As I slam the nitro, swerve around a missile into the final corner and fling the ball into the enemy goal, I realise the just-launched Heavy Metal Machines is no MOBA, and that's a good thing. Hoplon's quirky genre-blending vehicular sportsball game has been available in early access for a while now, but yesterday it launched in full, and is free-to-play.
Despite the developers calling it a MOBA, Heavy Metal Machines feels like a blend of Blizzard console gem Rock N' Roll Racing, plus some Twisted Metal and Rocket League. Two teams of four cars fight over an exploding ball, aiming to drag it into the opponent's goal at the end of a winding racetrack. After playing a couple rounds of this, I reckon it's worth taking for a spin.
There's a world of difference between Heavy Metal Machines and Dota 2. While it cribs much of its UI from MOBAs, as well as its mouse and keyboard interface and cooldown-based powers, similarities end there. Your team's only goal is to put the ball in the goal, using whatever special powers your chosen cars have to block enemies, try to knock them out of the match briefly or boost yourself to the goal. No levels, no creeps, no inventories - just drive, shoot and score.
The route to the goal is twisty and full of obstacles, but players without the ball can use shortcut routes to intercept faster. Despite only supporting mouse and keyboard, it handles surprisingly well, too. Your car faces where you point the mouse, and left mouse button accelerates, while right mouse button pulls a quick 180 to reverse in that same direction, helping you shoot behind you if needs be. Special abilities are bound to Q, W, E and R, with Q being your basic attack move (often a simple projectile) in most cases.
Not every character is unlocked at first, but playing matches and earning your first few levels unlocks a few of them permanently, and earned currency can be used to get the rest. Free options appear to be on rotation, as per MOBA standard. There's a premium season pass available, but it seems focused on cosmetic rewards, giving you new skins, effects and music. The first season pass's 'premium' track does give early access to one character, though - Icebringer, driving a heavyweight big rig.