Access Granted: Dual Gear12 Feb 2016 1
I have an affection -- perhaps paraphilia would be a better term -- for machines. Blame growing up on a farm. Blame Stephen Biesty. Heck, blame the otherwise-defunct Video City for renting out those damn Robotech VHS tapes Every. Single. Weekend. Gaming provided an inexhaustible smorgasboard of 'soft hardware', and my appetite to sample the most exotic inevitably led to robots. Fed a steady stream of both East and West, I'd like to think I've developed a discerning palate when sampling lumbering mechanica past and present. When something like Dual Gear comes along, a Thai production that channels Front Mission and Armored Core through the lens of console strategy favourite Valkyria Chronicles, I get that familiar tingle.
Orbital Speed Studio, a five-strong squad based in Bangkok with some mainstream development chops, are currently seeking funding for their strategy project. However, benevolent and forward-thinking as they are, the team have deployed a short alpha demo that gives a good idea of what Dual Gear is all about.
Taking command of a small clutch of early Armored Core-esque mecha, you're tasked with breaking into a South African military installation. Each machine is powered by a discrete energy pool; every action from moving to shooting draws from this regenerating cache. It's a neat and easily-parsed riff on the action points concept you'd see in XCOM or Jagged Alliance, within an abstracted real-time twist. Players drive their lumbering machines about as one would a stodgy third-person shooter. Much like last year's tail-ender Mordheim: City of the Damned, despite the slightly limber facade, this is not an action game.
With actions throttled to the juice in the tank, Dual Gear has an interesting rhythm about it. Movement is freeform, unencumbered by grids or hexes. As long as the action pool can be drawn from, players can reposition. Energy burn-off varies between loadout and weight, so units sporting howitzers and heavier ordnance have diminished range, with skirmishers brandishing lighter fare like shotguns and swords are able to flank and zone effectively with their less-restricted action cache. Despite the disparate ranges, there's an inherent emphasis on sticking together or splitting into smaller fireteams.
Each machine touts a number of different offensive abilities; from the aforementioned close-quarters weaponry to armour-stripping SMGs, assault rifles and missile racks. Their operation isn't restricted by linear phases; if you want to unload as soon as you take control, it can be done. Not only once, but with consideration to real-time weapon cool-down, the weapon can be fired as many times as the action pool allows. Coupled with movement, Dual Gear's engagements are often very mobile. Fire > weapon cool-down in effect while moving to new position > fire on target. What makes the combat especially thrilling is the fact that real-time evasion or repositioning on both sides occurs during a single turn.
Taking control of a unit, you've the ability to immediately rotate through equipped armaments and loose a shot if necessary. As soon as players take command of a specific unit -- and you can rotate between each machine at a moment's notice, unless under fire or moving -- an opposing unit powers up to move and, if in range, shoots. The enemy team has the same option of cycling through any unit still sporting action points, so for a quote-unquote turn-based game, Dual Gear is a markedly active experience. I look forward to seeing itemisation and loadout variety mixing up the engagements, but for basic mechanised action, the alpha build offers a tasty, if slightly imperfect, morsel.
The visuals are entirely an homage to FROM Software's mainline Armored Core series, presently foundering in a post-Souls world. Chunky without inelegance, detailed rather than overwrought; the Siderwinder suits do move with the purposeful gait of Front Mission's Wanzers. These are not Gundams, and thankfully so. These articulated semi-Real Mecha square off in a satisfying plod. Armour shatters with heavy hits, limbs wrenched off under a brace of heavy calibre fire, the bare sockets showering sparks. As far as rendering and animated oomph, Dual Gear is on the right track.
Sound is obviously still a work-in-progress, but in addition to the Japanese female voice-over, weapons and machinery are well-represented. Some placeholder sounds, such as turret targeting servos need a little more variation in their rotation effect, but otherwise, a good mix. Music feels aptly Japanese, with clean, minimal techno synth behind an appropriately fast four-four. Think Ken Ishii or whoever composes the Ghost in the Shell: Standalone Complex soundtrack. Subtle, but inspiring.
All this nitty-gritty aside, Dual Gear feels solid and accomplished. Detailed-yet-readable user interface, bold assets, a strong vision that - if funding goals are achieved - will make this a quality strategy proposition. I don't usually deploy the accolades-in-waiting without serious caveat, but the alpha demo is ever so tantalising. With system polish and mission variety, this just might be the game we wanted Front Mission Evolved to be.
Dual Gear is fresh gear.