I’m fairly fond of mechs. Hulking machines battling it out at scale almost always brings some awesome moments with it—more so if their movement is accurately modeled. As such, Dual Gear easily grabbed my attention with interesting mech designs and a unique take on combat, where combat is turn-based, but units move around in real time. I was eager to jump in and see if it brought something worthwhile to the genre.
Unfortunately, Dual Gear doesn’t let you just jump in and play. You’re immediately dropped into a painfully long tutorial that requires you to painstakingly learn each and every one of the basic controls: WASD to move, left-click to aim and attack, scroll wheel to change which skill you have selected, right-click to bring up the turn menu, Enter to end that unit’s turn, T to end turn, and so on. While the overall control scheme isn’t the worst it could be, it’s not exactly a comfortable experience either. From the very beginning, I found it awkward to be able to do almost everything without moving my hands from the WASD keys and mouse except end a unit’s turn, which required me to move one hand to the Enter key. Considering how often you have to do this, it quickly becomes agitating. I didn’t test out the gamepad controls, but I imagine that they’re much more comfortable.
Frustratingly, the tutorial also sets the pace for the rest of the game. Immediately after finishing it, you are sent to a screen where fly-by text tells you the history of the game world in excruciating detail, organized by year. I almost felt that using the built-in speed up button, which I did not feel moved the text fast enough, was mandatory, as sitting there, watching the text fly by at its “normal” pace, would have easily taken between five and ten minutes. Worse still, there’s so much that’s covered that I actually did read most of it, only to remember almost none of it. It’s an overwhelming mess of “some military did this” and “this political entity was disbanded to make way for this other political entity,” the kind of stuff that you’re not going to remember when it’s described in plain English. The entire intro is basically begging to be pared down and rewritten in a more digestible format.
This is then followed by an introductory mission that inundates you with dialogue that seems to only have loose ties to the massive amount of world history that you were just forced to endure. Your squad of undisciplined rookies—Ajay and Kenji, along with their instructor, Alma—comes across some girl in a dual gear, what the game calls its mechs, named Aliya, who is also being chased by some man in a dual gear named Neil, who is the survivor of some particularly bad incident during the war. Neil joins you in fighting Aliya, who then also joins you after you defeat her, the narrative hinting at some tenuous connection between them along the way. It’s a very anime-like way to start things off, which I probably shouldn’t be surprised by due to the fact that Gundam is such a huge influence on the mech genre at large.
Given the vague way in which the story starts, I was hoping for just a bit more detail, but that’s all that exists thus far. Only three missions are in the game at this time and, after the first one, most dialogue is generic military chatter. There are some vague rumblings about something called a “Dual Drive,” also seemingly linked to the aforementioned man who survived that one incident, but what it is has yet to be properly explained, much less what its significance is. All I know is that it’s bad that the enemy faction is seemingly testing it out.
There’s also quite a bit of nuance that’s lost in the English translation. The English text is absolutely riddled with errors, to the point that there are some stretches of dialogue where not a single line of text is without error. It’s so bad that there are certain instances where the acronyms for in-universe entities and the names of characters are spelled incorrectly. Because of this, I can’t even be entirely sure of what is hinted at at certain points in the dialogue because I don’t know for sure that it isn’t a translation error. It’s made even more apparent how bad the translation is when compared to the Japanese voiceovers, which, while I can’t confirm their accuracy, sound great, despite barely anything being voiced over at this time.
Now, while I’ve talked about the story, or lack thereof, for some time now, the real standout feature of Dual Gear is, as mentioned before, its combat system. Combat is turn-based, but the turns take place in real time. The best way to think of it is as being somewhat like Worms, only you target enemies or parts of enemies’ vehicles by hovering your crosshair over them. While it is, in fact, turn-based, you move each individual unit around freely in real time. Unlike Worms, however, what you can do in a turn is limited by several factors. Each dual gear is broken into several parts—head, torso, left arm, right arm, and legs—that can be broken, first that part’s armor and then the actual part. Two weapons can be equipped to each arm, one on each shoulder and one in each hand, each of which has a limited amount of ammo and is disabled when the part that it is attached to is broken. Additionally, you don’t use weapons in combat; you use skills for those weapons. Each of those skills costs a certain amount of action points, of which each pilot starts with two. Lastly, you have a “gauge” with “gauge points” that are used by movement—more points are consumed per second if you decide to use the game’s sprint equivalent—and skills.
