If you could judge a game by the sheer volume of its packaging, SCEA's new Carnage Heart battlemech strategy/sim title (released in Japan in late 1995) would surely be in a class all by itself. Encased in a thick, heavy, double jewel-case, Carnage Heart boasts not only the standard game disc and hefty 30-page manual, but also an additional 58-page, highly-detailed strategy guide (and a lengthy tutorial disc) to help get you better acquainted with this high-brow title. All things considered, it's an overwhelming assemblage of materials that hard-core mech sim/strategy fans will really be able to sink their teeth into (and which will send non-fans into fits of hair-ripping frustration).
If you're looking for a mech game where you can just plug in a disc and hit the battlefield, this ain't it. Clicking "Start Game" before carefully reading the manual and strategy guide will plunge you deep into a seemingly bottomless quagmire of menus, sub menus, and unidentifiable icons. Which is why you should thank your lucky stars for the enclosed tutorial disc - a 30-minute, voice-guided overview of nearly every aspect of the game, from mech design and production to troop deployment and battle.
Once you've familiarized yourself with the basic elements of Carnage Heart, it's time to hit the assembly line and build your mech - or, in this case, your Over Kill Engine (OKE). There are 12 different OKEs to choose from (four main types, each with three sub types), that possess their own unique characteristics. Designing the hardware used inside your OKE consists of determining the machine's firepower, weight, engine type, armor, cost, etc. Customizing the software (ie the brain) lets you program the artificial intelligence of the OKE, which determines how your mech will behave in a battle scenario. By combining 40 different computer chips and linking them together (using a complicated grid system) in various ways, you can instruct your OKE to do things like move forward if it detects an enemy within 300 meters, or jump sideways to avoid an incoming missile.
You can negotiate with weapon manufacturers to purchase blueprints and invest money in weapons development, manufacture OKEs on a factory production line, and test your OKE to see how it will respond in battle situations. It all amounts to a never-ending mess of menus, sub menus, icons, grids, statistics and symbols (which can be shamefully hard to read) to wade through even before you get to lay eyes on a battle sequence (which are quite unspectacular and graphically drab - though it is interesting to watch your mech respond to your predetermined commands).
For those who don't mind building a mech from the ground up, determining its every action, then relinquishing control of it when it gets on the battlefield, Carnage Heart will surely provide long hours of highly-detailed futuristic military strategy. But just once it would be nice to see a game combine both the cerebral aspects of a hard-core strategy/sim and the adrenaline-pumping control of an arcade-style blaster.