that is accessible through the Internet or via TCP/IP local area network connection. The Internet connection can be established directly using Activision’s free servers or by using the MPlayer Network. Multiplayer modes include deathmatch, steal the beacon, duelist, strategic, and capture the flag. The strategic multiplayer is perhaps the most intriguing. In this mode teams of players try to capture the other teams base while defending theirs from similar attack. The night I visited one of the Activision servers, there were forty connected players, with about 30 actually playing in one of ten games.

The ESRB rating for Heavy Gear II is Teen, Ages 13+. In this time of heightened sensitivity to computer game violence, I think the rating is appropriate. However, a similar game released one year before would probably garnered an Ages 10+ rating. As always, the best judge of what is appropriate for your children is you.

Without hesitation, I can honestly say that Heavy Gear II is the best robot combat simulation on the market today, and probably will be the best of the genre through Christmas. The game combines the elements of simulation, action, and strategy with the depth of a well-established universe to create a challenging and engaging game experience. The breadth of customizable Gears and scenarios and the excellent implementation of multiplayer game modes make Heavy Gear II playable well beyond the single player campaign. Heavy Gear II is definitely worth your hard-earned dollar.