In GunMetal War Transformed, players suit up in the one and only Havoc suit, a power-armored vehicle that as "jet" or "robot" can fire tomahawk missiles from one or torpedoes from the other.
Fans of anime like Mobile Suit Gundam Wing, Macross Plus, and Full Metal Panic won't need an explanation for GunMetal: War Transformed, the PC version of a popular video game that will quickly remind non-fans of the old Transformers cartoon series or the anime-light Robotech series. The graphics are bright and colorful as you would expect in a "cartoon," but there is nothing cartoon-like about the action and the explosions. The 14 missions are designed to be roughly equivalent to the MechWarrior games, but as should be noted right from the beginning, this is not a "simulation" in the sense of MechWarrior or Heavy Gear with "realistic" physics, damage, and flight model. GunMetal doesn't bog down your enjoyment with "realistic" systems. It is a video game design and follows those conventions more than traditional PC considerations.
Is "Video Game" a Dirty Word?
Some readers will immediately assume that I'm slamming the product by making a distinction between video game design and PC game design. Although my bias leans toward PC game design, I'm not trying to slam the game by making this statement. Rather, the intent is to indicate that ammunition constraints aren't necessarily an issue in GunMetal. To be sure, players have a finite number of missiles and reloads, as well as a finite number of torpedoes. However, the Vulcan cannons have no such constraints. As in many a video game, you can put your finger on the fire button and make it rain lead indefinitely (as you can later with some armor-penetrating rockets). This is particularly valuable when troop carriers land and start offloading armored infantry. The infantry can be blown apart into the digital equivalent of on-screen Lego pieces with the unlimited cannon fire alone. It is a common convention to have unlimited ammo in video games, but not usually in PC games.
In a PC game where one's vehicle can transform into the equivalent of a jet plane, you would expect to have at least one training mission in learning how to land it. In a video game, you automatically assume the role of an above average pilot. This means you don't really worry about take-offs and landings. In GunMetal, I found myself trying to land the "jet" realistically. I couldn't. Then, as a lark, I simply hit the Q button to transform while my suit was high up in the sky over my target. To my amazement, it transformed and came in for a soft landing without my needing to do anything. This isn't bad. It means you don't have to deal with difficult landings. But it is different than the average expectation for a PC game. Further, PC pilots will note the traditional reversal of the flight stick such that up and down are the opposite of what they would be in a real cockpit. Naturally, this has become a video game convention and will not be a negative to any but us old curmudgeons.
Damage is very forgiving in this game. You can hit the side of a hill, bounce off, and keep flying with only a slight loss of "health." Considering my level of coordination, that's probably a good thing. Your Havoc suit can stand in the midst of armed infantry who pose a threat to tanks and blow them away without losing more than a percent or two of "health." The Havoc suit can collide with enemy units so that they blow up and still have a respectable percentage of "health" left (This is no longer true once you face the Leviathan "flying tank" of Mission 6).
Finally, in keeping with the video game, as opposed to the PC game, model, you don't have to worry about fuel, heat, or anything else except for the percentage of defensive value you have left (bottom right of the screen) and the amount of time left in the mission. You always have sufficient fuel to maneuver and get back to the reenergizing station to restore your degrading defense ("health") status. You don't always have time to get back to the reenergizing station before the enemy reaches or destroys their objective.
One of the strengths of GunMetal is its mission design. As with any well-designed video game, each mission builds upon another and has a progression that makes sense. Each game begins with a variety of defensive scenarios, ramping up from relatively static (the weak enemy comes in slow waves) through covering multiple installations against slightly stronger/faster enemies and upward through covering moving objectives (protecting a moving convoy) or facing stronger/faster enemies in faster waves of attack. Then, the Havoc gets assigned to progressively more proactive defenses. GunMetal features a nice variety of missions with a surprising spectrum of action flavors.
Here again, though, the difference between a simulation-style game and a video game is evident. In GunMetal, as in most video games, one learns to memorize the pattern of the enemies and memorize an optimal path in which to move and destroy rather than enjoying a more free-form of movement, intercept, and combat. Further, simulation-style games tend to let you save in the midst of a mission. Fortunately for weaker action-style players like me, GunMetal automatically saves at the end of each mission. That way, each mission can be mastered separately and you don't have to start the marathon at the beginning whenever you die.
Another strength of GunMetal is the weapons progression. In the first few scenarios, new weapons are automatically added to the load-out at the beginning of the mission. Each new weapon has its own strength and weakness as expressed in accuracy, range, and designed targets. The weapons progression in GunMetal is interesting enough that even if the mission design wasn't as good as it is, the new missions would be fun for the weapons alone. Later in the game, selecting your load-out becomes part of your tactics much like it would in a traditional simulation.
Yet, GunMetal is almost a simulation in the damage models for its weapons. It is impressive to see torpedoes (think of them as anti-tank "land sharks" that hug the ground) operate differently than Tomahawk missiles. It is nice to see that anti-air missiles don't accomplish much against armored personnel carriers (APCs) while torpedoes and Tomahawks do considerable damage against them. It's commendable that, unlike some video games, one can actually destroy one's allies by "friendly fire" if you allow them into your line-of-sight (LOS).
