3/2 Canadian Rules Gundam

Heavy Gear

     On the far-off world of Terra Nova, a hostile colonized planet with little water or regard for physics and hit detection, a civil war between the North and South armies of the world rages on for centuries. Battles are fought with armored mecha troops known as Heavy Gears. It's a brave new world. It's a whole new era for mankind. It's Canadian.

     Like the vast majority of robot games, most of the action takes place from a cockpit view, depriving you of peripheral vision and ensuring you slam into things a lot. (More on this later.) With a tap of the "C' button, you can zoom out to a behind-the-Gear point of view. This allows me to see everything, except now the crosshairs seem to be following my neighbor's mouse. Other innovations include Gears being able to do fairly sensible things like sidestep and pick up dropped weapons from the battlefield. And kneel. All the Gears also have little wheels built into their feet, which were designed to give them extra speed on flat terrain but thanks to the half-assed programming, allows them to drive straight up mountains. In fact, all of my missions, story mode or campaign mode, always start with the following keystrokes: "W" to turn on the wheels. "0" to accelerate to max speed. "L" to switch everything to wireframe- er, "Low Light" vision. This has the added bonus of turning everything that isn't the ground blue for easy shooting. Sometimes if I'm burdened with squadmates I'll use the option that point out hostiles.

     Heavy Gear doesn't demand a lot of you mentally. If you can peck at the keyboard with one hand while jerking the mouse around with the other, you'll figure out all the commands by trial and error. The AI in this game is piss-poor. You can overcome any obstacle by driving in circles around it at high speed while shooting in wireframe mode. The enemies, while able to make use of natural (and I mean that in the loosest sense, as the rocks look more hi-tech than many of the buildings) cover, are just as likely to accelerate into said cover at high speeds, critically damaging and even killing themselves. When you get within a certain distance of a Gear, it randomly chucks grenades in a sort of panic, making them look a little like they're having a seizure or attending a heavily armed rave. The largest problem by far is the fact they can't lead their shots at all. Just keep moving at high speed with your torso twisted 90 degrees and they'll never hit you. Of course, you'll probably run into something which brings me to squadmate AI.

     You may remember the disembodied head friend from Miracle Girls, or maybe the Jekyll-and-Hyde routine of Earthworm Jim's pal Peter Puppy. None of those sidekicks were particularly helpful, in fact, they were downright subversive. The squad mates you'll be assigned in Heavy Gear are the worst of the worst in the 'With Friends Like These, Who Needs Enemies' school of sidekickdom. They don't just muscle in on your kills, they dash in front of you as you take careful aim at something. In an intense firefight, you can count on them to simply stand there at attention, looking back and forth like they might have heard something. Then they go out with a pathetic "Help meeee!" when they finally get hit. My theory is that they're not actually in your army, they're just volunteer firemen or something. If the current terrain has no random rock pillars in it, then odds are if you suddenly slam into something, lose a leg and all your sensors, that was probably your squadmate covering your six. Keep 'em flying, dickweeds.

     There are a host of collision problems in this game: Even if you point the crosshairs at point black range into a clearly-defined body in wireframe mode, the bullet generally passes harmlessly through the torso. Also, missed shots have a tendency to keep scaling off into the distance regardless of whether there's a mountain or the ground in the way. Maybe it's the fourth-dimensional ammo the CNCS uses.

     The story mode follows a Northern soldier, Ranger Smith. Er, Scott. In a series of Wing Commandery FMV sequences, he rises in the ranks, is hated by his subordinates, kidnapped a few times, and ultimately has to have a shootout with his butch Southerner girlfriend. I think. All I can remember clearly is the commander going slowly insane and sending me on progressively boring missions into enemy territory after his son or nephew or something fails an Escape from Prison Camp check (DC 20).

     Campaign Mode, the better of the two main play modes, lets you pick North or South and run missions to spread your influence across the map. I'm not sure if there's a way to definitively win, but I think I moved the South border up, just a little. After about 1,231 successful missions, you'll get new Gears and parts. After about twenty minutes of poking around the "MOST VERSATILE DRAG-AND DROP CONSTRUCTION TOOL EVER" I discovered you can cheat by highlighting a part and tapping the arrow keys up to add more armor or horsepower. As I said before, you're not being asked to be a Schwarzkopf here. The Army is just looking for a few good men who can drive in circles without getting motion sick. Though you might be tempted to take a smaller, faster Gear on reconnaisance missions, trust me; there's no reason not to pick the biggest Gear available and load it down with heavy ordinance.

     There are also nonhumanoid artillery mecha called Striders; both models at your disposal are about as manueverable as your average continent and almost as fast. The only advantage the offer you is the ability to weigh them down with UNGODLY amounts of armament. At least the Southern one has the little wheels.

     I heard Activision made this when they were at odds with FASA over the MechWarrior liscense. It showed some potential, I can only wonder what HG2 plays like as it features a brand new engine and varied environments (including deep space for once.) I only hope it reverses the AI of the enemies for the AI of the squadmates, who may in fact be double agents.

     Oh, and did I mention this game features tiny infantry who can take a few autocannon rounds? Just step on them and be done.



In the opening FMV, the Mr. Bean of the Northern Guard gets jumped by the Southern MILICIA.

It's Canadian Pat.

"...and stop calling me 'Riker!' It hurts me!"