E3 06: Heavy Duty Impressions

This tactical real-time strategy game spans a whole futuristic war-torn globe, as you command human freedom fighters to thwart an alien invasion.

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LOS ANGELES--At E3 2006, Russian developer/publisher Akella showed off a futuristic real-time strategy game called Heavy Duty, in which war is waged quite literally on a global scale. Rather than consist of discrete maps and scenarios, Heavy Duty takes place on a planet wracked by conflict, thanks to an alien invasion. Assuming the role of its defense force, you'll need to build up a military, gain valuable resources, fortify your bases of operations, research enemy technology, and, of course, battle the enemy. The game isn't expected to be completed until the first quarter of 2007, so we didn't get a good feel for the full scope of the action, but we were intrigued by Heavy Duty's massive scale. The game seems like a combination of X-COM and MechWarrior.

The game takes place in the distant future. While the high-tech spiderlike walkers used by the humans to turn back the invaders looked pretty impressive from what we saw, the star of the show seems to be the planet itself. You can zoom in and out as you wish and scroll on through all the way around the globe to any given hotspot. Considerable detail is present in any given area, and yet the world is also highly interactive and deformable. Explosive weapons leave the land permanently scarred, and debris from demolished vehicles litters the wake of a battle--but that's just in any given part of the globe. Apparently the game engine will be able to render all of this in full 3D without stopping to load, but while we got to see fly-throughs of the planet to get a sense of the game's scale, it remains to be seen how well this huge scale works to benefit gameplay.

One of the other interesting things about Heavy Duty is that you'll be able to play it both as a conventional RTS but also as an action game, by taking direct control of one of the battlefield units. We watched as an Akella rep directly commanded the lead unit in a squad of several spider mechs assaulting an enemy encampment. The allied units didn't survive the battle, but by carefully dodging enemy fire and outmaneuvering foes, the leader unit was able to survive. As further evidence to the interactivity of the gameworld, the damaged-but-functional spider mech proceeded to scale a tall mountain to reveal the vastness of the nearby countryside.

Besides seamlessly switching between real-time strategy and action-style controls, and letting you research new and better weaponry as the battle wears on, Heavy Duty should offer a high degree of customization for your military forces. The game is currently in development at Primal Software and clearly aims to put a new spin on the conventions of other sci-fi RTS games out there.

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