Preview - Metaltech: EarthSiege (DOS, 1994)
Since the dawn of computer games, people have loved shooting things and watching them explode. As the years passed and technology gave us better toys to play with, some of these same people said, "Well, I've got a bigger computer now; maybe I can use bigger guns to shoot bigger things." They found they could, and there was much rejoicing. Not long after that, they once again considered their situation. "Well, even though I'm shooting big guns at big things, there's still so much more my nifty toy is capable of. What if I made my big gun more complex and difficult to use, and made my targets look nifty and move quickly and react smartlier?" In case you were wondering, that is how these really big robot games came into being. Originally, these titles were called mech games, but recently certain people have decided that the term "mech" is corporate property instead of a part of the English vernacular, so we will refrain from its further use here to avoid paying royalties.
The current uproar about big robot games was brought on by Activision's announcement that they were hard at work on Mechwarrior II. That was about 14 years ago, and still the field is wide open. Dynamix originally jumped on the bandwagon with a title called Metaltech: Battledrome, a sort of "me too" big robot game with the action confined to a visually Spartan battle room. Dynamix then decided to put that project on hold and start on a more ambitious title that was more in line with its campaign-based competition. That project was, and continues to be, Metaltech: Earthsiege, a feast of robotic carnage that should make Cecil B. DeMille envious.
Since only adventure games and RPGs really need plots, Earthsiege comes with a premise which, although it won't put Isaac Asimov to shame, does the job of setting the stage for the action. In the near future, the science of Artificial Intelligence is growing by leaps and bounds. The military, thinking with a secondary organ as usual, decides that AI programs would be the ideal pilots for gargantuan fighting droids called HERCs. They do indeed become extremely effective weapons, and these Cybrids cause the nations of the world to race to develop better AI to hold their position in this new cold war. Of course, the military's short-sightedness has a way of making itself known, and so it is that the Cybrids become sentient and decide to purge the world of their human creators. You are a member of the scattered and painfully ill-equipped human resistance, and your combat skills are needed to pilot the human-controlled HERCs against the evil of the vindictive Cybrids. (At this point I like to picture Jim Carrey bellowing, "Somebody stop me!!")
Earthsiege is one of those fairly rare games that straddle the border between action game and simulation. It's not as complicated as, say, Falcon 3.0, but then again we're not talking about Rebel Assault here either. You will be piloting a HERC, and as you can imagine, that's not exactly a walk in the park. You'll have to navigate, monitor your damage, keep an eye on your radar, switch between weapons systems, coordinate your actions with your squad mates, and blast hostile targets. A HERC is a pretty complex vehicle, but the game is surprisingly easy to learn, due in part to the intelligent layout of the cockpit. All instruments and displays are more or less where you'd expect them to be, and I found my HERC to be much more user friendly than most planes I've flown in other sims.
The control scheme is also worthy of praise. Making your HERC do what you want it to could have been a major stumbling block, but Dynamix has included support for just about every combination of PC controllers you could think of. One of the most useful yet potentially difficult maneuvers in the game is pivoting your HERC's torso to fire at an enemy while walking in an independent direction. If you can't do this, you won't get far in the game. This is most commonly done via a set of Thrustmaster Rudder Pedals, but for those of us who have to worry about things like rent and food, Dynamix allows this function to be assigned to other controllers. Anyone with a decent game card can rig up a Y cable and a second joystick and control the game well without spending a fortune.
Naturally, the missions themselves are what will make or break this game, and it looks like Dynamix has nothing to worry about in that respect. The relative ease of the HERCs' operation combines with the almost transparent navigational system to give you a game that lets you concentrate on the intense action you'll be wading into. The polygonal graphics are decent to look at, and enable the game to move along with great speed. Yep, blowing things up is still fun, and somehow it feels even better when you're in command of a complex machine.
Judging from what I've seen, Earthsiege looks to be a solid action sim that should appeal to a fairly wide audience. It's complex enough for sim fans, but its fairly painless learning curve should appeal to action gamers as well. I like to blow big holes in things, and I like Earthsiege. It's as simple as that.