Early Access Investigations: DUAL GEAR

Here, see if the math checks out.

Armored Core (a) + Front Mission (b) x Valkyria Chronicles (x) = Dual Gear (y) {solve for excitement} - a+ b x x = yes (!!!)

I've written about this currently-seeking-crowdfunding action strategy elsewhere, but given this is Orbital Speed Studio's second drive to get Dual Gear out of the hangar and into your hands, I figured why not check back to sniff the actuator grease.

Beyond the deft homage to FROM and golden era Square clanker sims -- the kind of beefy, heavy Japanese mecha that appeals to fans of The Real™ -- Dual Gear is a hearty and largely successful attempt to pry apart the often stiff sinews of turn-based strategy and inject a healthy dose of real-time interaction.

Dual Gear has you drive your machines about austere maps in sequence, playing a proximal positional game as you would any other strategy. The physical act of thumbsticking articulated pieces about, in addition to the fact these are not lithe, dime-turning battlefield ballerinas of Japanese genre convention, offers a meaty, grounded experience rarely offered.

Mechs stomp about under player initiative, the machine's mass responding with elephantine grace under inertial impetus. Weapons systems unfold when triggered for a manually-targeted and statistics-assisted ordnance salvo, with contact spraying sparks and a satisfying confetti of hitpoints. It has the tactical crunch of a Front Mission with the action chops of an original XBox Steel Battalion.

But this isn't an action game per se, where gearhead titans thunder unfettered and cannonade at will. The Valkyria Chronicles comparison is derived from the way a player's unit has a limited action point pool. Any action draws from this pool, be it movement or combat. Though not a huge departure from the likes of Jagged Alliance, real-time depletion gives it an instinctual boots-on-the-ground appeal. Dual Gear makes a player maximise a machine's output -- drop a triple burst on a bogey, no dramas -- or plan for the future and spend conservatively by stocking up the overwatch cache. Poor planning can strand hardware for enemies to bum-rush on their turn, so getting to know a mech's limits is key to effective squadding and ameliorating diesel-drenched overreach.

Once you've come to know the shorthand of range and position, encounters become far less ponderous and more a showcase of schwerpunkting through enemy columns or isolating and mauling like tungsten bull sharks. Stripping armour with high-calibre rifles at range, following with a one-two missile strike and intimate braces of SMG fire. This is the language of Dual Gear, and while the missions included at this early stage are good testbeds, I look forward to an expansion of sortie design and objectives beyond GO HERE > KILL X > NICE WORK, PILOT

The game looks great, too. You'd be excused in thinking this was a FROM joint, given the intricate machine design and animation. I'm constantly reaching for the screenshot button, hoping to capture another finely-rendered encounter between machines. If the old Ravens are tired of waiting for an Armored Core to deploy on PC and are willing to accept a temporal and tactical shift, this is no meagre substitute. This is especially true in relation to customisation.

Dual Gear features a robust, highly granular garage to tinker in. Players won't be left wanting for much, beyond a desperately needed interface overhaul for tooling up one's kit and pilot. It is the one area that needs streamlining. Discerning purchased and equipped items between a player's motor pool is currently rather unintuitive and roundabout, amid confusing functions and a lack of straightforward menu controls. There is a lot to take in when assessing squad machinery and pilots, and as such, unnecessary fiddling feels magnified.

As Dual Gear will live and die by a player's investment in heavy tinkering, I've no doubt the garage will be sorted and spit-shined soon enough.

Having tasted the new skirmish mode, futzed about in customisation and seen a cleaner, quicker and tighter mechanised turn-based strategy hybrid, the current version of Dual Gear reinforces my anticipation. Be it on PC, PS4 or the Bone, this Thai-crafted project is something special. If you're bursting your hydraulics to get mitts on an early build, the second IndieGoGo campaign drive is still open for business.

Just to reassure the crowdfunding-shy, this game is getting made. These machines will strut their multi-ton stuff, regardless of current funding outcome. However, stretch goals like mods and the inclusion of transformable machines won't make it in if the cash isn't in the kitty. So, there's that to consider.

As an unabashed machine maniac and tactical dilettante, Dual Gear is exactly what we need.

Laser-focused mecha strategy is returning, shoulder-mounted howitzers and all.

You can find Dual Gear via the following links:

IndieGoGo

Official Site

Twitter

Steam

Early Access Investigations: Darkest Dungeon

Early Access Investigations: Darkest Dungeon

I put off writing about Darkest Dungeon because, frankly, it was pissing me off. The game, in case you hadn't been made aware, relies heavily on random number generation for a lot of its systems; the chance of your and your enemies attacks landing and the potential of them landing critical hits, the chance of encounters and whether or not you surprise your enemies or they surprise you, the several events you encounter throughout dungeons also present a successful option or failure state.

Demo: Serpent In The Staglands

Demo: Serpent In The Staglands

You would think I'd had my fill of RPGs at the moment. In between my continuing reluctance to play Fallout: New Vegas and my recent acquisitions of The Witcher 3, Shadowrun: Dragonfall and Pillars of Eternity I didn't think I had any more room in my life for a game of a similar ilk. The two hours I put into the demo for Whalenought Studios' Serpent In The  Staglands quickly changed my mind.

Demo: Salt

Demo: Salt

Alex has written about Salt in a previous internet life. He's approaching these types of games in a very specific way; looking at the crafting, the engagements with NPCs and how the world develops around you in this sandbox space. From dinosaurs to pirates he's had it all covered, but the one that stood out to me was Salt. An island hopping, open world pirate adventure. I was intrigued.

Early Access Investigations - Fractured Space

Early Access Investigations - Fractured Space

With Star Citizen breaking all sorts of crowd-funding records, there's enough evidence to show that people do love their space fighters. And who can disagree? Be it the arrest of intersecting lines in the X-Wing, or its perennial nemesis of ball and plate in the TIE Fighter; the deft rollick of the Star Fury or the Colonial Viper channeling the Repco Brabham BT24; we all harbour a fondness for those flighty, whippy little gnats that zip and jig in the coldness. 

But you and I both know what's even better than a space fighter. 

Preview: Outland 17

Preview: Outland 17

I first discovered Outland 17 while trying to contribute to the NeoGAF indie thread; a monthly discussion about indie games. Over the course of the month we try our best to collate as many interesting and upcoming indie games and spread them around the community. Two months ago I contributed Outland 17 from Grenade Tree Games and that, I thought, would be that.

Second Opinion Preview: Bloodsports.TV

Second Opinion Preview: Bloodsports.TV

As the other half of the Krater fanclub, I was intrigued by the news of a MOBA spin-off. Let it be known, I have no love for the strategy subset, as Sisyphean a task as it is to maintain. After all, it was the shot in the arm strategy games needed, propagating a Pro League fervor beyond the Korean peninsula and turning humble mod roots into million-dollar events. 

Along lollops Bloodsports.TV...

Preview: Bloodsports.TV

Preview: Bloodsports.TV

I approached Bloodsports.TV from a place of extreme cynicysm; there were, after all, only two people in the world who understood, appreciated and even loved Fatshark’s off beat, apocalyptic and charming Krater. Released too close to Diablo III for critics tiny minds to comprehend the game drew unfavourable comparisons to Blizzard’s epic series while sharing very little but an isometric perspective. The real comparison, and one I tried to hammer home to the enormity of a couple of hundred Twitter followers, was to DOTA and other games in the MOBA genre.