This system can be quite confusing, largely because skills actively use two different resources. I’m not really sure what the rationale behind this particular configuration of resources is, but it’s not the most comfortable experience. The main problem I have with it is that it never really facilitates clever use of resources. Instead, it really just makes you careful about your movement so that you have gauge points left over for multiple attacks. Thus, all it serves to do is feel incredibly limiting for little reason.
The ammo system is a problem all its own. Missions are structured so that they all take place in multiple “waves.” As of right now, every mission starts you out against a medium-sized group of turret enemies of different types. These can almost always be taken out in one attack, especially if you hit them with two vertical missiles. Once they’re destroyed, you’re up against either another set of turrets or a small group of dual gears. In the case of the final mission, you’re up against turrets, then dual gears, then a boss. On paper, this system sounds fine, but it takes a wildly disproportionate amount of effort to destroy a dual gear when compared to the turret enemies you’re always forced to start out against. Dual gears also have multiple parts and targeting isn’t always precise, so you will often find yourself really having to wear down enemy dual gears one attack at a time.
Normally, this would be fine, other than the implied average battle length, but the limited amount of ammo that your attacks have, which is a much more severe concern when it comes to missile weapons, complicates things. You see, when you run out of ammo, which you almost certainly will multiple times over in more complex missions, you can only get more by destroying another enemy or, in the case of a boss, breaking one of its parts. This means that you absolutely have to destroy something in order to keep all of your weapons online. But the frustration doesn’t end there. The ammo pickups that are dropped when you destroy enemies are only good for the unit that picks them up, meaning that you have to carefully balance out when units pick ammo up or there is a very real possibility that they will spend an indeterminate amount of turns being completely useless in combat.
This problem is exacerbated when you lose units. I had been managing fine when my units were staying alive, but the third mission was when it really sank in that losing units makes battles that much slower and more frustrating. In the third mission, you are put up against a small group of dual gears that, among others, includes one dual gear that is on a platform above you that you can’t actually get to. While you might logically think that it’s more important to take out the three dual gears that are on the level that you are, the dual gear above you has twin cannons, a set of weapons that really showcases another problem that dual gear has right now: there is no consistency in the amount of damage your units take.
Before encountering that particular dual gear, most enemy attacks did 0 damage. The odd attack that actually did damage would do maybe 300 damage total, spread out across multiple parts. Given how few and far between these attacks were, they were completely negligible. This dual gear, on the other hand, would do 0 damage per attack until the point where it hit my dual gears’ torsos for around 1200 damage, instantly taking them out of combat. A quick check of my status bar showed that the bulk of the damage, if not all of it, hit that one part. This is frustrating for two reasons: it’s a completely unpredictable turn of events and dual gears take so long to destroy that you’re almost guaranteed to lose at least one unit.
In my case, I lost Neil and Alma, the two most capable units, which I thought had sealed my battle’s fate. However, instead, I was able to carry on, painfully slowly finishing off the rest of the units. Without them, the boss fight became a war of attrition, with my units focusing one part, waiting for it to be destroyed, and taking turns collecting the ammo that dropped from it. Eventually, due to the fact that that boss can counterattack practically instantly, a feature that I will discuss more later, Kenji’s dual gear lost both of its arms, which I had not changed from melee weapons, and he was also rendered useless. At times, the remaining two units—Ajay and Aliya, the latter of which was my lowest-leveled unit—would run out of ammo and be forced to wait until the other broke a part. When I was down to the bosses’ last part, randomness again took hold and Ajay was downed. Luckily, Aliya managed to finish it off, but the entire experience really exemplified the problem with these two systems, but not before the total time of the fight exceeded an hour, which I was less than happy about.
Combat isn’t all bad, though. When it goes well, it feels great. The real-time nature of combat means that you really get to feel the weight of the mechs that you’re controlling. While I did experience a bit of a problem with accuracy, as mentioned before, it is possible to target specific parts—which technically have two health bars: one for armor and one for the actual part—and, for example, knock weapons off of enemies. The gauge points system makes it so that you can pull off some really crazy escapes with more agile units. It seems that bullets can pierce enemies and hit other enemies behind them, giving a small bonus to those who carefully line up their shots.
