Junk Field of Dreams

Review of Junk Fields on XBLIG: Buy
For lovers of Mech games, there is goodness behind an initially awkward control scheme and HUD.

In all honestly, the first time I played Junk Fields I was ready to dismiss the title as another ambitious failure on Xbox Live Indie Games.  I have a strong love for Mech games dating back to playing Mechwarrior on my Tandy 1000 Ex even though the minim requirements stated a 286 CPU was required.  Before passing over Mech warrior I made Cicelie record a trial with me.  I’m glad I did, because the developer saw the trial and sent us a code to review the game, and I ended up getting to indulge in a great Mech game.

The initial faults of the game were the controls and the HUD.  The HUD dominates the screen, obscuring enemies and most of the land.  The controls do not provide a way to control the camera or even change the direction the Mech is facing.  The Mech’s direction is locked to face the current target.  This was upsetting not only because of the limitation, but also because I’m used to being able to rotate the torso independent of the legs.

As I played more of the game I grew accustom to the controls.  The play style of Junk Fields emphasizes avoiding missiles and lasers by making quick jumps to the side.  The HUD also became acceptable, providing relevant information when needed.  I still think the HUD can use a design overhaul, but it’s not as bad as my initial impression made it seem.

In the world of Mech games, there are two primary design schools.  Western influenced design favors tank like machines loaded with excessive firepower and dominating the battle field.  Eastern design sees the Mech as a battle suit, worn by a single soldier, and is very agile and swift.  Eastern Mechs favor melee weapons like swords, and may have only one cannon.

Junk Fields blends both ideas into one, though there is more West than East present.  The Mechs are large battle vehicles that tower over traditional military units like tank, yet can move very quickly.  The main firepower comes from missile packs and machines guns, but there is a sword for close combat that can slice up an enemy in seconds.  I personally favor the Western school of design, but found the blend enjoyable.

Junk Fields incorporates two key features I think any Mech game must have: custom builds and salvage.  Being able to take salvage from the battlefield and use it to upgrade a Mech is a staple of many Mech games, and adds an RPG element to gameplay.  Junk Fields does well to reward the experimental player who fiddles with the hardware.  Battles that seem hard the first time become much easier with a different build.  Salvage is also present on the field and weapons can be picked up mid-battle to replace empty or damage parts.

The missions in Junk Fields are not complex, but they are varied.  Each mission may contain one or more objectives that are revealed as the previous objective is completed.   In the course of the game I lead an assault team, stopped a convoy, ran an escort mission, and intercepted a missile attack.  The final levels include taking down a mobile war machine and defeating an elite Mech guard.  I was able to stop the war machine, but could not best the elite guard.  In an email with the developer I got a few tips, so I’m hopeful victory will soon be mine.

In the email, the developer let me know an update is coming for Junk Fields.  The poor English translation will be improved, and a multiplayer mode will be added.  I honestly didn’t mind the poor English; it was always good enough I understood the key elements.  Multiplayer is a nice addition, but the game stands fine without it.  The update is making its way through peer review, though a bug that crashes the game when you pull out the memory card during a save set it back a few weeks.  Look for the update in the next week or so.

Junk Fields is a qualified Buy, that qualification being one must love Mechs.  This is not a soft introduction to the conventions of Mech games, and a new pilot is likely to be frustrated before enjoyment is reached.  Veterans will experience some initial discomfort in the controls and HUD, but will be rewarded with a great Mech game should they let go of some assumptions and allow Junk Fields to be its own game.

A copy of Junk Fields was provided to GameMarx for this review by the developer.

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