Review: Hex Mechs19 Jan 2016 0
Hex Mechs is the latest release from iOS game development veterans HexWar Games. Unlike their previous releases, Hex Mechs is a sci-fi wargame based in a universe of their own making. Nary a pike, musket or pilum is on display in this game. Earth has been ravaged by an invasion from the alien Insectron race and it is up to the surviving polity of Earth and Mars to defeat the alien menace. Despite the new setting, HexWar has used their tried and tested game engine in this new title which means that if you are familiar with any of their previous titles that you are ready to go with this new game. This isn't just a reskinning of an old title though and HexWar have worked to make the game more than just 'Hannibal in space'.
Hex Mechs is a hex-based, turn-based wargame that models individual human and alien forces battling over the ravaged landscape of several different planets. Players can initially choose to fight with the forces of the Earth Coalition of Nations (E-CON) or the Martian Holy Gravidus Republic. The Martian forces and campaign are available via a $1 in-app purchase. Later scenarios pit the Martians against the E-CON forces as the HGR invades the earth. The E-CON forces primarily consist of bipedal 'Mechs' with various close combat and ranged weapon options with a focus on close combat. The Martian HGR is armed almost exclusively with long ranged weapons and has weaker armour than the E-CON units.
Hex Mech uses a simplified version of the combat system and doesn't differentiate between ranged and close combat. Units in the game can be one of three training levels (Raw, Veteran and Elite) and units get combat bonuses for partial cover, height, flank attacks and movement. The game contains a chart detailing the different weapon effects against armoured and soft targets but I have yet to see a 'soft' target in the game. It does though show the effects of range on the various weapon systems in the game although it can be a bit difficult to read the chart due to a puzzling lack of QA.
The range data is ostensibly available in the unit data displays that are available while playing a scenario (but oddly not otherwise) but the graphs displayed don't match the data in the Ranged Weapon charts.
Hex Mechs uses map sizes similar in size to some of their previous historical releases but the scenarios contain fewer units meaning that the game places a significant emphasis on the additional damage done by flank attacks. The smaller unit density also allows the scenario developers to place a significant amount of terrain on the maps many of which hinder movement. The challenge in Hex Mechs isn't facing a long line of spear wielding German barbarians but in using the terrain to block enemy attacks while flanking to apply the maximum amount of damage. There is a good game with some challenging scenarios contained in Hex Mechs but it is all let down by some fundamental problems.
The E-Con units in the game look remarkably similar and it is easy to confuse them while playing. In contrast the Martian HGR units are all visually distinct. This can lead to you sometimes mistaking ranged E-CON units for close combat units and visa versa. Despite the inclusion of air and hover units in the game these actually have no different movement effects from the 'ground' units. Aircraft are hindered by ditches and rough ground in the exact same way that the bipedal mechs are.
The graphics for the terrain are passable for the most part but the game engine often applies the effects of obstructing terrain that is often difficult to see on the screen. Zooming out to get a different look at the terrain doesn't help as the game doesn't display the hills that are blocking the fire of your ranged units. This is annoying when playing and the E-CON forces in the first scenario but it is often a deciding factor when playing the Martians who rely on ranged fire to overcome their opponents. The game displays your possible fire lanes when you select a unit but that doesn't help when the small bit of brown grit on the map turns out to be enough to block fire from your HMG Mech or Martian Elohim hover tank.
The HexWar game engine is often a bit on the slow side and I have a subconscious habit of double-tapping when moving units to speed them up. This often means that my pikemen or Heavy Infantry move across the screen as if in a Benny Hill homage. The animation speed in Hex Mechs is similar but it seems ever more plodding than usual. Using the usual double-tap makes the units look comical and the E-CON aircraft, which has a high frequency bounce animation, looks like it is attached to a pogo stick when sped up.
Overall one gets the impression that HexWar is trying to move this older engine into a series of budget titles to maximize their ROI. There is nothing wrong with that and one can put up with a certain amount of annoyances in UI and art if the game is truly worth the effort. While Hex Mechs has some good elements to it, ultimately it isn't enough to make up for sloppy QA, mediocre art and some very quirky design flaws. This is a real pity as this could have been an enjoyable game if HexWar put some additional resources into it.
Hex Mechs was played on an iPad 2 and an iPhone 4s for this review.