Heavy Mach 2 is the sequel to last years acclaimed 2D side-scroller Heavy Mach from Indie Apps, and brings some significant changes to the series. The most notable changes are the new overhead perspective and 3D combat units, which result in a game that old-school Battletech, Mech Warrior and EarthSiege fans will find absolutely drool-worthy. Heavy Mach 2 is the iPhone’s new king of giant robot RPGs.
The game starts you off in a lightly armed bipedal tank known as a “Mach”. Missions are issued from the Command Center, with completion netting you credits and experience points that can be used to improve your mach. By visiting the Equipment Shop, you can upgrade your mach’s body (increasing durability), feet (increasing speed and boost), and purchase more powerful weapons which can be equipped to either the left or right arms. You can also purchase bots to assist you in combat, limited use airstrikes to assist you in battle, and repair items.
Enemies will constantly respawn in combat, so you will always be on your toes in the field. Surprisingly, your mach’s greatest asset is not its weaponry, but its legs. Enemies mostly consist of tread-based tanks or stationary targets, and your mach is comparatively nimble. Targetting an opponent is as easy as tapping on them; with your weapons trained on an enemy, the mach will autofire until the target is destroyed. In combat you will often be surrounded, and most of your effort will be spent dodging incoming attacks. This is easily accomplished by tapping in a direction to move, tracing a line to create a movement path, or double-tapping to execute a dash manuever using your boost power. It’s a great combat mechanic, as you are constantly on the move and a part of the action. In Heavy Mach 2, standing still is the best way to die.
Special attacks make a return from the first game, with airstrikes and other skills available for purchase from the Equipment Shop, and sometimes dropped by downed opponents.
Controls: Heavy Mach 2’s control scheme is a perfect fit for the gameplay. Targeting enemies while strafing around them, collecting items and dodging incoming fire is intuitive and fun. The game implements the oft used and deliberate path-drawing mechanic to brilliant effect, while the tap and double-tap movements allow for exciting twitch-reaction path modification when necessitated by combat.
Landscapes: The 2D bitmapped environments look fantastic, verdant and rocky where unspoiled and littered with the industrial wreckage of battered machines and war-torn structures elsewhere. Realism would probably dictate that these battlefields should look more destroyed than they do, but Heavy Mach 2 wisely veers more towards aesthetic than drab, gray reality. Textures are beautifully presented in high-resolution detail, with colors that leap off the screen. The battlefields appear to be sites of long-standing conflict, while also being nice to look at, effectively walking the line between bleak reality and video game eye-candy.
Character Models: Great detail has gone into presenting the player’s mach, as well as the enemy units. The mach seems to carry its weight as it moves, each step the step of a heavy machine. Your mach varies in appearance depending on its equipment, with weapons easily identifiable by sight. Enemy units are diverse and different tank types are easily discernible from their peers.
Customization: The ability to outfit your mach with various weapons and body parts is the bread-and-butter of any giant robot game, and Heavy Mach 2 doesn’t disappoint in this regard. While additional options would be welcome — such as the ability to paint your mach various colors — what’s here is more than adequate.
Difficulty: Or lack thereof. Collision detection is incredibly forgiving for incoming attacks. Bullets and rockets often seem to pass right through you, as a hit is only registered when projectiles catch your body dead center. This makes dodging attacks easier than it actually should be, and despite being constantly out-numbered and surrounded by foes, I have had no difficulty in building a surplus of repair supplies from enemy drops alone. Direct hits are rare, and even when attacks connect they typically inflict only negligible damage.
Airstrikes, bombs and other skills are fun to see, but I have yet to find them necessary in combat. I’ve never had a situation where I needed to call down an airstrike to save my bacon from the fire. I’ve never had a situation I wasn’t able to easily overcome with anything more than my guns. Difficulty does ramp up as you make your way deeper into the game, but enemy AI remains dodgy, as tanks will often not fire on you until fired upon.
No Location-based Damage: Tying into the difficulty issue above, your mach has only a single pool of hit points. Mech combat games have a legacy of part-based damage, wherein attacks can strike and damage individual body parts, affecting gameplay. There’s nothing of the sort in Heavy Mach 2, and that’s a shame. While taking damage to the main body should naturally result it utter destruction, it would add extra layers of complexity and interest if damage to the legs were to affect your movement, or damage to the arms disable weaponry.
