GearHead [official site] is a fantastic, free roguelike in which you can build and customise giant robots, and then pilot them through random missions that fit together to form a plot with a proper beginning, middle and end. I first played it over a decade ago and have always assumed we’d covered it at some point in our illustrious history. Not so.
Now is the perfect time for some coverage though because creator Joseph Hewitt has just released an update after a nine year hiatus. I may as well admit that I’m in no position to analyse the changes, not having played the game for years (I’d forgotten there was a more spacey sequel; the original is superior) but I’m excited to jump back in.
If you’re waiting for Harebrained to release BattleTech and hoping it’ll bring back the joy of Mechs, you’d be a fool not to download GearHead. There’s a full changelist for the 1.200 update but after nine years, even if you’ve played the game before, lots of things will probably seem new to you, unless you’ve been playing every day for the last nine years. Such is the ever-changing nature of roguelikes. Never the same story twice.
And never the same mech twice. I remember reading forum threads about the ludicrous customised builds people had managed to make by tinkering with the in-game systems. There are controls and scales for both on-foot movement and mech combat. In the latter mode, you’ll most likely have limited mobility in the early stages of the game, swivelling and directing your massive metal monstrosity and planning movements in advance.
In the later stages, you’ll be hovering or just straight-up soaring through the air. There are even arachnoid mechs up for grabs should you wish to scuttle toward victory.
You won’t have to fight on your own as, in the best mech traditions, there are both friendly pilots and mercenaries to team up with. I always tried to bring a good team to the biggest fights but some people take pride in tackling them alone. My favourite things about the game were:
a) taking a break from mech piloting to go on a ‘dungeon’ crawl, on foot. I love being able to switch between the two scales, like flicking from Warhammer Epic to regular 40k.
b) intimidating enemy pilots so that they ejected from their mechs before I’d roughed them up too much, so that I could salvage all of the best parts.
Yeah. GearHead is great. You should play it. The new release comes hot on the heels of the latest version of Free Pascal, which was used to build the game, and it’s compatible with Windows, Linux and FreeBSD.
I find it fascinating that Hewitt is playing through his own games in preparation for work on a sequel. You can follow his playthrough, with commentary and post-mortem analysis, starting at this post.