In a world where free-to-play mech games with rich histories like Mechwarrior or ground swells of popularity like Hawken exist and are not exactly putting up ground breaking numbers, to hear of a company trying to put together yet another free-to-play mech game is somewhat cringe worthy. Much like hearing about The Elder Scrolls Online, where you can’t help but wonder why the development is still going on in a post-World of Warcraft-uber-alles universe, Canadian developers MekTek and StompyBot putting together a mech game called Heavy Gear Assault is somewhat baffling. However, they’ve got a unique spin on things and are hoping to mobilize a fan base around.
First off, Heavy Gear Assault is a known quantity; we’re not talking Battletech levels, but it was series of mech games from Activision back in the late nineties that apparently had a pretty decent following. Not only that, but the game sports a pretty well fleshed out tabletop game of the same name. As I was standing there talking with the developers, they showed me a hard cover “dungeon master” style 300+ page book full of rules for the board game.
On top of that, the setting could be an interesting change of pace. Instead of the war-torn bleak brown and grey worlds that we’re accustomed to with these games, Heavy Gear Assault is a sport of the far flung future, where giant robot mechs blow limbs off of each other for the amusement of the crowd. Mix that with a level of NASCAR commercialism where mechs have giant logos for corporations all over there, there definitely could be a Super Monday Night Combat vibe with brash, over the top announcers and silly commercial spots inbetween matches. Now granted, I didn’t hear any of that going on and I didn’t see any of the commercial logos, so a lot of this is wishful thinking on my part from what they told me. Fingers crossed there, but they’re going to really need to do something dramatic to differentiate themselves from the incumbents if they’re looking to stand out.
Thirdly? Controls in Heavy Gear Assault. Oh, buckle up, because these are not your typical PC “WASD” control scheme. Oh, no, pilot, this involves a little more coordination to pick up and play. As soon as your mech steps off the elevator, you throttle up and use the mouse to control the rotation of your mech torso. It gets very easy in the heat of a fight to ratchet up the throttle and go slamming into a wall, only to stand there motionless as you’re waiting for your engine to go into reverse to get you moving again. The controls are going to be tricky for a lot of people, but the hardcore mech realists out there who are looking to set up flight sticks and pedals might be in luck.
Here’s a little surprise for you: Heavy Gear Assault is using the Unreal 4 engine. Yes, that’s right, Mektek decided to up the ante and try out the brand new engine, meaning that when this game does release, it’s going to have a hell of a lot of shiny bells and whistles that elitist PC snobs will be able to up their settings to (although most competitive gamers actually turn off a lot of the ultra mode flash hunting for a better, faster frame rate).
The free to play model here is a touch different from what we’ve seen in Heavy Gear Assault. You can of course start with a washbucket with Grandpa’s shotgun at level one for zero dollars, but MekTek is also releasing a full access bundle which you can purchase which unlocks almost everything in the game for you without having to do the free-to-play grind. No telling how much that will cost at release, but the developer wanted to tell me that he felt if someone “paid” for a game in full that they should have everything the game has to offer at their disposal. Wow, what a concept! Remember those days?
Heavy Gear Assault has a real mountain to climb to break in as a common desktop icon for most people’s PCs, but the developer assures me there is a following for the game’s hardcore nature. They are, of course, in talks with the Oculus Rift folks: as the canon within the Heavy Gear lore, pilots in the game use virtual reality headsets to see outside the cockpit, so they feel that having the Rift available for gamers to use would be great. They also have unrestricted LAN play, allowing people to set up private servers and go wild to their hearts content, as well as handing out the development tools to allow for player created content like maps and mech designs.
Look for Heavy Gear on PCs in 2014; their in-house fundraising drive has raised $115,000 of the $900,000 goal it’s shooting for, so not sure how that’s going to effect the final release date. Check out more about Heavy Gear Assault on MekTek’s website!