The off-rail robot fighting experience we’ve been yearning for — Hands-on with Archangel: Hellfire

It’s no secret that I’m a big fan of Archangel, I’ve been hyped about it since the very first demo back in February of 2017. There’s just something about piloting a giant robot that fills my inner child with glee, and nothing draws out my bloodlust like commanding a six story war machine It was just last month that I lamented what I felt was the biggest shortcoming of Archangel: the simple fact that I commanded the only mech in the entire world, depriving me of a much yearned for robot-on-robot battle. I’m excited to say that Skydance Interactive heard my cries, as well as those of the collective player base, and has made multiple dreams come true in its upcoming expansion, Archangel: Hellfire.

Earlier this week I strapped on the Oculus headgear and stepped into the cockpit of the USFF Harbringer, the new Light class mecha used by the United States Free Forces to lay waste to the corrupt HUMNX Corporation and their new fleet of war robots. The gameplay in Hellfire is intense, complex, and completely off-rails.

While there will be a few new modes available once Archangel: Hellfire goes live this June, my hands-on time with Archangel: Hellfire was limited to the new Team Deathmatch mode, where two teams of two square off inside a battleground to fight for the future of the Earth. Each player picks a side, HUMANIX or the USFF, and straps into their preferred mech, picking between Heavy, Medium, or Light. While Hellfire will bring with it several new maps, including the icy Collins Base, my time was spent on the desert terrained Genesis Facility. There, we traversed crevices in search of energy and health power-ups, rocketed into the air to ascend cliffs, and used missiles to blow up terrain to transform the battlefield itself. The maps are a good size, the hidden power-ups are more than worth seeking out, damaged mechs smoke as they take heavy damage, and first team to ten deaths is declared the loser.

Hellfire uses a combination of Oculus buttons and virtual, in-cockpit controls. The left thumbstick controls the movement of your robot while the right thumbstick turns the mech. One set of triggers fires your weapons, while the other set activates shields, which can only remain active for around ten seconds at a time. The real micromanaging of your mecha comes from the virtual buttons inside the cockpit itself. Each robot has a set amount of power and four systems which make use of that power. You can only have two of these four systems maxed out at any time, so while you’re going to want to put max power to your weapons and shields during a firefight, a good pilot will take a second outside of combat to divert power to their speed and energy regeneration.

Weapons, shields, speed, and energy all have individual sliders which can be lovingly and carefully customized, but most will be using the quick buttons located on opposite sides of the cockpit. Mashing the button on the upper left of your cockpit will put all power to weapons and shields, while the one on the upper right will max out your speed and energy regeneration. While this easy toggle system is convenient, making good use of it could be the difference between a kill or a critical hull breach; there’s basically no point to firing on a Heavy if you’ve failed to properly redirect power to your weapons, while a heavy is going to be moving painfully slowly if you don’t divert some energy to speed.

Each class of robot has their own special set of moves, all of which are reliant upon energy. Light mechs, which serve as speedy and stealthy glass canons, can use 30% of their energy to cloak and go invisible, allowing them to run between the legs of towering heavies and escape certain death. With a full energy bar, lights can unleash a Distributed Field Artillery attack, better known as “Death from Above,” which will launch your robot into the air and rain rockets down upon your enemies.Medium mechs can trade 30% of their energy for several seconds of unlimited ammo, and when fully charged, can fire off a Singularity Beam, a concentrated blast of energy which does impressive damage, even through shields. Heavy mechs, the slow moving, thickly armored giants of the mech world, can trigger temporarily invincibility by using 30% of their energy, and with a full energy bar, can fire a massive EMP blast which, while it doesn’t do a great deal of damage, can turn the tide of battle by completely draining the energy of opposing units. Each of these skills are activated by in-cockpit buttons, the ultimate skill to the pilot’s left, and the smaller move the right. It’s a lot to keep track of, making the first round or two rather overwhelming, but with practice comes muscle memory, and with muscle memory comes amazing firefights.

While we only got to play a few rounds, the gameplay thus far feels pretty balanced; each class of mech has not only their own set of skills, but they each class comes equipped with their own set of weapons. Homing rockets, rail guns, and cannons change the pace of battle, and team compositions can completely alter the flow, as swift lights to outmaneuver the massive heavies, which are so large they often can’t fit into crevices. It also encourages cooperation between teammates, as there are real advantages to tactical approaches, from having a heavy act as a living shield for a light who constantly hides behind it, to a two-pronged attack whenever you find an enemy unit wandering alone. The ability to target and destroy terrain makes the map feel alive, and there’s nothing quite like undoing your enemies battle plan by literally blowing the cliff out from under them, taking away their high ground advantage. While there’s nothing wrong with taking on a pray-and-spray approach in combat, mechs take more damage when hit in the head or the back, so a little bit of aiming and tactical thinking can go a long way.

If I have one complaint about Hellfire thus far, it’s the invisible walls which make up the border of your play area. On more than one occasion, I was fleeing a pursuing mech only to suddenly find all progress halted as I stopped sprinting in front of what should have been open ground, meeting a painful death from behind. I have no doubt that simply playing more and learning the maps will help fix this problem, and the developers will have much better data points on just how big a problem this is in the very near future, since Archangel: Hellfire will be live in Early Access at the time this article is posted. Here’s hoping for a boundary marker to appear in the near future!

If you already have a copy of Archangel, then you’ve already been enrolled in the Hellfire Early Access — go get your Team Deathmatch on! Early Access, referred to as Battle Training, kicks off May 25th, and will run until June 28th, when Archangel: Hellfire will be available worldwide. Stay tuned for more videos and hands-on coverage from Gaming Trend, in the meantime, you can learn more by visiting the official website, or take advantage of a full month of Battle Training by grabbing a copy via the Steam Store.

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