Furthermore, there is a reactive element to combat that I alluded to before, in that enemies can react to your moves, a feature that seems closely analogous to attacks of opportunity. Similar to SUPERHOT, whenever you’re moving or targeting, a nearby enemy is locking onto your active dual gear. When its lock-on gauge empties, it attacks or, in some cases, dodges. This leads to some really cool interactions that can’t happen in other games. For example, you can duck behind cover in real-time and dodge an attack or you can experience the tense standoff-esque nature of trying to lock onto a target while they’re trying to lock onto you. You can also unlock defensive abilities that allow you to attack on enemy turns by spending weapon XP on them, but I did not test them out.
However, combat also has a lot more quirks that I’ve yet to go over. On top of the other systems limiting your attacks, attacks have a cooldown. Inexplicably, enemies’ lock-on timers don’t run during this cooldown unless you move, so it does not affect anything. It only serves to slow combat down.
Range is also handled fairly bizarrely. The exact range of a weapon seems to vary based on pilot—this may be in part because of their level or because pilots earn experience in a weapon skill by using it, which can later be used to buy new skills for that weapon. This makes sense on its own, but, when an SMG’s base range is between 30 and 200 meters, augmented by the pilot’s skill, while a lock-on targeting missile launcher can’t reach nearly as far, combat begins to feel incredibly odd. Any amount of distance between your dual gears and your opponents begins to unearth bizarre mechanics like that.
On the subject of lock-on targeting missile launchers, vertical missile launchers can lock onto multiple targets at once or lock onto any target any number of times up to a hard limit of four target locks. Frustratingly, the target lock mechanism isn’t nuanced at all. There is a set rectangle in the center of the screen and any enemies inside of that rectangle are locked x amount of times at a rate of about once per second. Worse still, you can’t cancel out of target locks the same way you can with other attacks, meaning that you’re stuck with whatever target locks the game gives you. If that weren’t bad enough, the game also lets you attack with any number of locks, meaning that a failed attempt to quickly cancel a target lock before you lock onto anything can result in wasting resources by only sending out a single missile.
I also did not enjoy melee combat. Kenji starts out with only melee weapons equipped and, to get the full experience, I left him that way, only able to either use slashing or punching attacks. When you use a melee skill, the game initiates a quick-time event, which requires you to press the left mouse button when a shrinking circle hits the edge of another, static circle. If you successfully complete the QTE, you are granted extra damage. I get what the developers were going for, but the QTEs feel extremely out of place in an otherwise time-oriented system.
Furthermore, there’s a significant disparity in the amount of damage dealt by punching and slashing attacks. From what I can tell, slashing attacks are meant to have an increased chance to sever parts at the cost of damage, but—early on, at least—the average slashing attack does only a quarter of the damage that a punching attack does and does not seem to have a significant chance of severing parts, meaning that you are essentially wasting turns by using slashing attacks. I even tried grabbing a new slashing skill for Kenji that specifically noted its ability to sever parts, only to be met with seemingly the same minimal amount of damage per hit and chance to sever.
There’s also the bizarre detail that melee attacks seem to take everything out of you. I gave Aliya a punching weapon at one point and she was never at a point where she had enough gauge points to use even the most basic punch attack. On a similar note, Kenji could only ever attack once and every other unit would lose the ability to use a melee attack if they attacked at all. This is the exact opposite of what you would expect, especially when you consider the extra effort that positioning your units takes, and I’m not really sure why melee attacks cost so much.
Most importantly, however, I don’t feel that the real-time nature of combat is fully utilized. So much of the game comes down to locking onto enemies, to the point that even guns that shoot bullets, rather than explosive shells, are used by aiming at a particular part of an enemy dual gear and clicking the left mouse button. You can dash around arenas at high speeds and yet the actual shooting part of combat comes down to a reconfiguration of targeting. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but the exact mix of mechanics does make attacks feel underwhelming at times.
I want to like Dual Gear. The combination of mechs and turn-based strategy should have been enough to instantly win me over, but it didn’t. A combination of frustrating one-shot mechanics that occur at random, alternating with 0 damage attacks, and some bizarre design decisions surrounding combat make it hard to recommend. When things go well, battles feel great, but, when they go poorly, those same battles can devolve into hour-long wars of attrition. It would be one thing if this were late game, but the fact of the matter is that only three missions are implemented as of yet and we’re already seeing encounters like this. Ultimately, major changes are necessary. If those changes aren’t made, I shudder to think of what kinds of mechanics will be used in the missions to come.
|Playtime||Did we receive a press copy?||Price||Platform(s)|
|3.2 hours||Yes, from Orbital Speed Studio||$19.99||Steam Early Access|