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