Free to play games come in all shapes and sizes, but Heavy Metal Machines stands out as a top-down car combat game.
Players select from gnarly road machines and then enter an arena for a team-based carpocalypse. Heavy Metal Machines is free to play and currently in Early Access. Read on for detailed impressions and your chance to win a valuable booster pack!
Car combat made simple
Heavy Metal Machines begins with a quick tutorial that teaches the rules of the road. No need to worry about acceleration and breaking here. You just jam the analog stick of an Xbox controller or point the mouse in the direction you want to drive, and you're off. Holding a button puts your ride in reverse, though I find it largely unnecessary during the heat of battle.
Each of Heavy Metal Machine's vehicles (13 available now, with more on the way) has two regular weapons and one special weapon. You can use regular weapons as much as you want, but they have a cooldown timer (indicated in the lower-left corner of the screen).
My vehicle of choice, Wildfire, comes with a rapid-fire ring of fire that damages anyone unlucky enough to be close to it; and a long-range reflective shot. The long-range shot's cooldown is lengthy, but the ring of fire makes up for it.
Special attacks take time to charge up – almost the entire length of the round. Once the meter fills, you can unleash it and bring serious pain to your foes. Wildfire's special fires a nuclear blast in a wide radius around her.
Anyone who gets killed during battle will respawn at their base a short time later. The money earned from kills can be spent on upgrades at any time. Each weapon has four upgrades to choose from, although you can only buy two in order to keep their power in check. General upgrades and special weapon upgrades are available as well. These upgrades last for the duration of the match, much like the upgrades in a MOBA.
Heavy Metal Machines is exclusively a free online multiplayer game, so no driving solo here. It currently offers two modes of play, with Ranked, Custom Lobbies, and Spectator modes planned for the future.
Practice is the primary game mode, with super short wait times (less than half a minute in my experience). The other mode has crazy wait times of fifteen+ minutes. Developer Hoplon really needs to provide some incentive to choose Play over Practice, as there isn't any right now.
Practice is a four-versus-four game in which each team tries to capture a single bomb and deliver it to the other team's base. Getting it there won't be easy, as the arena has yellow walls that everyone else but the bomb carrier can pass through, as well as red zones that make you drop the bomb if touched.
The enemy team will naturally gang up on the bomb carrier, so everyone else has to surround and protect him or her. It's a fun dynamic, and I enjoy going for kills even when I don't have the bomb. Deliver that bomb, and your team will score a point, ending the round. The match lasts until one team has three points. This can take as few as 10 minutes or as many as 30, depending on whether the other side wins some rounds or not.
Completing games get you experience for not only your overall profile, but also the vehicle used. Leveling up vehicles unlocks new skins for them, whereas the overall level doesn't seem to have a benefit right now other than assisting with matchmaking.
System requirements and controls
One big feather in Heavy Metal Machines' cap is its low system requirements. Thanks to the top-down view (rather than a traditional 3D view), the game doesn't need beefy hardware to run. In fact, it runs on machines with Intel Integrated Graphics (HD 4000) and 4GB of RAM – good news for Ultrabook owners.
Heavy Metal Machines can be played with either mouse and keyboard or Xbox controller. If playing with mouse and keyboard, the mouse steers the vehicle, which might be off-putting for people used to more direct control in racing games. Hence a controller is really the way to go.
The only thing is, the menus don't support controllers at all. You can use one during matches, as long as you've gone into the options menu and selected controller (it won't just detect and let you use it). But we should really be able to play entirely with a controller rather than switching to the mouse for menus. Controller support for menus can't be too much work for the developers, so they should prioritize adding it.
Since Heavy Metal Machines is a free to play game, it relies on in-app purchases for sustainability. These consist of premium currency (called cash here), booster packs (which bundle temporary boosters you can also buy with cash), and character packs.
To unlock new characters/vehicles, you generally need to spend soft currency (gold) earned from matches or buy them faster with cash. One character only costs two or three bucks worth of currency, but most will require a $12.99 purchase (which also leaves you with some cash left over).
Buying a character is a great way to support the developer, although it's hard to know whether you'll like one before buying. Hoplon probably needs to add a few more ways to spend money if they want to keep established players making purchases over time.
Heavy Metal Machines is currently in Early Access, so we can't give it a final impression or full review. The game has a long way to go, as it only offers one mode and one map/track to play at the moment, and controller support for menus needs to happen. But the core gameplay is genuinely fun – way more so than I expected it to be.
If you enjoy car combat games, this one's definitely worth a try. The current scarcity of content might not keep players around too long, but it's still good for a few hours of battles. Hopefully, Hoplon will keep the updates coming frequently because Heavy Metal Machines just needs to grow a bit before it can truly rock. Dare we hope for an Xbox version someday as well? Yes, we do.
Heavy Metal Machines Giveaway!
Want to get a head start in Heavy Metal Machines? Enter our giveaway to win a Steam pack with two characters (Wildfire and Artificer), two silver skins (one for each character), and three days of double XP boost. You can't lose! While code supplies last.
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