Interface: Special attack triggers and the Menu button somewhat obscure parts of the battlefield, making it difficult to target enemies or collect items that get under them. Rather than having the buttons onscreen, it might have been better had they been mapped to touch input. For example, a two-finger tap to bring up a quick-access menu of skills, with tabs available for other menu screens (Objectives, Inventory, System, Help).
Shopping: Bases in Heavy Mach 2 have two types of shops; the Equipment Shop is where you buy and sell parts, weapons, bots and items; the Maintenance Shop is where you manage your inventory and outfit your mach with purchased components.
The problem is that you cannot trade-in your equipped parts when shopping, nor can you unequip parts prior to owning replacement parts. And so, you must purchase new parts at full price before you are able to unequip and sell old parts, and therefore cannot benefit from the value of the equipped parts when shopping. As a result, the shopping experience feels clunky and unrefined, as you must first visit the Equipment Shop to buy parts, then the Maintenance Shop to equip them, and then return to the Equipment Shop to sell the old parts.
Idealy, it would be fantastic to be able to trade-in equipped parts while shopping, having the cost of new parts adjusted in real-time by the trade-in value of your equipped parts. Newly purchased parts could then be equipped on the spot, saving you having to visit the Maintenance Shop.
Lack of Story: You have a giant robot, and you receive missions to blow stuff up. But WHY?! The game never tells you. I would love to see at least the trappings of a story woven into the game. The old warring factions yarn so often used by mech combat games, the evergreen tale of Man vs. Sentient Machine as see in Terminator, Battlestar Galactica or so many other games and movies, or something completely new … It doesn’t matter which, but some little bit of a story to put the game in context would be awesome. I mean, how many RPGs do you see without a story?
Music: The music is pretty cheesy, and gets repetitive quickly. Heavy Mach 2 is a great game, deserving of a more epic score than it has. Acerbating the issue is the fact that there are no controls for disabling the BGM, nor does the game support playback from your music Library. And so you’re forced to endure the cheesy, lo-fi, repetitive techno soundtrack while you play.
The first Heavy Mach was an excellent 2D side-scroller, a genre highlight at a time when the App Store had yet to hit its stride for action games.With Heavy Mach 2, Indie Apps proffers a sequel that reinvents itself from the first game, but without disemboweling itself of that game’s essence, and without invalidating its predecessor. After enjoying Heavy Mach 2, players can still go back to the first game for a fresh and equally enjoyable experience.
Consider the alternatives for getting your mech on: MetalWars is a fair, but flawed entry to the overcrowded genre of dual-stick shooters. iMech is a shallow multiplayer arena fighter. Iron Sight is an interesting artillery game with an almost crippling learn curve. There’s nothing that compares to Heavy Mach 2 in regard to polish, accessibility or pure fun factor.
True, Heavy Mach 2 is not yet the definitive mech battling experience. If I had my druthers, the game would include a campaign mode with a compelling story and more diverse mission types. Missions would see you defending your base from attack, laying siege and laying waste to enemy base and resource installations, escorting and protecting high value personnel, resources and targets, engaging specific configurations of enemy forces in more strategic settings, and more.The game’s difficulty and collision detection would be rebalanced for a more intense combat experience, and there would be yet more customization options available for your mach. For me, Dynamix’s EarthSiege 2 will always be the yardstick by which all other mech combat games are measured, and I would love to see ideas from that game transposed to the gameplay presented here in Heavy Mach 2. But you can’t always get what you want …
Instead, Heavy Mach 2 offers a semi-casual mech-combat game with lite RPG elements, somewhat imperfect and lacking in depth, but overall a brilliant game that’s easy to recommend. With standout controls, excellent visuals and nonstop action, Heavy Mach 2 should not be missed by mech fans or action gamers. Get it now while it’s still at its 50% introductory price of $2.99.
Heavy Mach 2 is developed by Indie Apps, sells for $5.99 and is temporarily available for the introductory price of $2.99. Reviewed at version 1.0 on an iPhone 3G.