GunMetal further builds upon the strength of its concept. Several missions can be won in either the jet or power armor mode, but the best missions require both land-based and air-based operations. It is extremely satisfying to be both your own close air support and close-combat infantry within the context of the same battle. This is particularly important because there wouldn't be much sense in having a game that gave you the power to transform your most powerful weapon if the challenge wasn't created so that you needed to do so.
Of course, the strongest positive in the game would likely be the graphic pay-off. Enemy infantry are shattered into pieces (without transforming into gratuitous gibbets); enemy tanks, armored personnel carriers, and aircraft explode into blackened hulks; and, by the end of each mission, the landscape is littered with the lifeless hulks of defeated foes. Since one isn't treated to a victory screen or cut scene at the conclusion of each successful mission (the commendation is essentially a verbal "well-done"), it is important to get the graphic payback inside the game context. Of course, the most extreme visuals in the game pay off failure rather than success. When the Havoc suit self-destructs, GunMetal's on-screen fireworks display makes it almost worth losing.
The negatives surrounding GunMetal War Transformed are not unique to this style of game. The first negative encountered is the rather annoying limitation of the hardwired speech files. The speech is scripted to go along with certain timing and events in each mission. In one scenario, it is still possible to complete the mission, even if the convoy you were originally protecting is destroyed (bet you wonder how I know this). However, once the convoy is destroyed, the voiceover only has one line to play for the remainder of the scenario: "Destroy the remaining enemy!" And the program repeats this inanely redundant advice countless times at full volume before the mission can be completed. Certainly, one can opt to turn off the sound to avoid this, but that reduces the enjoyment of bullets flying, rockets firing, and explosions detonating. Plus, the voiceover was designed to provide some atmosphere of a command structure existing beyond the player's immediate experience. So, it isn't really desirable to turn it off.
Another negative concerns the hardwiring of the missions. For example, in one playing of Mission 6 "Leviathan," I deliberately swung behind the big flying tank and blasted away from his stern. I received the expected verbal affirmation that I had accomplished a significant amount of damage, but to my surprise, I was told that the front shields were down and that I should attack this juggernaut from the forward firing arc. This leads me to believe that the missions are coded to certain subtotals of damage, but not to specific targets. This is very unsatisfying to an old MechWarrior and Heavy Gear player.
The most negative part of the game involves what most gamers call "AI." Movement in this game is absolutely hard-coded. It's a safe bet that the enemy always enters the fray from the same direction at the same point in the scenario. That would be acceptable in a video game (After all, wave attacks coming from the same direction has been a standard convention since Space Invaders.), but the friendly units you have been chosen to escort or guard have the exact same problem. They move ahead to the same position at the same speed, regardless of how the Havoc pilot is doing in creating a buffer zone. In Mission 5, for example, the mission requires protecting the drop ships from a superior force of enemy troops and vessels. Rather than waiting for the Havoc to neutralize the softening artillery fire from the oncoming tanks and then, neutralizing the enemy armored personnel carriers, the troops in the friendly drop ships will even move in front of the Havoc suit while torpedoes are being fired at the hostile APCs or the machine pistols are chattering away at oncoming infantry.
Frankly, it really hurts the scenarios when the units being protected advance beyond the range of their protector. The friendly AI for GunMetal War Transformed acts like the stubborn kid in an old "B" movie where the hero says, "Stay right here and don't move until I get back." You know as soon as you hear that hackneyed old line that the kid is going to try to help the hero and, as a result, will be captured, hurt, or threatened. Well, welcome to the role of "B" movie hero whenever you boot up this game. Many was the time that I had to memorize the route my "allies" were going to take and find an LOS that wouldn't affect them before I could win the scenario.
After Action (Conclusions)
Readers of this review should note, however, that I personally play very few video-style games. Even when I was younger (and I am now, by gamer's standards, quite ancient), I didn't have fast reflexes. So the very fact that I wanted to play this game shows that there is something special about it. I have a tendency to want to husband my ammunition. That works against me in terms of GunMetal War Transformed's game play. I would prefer to be able to command my "support troops," but GunMetal puts me lower in the command chain that I would prefer.
Yet, in spite of my bias against the playing style, note that I chose to review the game and played it for many, many hours. Someone who really likes video games might think this is an exceptional game where I think of it as average. But note that it is only rated average because of the features I considered annoying. If you like flight games on video systems or simpler games than MechWarrior with a lot of the same type of feel, you should give this one a try.
Reviewer's Overall Snapshot: 5
Graphics 8 (explosions and blackened hulks!)
Sound 3 (redundant and often annoying)
AI 1 (neither opponents nor allies efficient)
Mission Design 9 (nice variety and progression)
Replayability 4 (missions only, not campaign)
Reviewer's Bias: 3 (love the subject more than the style)