The great thing about indie developers (and, sometimes, the bad thing as well) is that they aren’t afraid to experiment. In fact that’s probably why most of them choose to make the games they do, the way do – to provide people like themselves with something different to what’s in the mainstream market. It doesn’t matter if it doesn’t always work out because it’s always good to see people trying new things. Without this, nothing would ever change and wouldn’t we all be bored?
Terri Vellman, developer of Heavy Bullets has done just that. It’s not a perfect game by any means but it’s an attempt at something fresh; an attempt to put a new spin on an old format. And it’s not bad for a first shot either.
Using the Unity engine and published by Devolver Digital, Heavy Bullets is a first person shooter. It’s also a rogue-like dungeon crawler, created in a vibrant psychedelic style, with old school graphics and sounds. It hurts your eyes and makes you curse with frustration when you’re thrown back to the start after a seemingly unfair death. It’s a proper game, in other words.
You take on the role of a worker in Highrise Hunting Grounds where there’s been a serious security malfunction. You must go above and beyond the call of duty and make your way through the colourful eye-sizzling maze of your workplace, protecting yourself from aggressive creatures and malfunctioning security devices. At the end of level eight, if you make it that far, you must reset the security mainframe, restore order and reap the rewards – or just feel relieved that it’s all over. This will take you about 6-7 hours playing time the first time but will be much quicker if you replay.
To make the rogue-like aspect of this game even harder, you start off with only six bullets, which must be retrieved after shooting, and a small amount of health. You can buy more from the various vending machines strewn throughout the levels with money gained from each kill. Other character upgrades include bombs, life insurance and items.
Life insurance allows money to be carried over to the next run when you die. There is also a bank where you can deposit money and items for the next time you die. Note: you will die. A lot. Better stock up on life insurance.
There are a lot of items to be found, besides bullets and bombs. Some are useful. Others…not so much. These include a boom box, high heels (which add a bit of height to your character and makes you feel fabulous) and a proximity sensor. The problem is, it’s hard to figure out what most of these items do without having to use them first and you can only carry one at a time, unless you find or purchase a backpack. Having them available in the first place is a nice thought but they often do feel like more of a hindrance than a help.
Enemies vary between angular pixelated gnashing critters to angular pixelated poisonous serpents to angular pixelated security turrets. You can’t say this game doesn’t have a distinctive look. For the most part the enemies provide a formidable challenge and the lack of ammo at the beginning means you need to choose your shots wisely; you can’t just run in all guns blazing, there has to be some strategy behind your killing spree. Unfortunately the AI is exceptionally dumb and frequently runs into walls or gets stuck in corners. They also only seem to have one speed, which is fast. Sometimes they’re upon you before you’ve had time to get your bearings.
Which you will need to do every time you die and restart because the levels change randomly each time. Backtracking is also made difficult by the appearance of lasers in places you’ve just been, preventing you from retracing your steps back to the start of the level. You can walk through them but as this depletes your health I wouldn’t recommend it. Onwards and upwards then.
The game ramps up the pace after level two – pathways become more windy and narrow, and mobs of enemies appear where you least expect them, increasing in numbers and difficulty while resources grow thin. Why did you ever take this job in the first place? It must be because you enjoy a challenge. Hitting reload inserts only one bullet at a time which creates tension during fights and precision is needed when trying to take out turrets as they can only be destroyed by hitting the green power box. There is thought involved here, as long as you have the patience for it.
The main problem with Heavy Bullets is its repetitiveness. There is no respite from the fluorescent colours and all the rooms and corridors look the same throughout all eight levels. Despite the strategic genius of some of your tactics, you may find yourself sighing when the same types of enemies fling themselves at you with a fiendish frenzy that becomes all too familiar after the first couple of levels. Fire, pick up bullets, reload. It’s not a formula that works for me personally. My attention span is waning the older I get; I need puzzles, a story, hell something interesting to look at besides the digital plant life.
Stylistically there is no denying this a unique game. Everything is rendered with simplistic polygons, which makes for a clean sharp look, and the old-school graphics capture the essence of 80’s arcade games. Vellman does something many indie developers try to do these days; make you part with your money for something that will tickle those old nostalgia bones.
Hard-core gamers will love this addictive, unforgiving game where death is unavoidable. But if you’re not a fan of first person shooters then don’t bother; there’s nothing else going on here that will interest you. No puzzles or traps, and the viciously dumb AI will only get on your nerves. But for something to pass the time, you can do worse. This could be a good game to play with friends, challenging each other to see how far you get, or simply challenging yourself between those triple A releases. It’s fun and addictive. Die once and I dare you not go straight back in and try again.
MLG Rating: 5/10 Format: PC Release Date: Out Now
Disclosure: Midlife Gamer were provided a copy of Heavy Bullets by the publisher for review purposes. The title was reviewed over the course of 1 week on a PC. For more information on what our scores mean, plus details of our reviews policy, click here.