Friday, December 4, 2015

Indie-Cember 2: Heavy Bullets

Heavy Bullets
  • Publisher: Devolver Digital 
  • Developer/Lead Designer: Terri Vellmann 
  • Release: PC, 18 September 2014 
  • Genre: 3D Action (First-person shooter) 
  • Players: 1

Previously on the SDP, I reviewed Receiver, a first-person shooter with Roguelike design and primitive 3D graphics. This being the case, I think I've got the perfect game to kick off Indie-Cember 2 with. Heavy Bullets, not to be confused with the preferred ammunition of the Heavy class from Team Fortress 2, is a first-person shooter with Roguelike design and primitive 3D graphics. This is where we've come in the last two years, people -- naught but full-circle. ...Just kidding; Heavy Bullets is quite original among first-person shooters. It may not have the detailed gun mechanics of Receiver, but how does it managed to stand out?

Each game starts with a quick page of exposition, where you learn that something bad has gone down at the hunting grounds where your character works at, and the two people speaking decide to send down employees (read: you) to sort it out, regardless of the high chance of them dying. Not yet having beaten the game yet, I can't say the story amounts to much, and it's probably not why you're playing Heavy Bullets anyway. You're here for a first-person romp through eight levels. As the game starts for real, and you find yourself with a gun and only six bullets. However, these bullets may be picked up and used again, ad infinitum. You'll use your bullets against monsters like floating imps, snakes camouflaged amongst plants, and various flavours of automated turrets. Upon finding you, they make distinct sounds which help you to tell them apart, although this isn't always enough; the pink bomb-bugs gave me very little warning before dashing up to inflict massive damage. I dare say, even, that said bomb-bugs are this game's equivalent of the hover-drones from Receiver, although they thankfully won't necessarily take away all your life if they get you. The monsters still can give you a brief scare if they chance upon you undetected, epsecially the aforementioned flower-snakes. It's no Five Nights at Freddie's, and the shock can be conquered as you practice hunting down those enemies, but it's that period of practice which is the killer. It helps if you take it slowly and carefully as you walk into new areas, which is easier said than done given your character's zippy walking speed.
Enemies can sneak up on and even scare you until you learn to look out for them.
I let slip this was a Roguelike game, which means the levels, enemies, and items are randomly generated, and if you die, you lose all your possessions and have to start a new game. Yeah, I've fallen out of favour with Roguelikes since my last Indie-Cember for some reason. I suppose that reason is that it is impossible to retry levels you failed at, and without the chance to learn from your specific mistakes, it can seem like you're not making any progress. And unfortunately for me, there have been many, many indie titles which incorporate Roguelike structure into multiple genres, including first-person shooters like the aforementioned Receiver. If nothing else, the random structure better suits a linear level-based layout as is the case here, as opposed to Receiver's open world approach. There's no searching countless empty rooms in vain, is what I'm trying to say.

To survive your quest, you may chance upon items out in the open, but more likely you'll rely on three types of vending machines: one selling spare bullets and other weapons, one selling health refills and other boosts, and the aforementioned storage banks. The array of findable and purchaseable items is decently vast, although some will help you more than others. I don't know about your play style, but I prefer to stock up on health potions, carry and reload upgrades, and the Backpack, which lets you hold a second type of item. The problem is, since everything in the game is randomised, you can't count on your favourite items showing up when you need them most. Here we go again, me taking another stand against Roguelikes, you might say. Still, amongst the recent trends in Roguelikes, I've also seen some of them make token nods towards carrying over some form of the progress you make. To that effect, in Heavy Bullets you can store your money at one of the bank machines you may encounter on your journey. Any money or items you have stored up in the bank will remain for you to use in future playthroughs.
The two bosses are the only things which remain constant from game to game.
The other connection I made between Heavy Bullets and Receiver are their graphics, which go for a low-polygon approach, but it works better here for a number of reasons. First, unlike Receiver, which managed to chug even on my improved graphics card, Heavy Bullets runs fine. Second, unlike Receiver, which relies on a more realistically drab colour scheme, Heavy Bullets is filled with highly-saturated pinks, blues, and greens. These two facts make the lack of graphical definition come across less as a shortcut and more as a stylistic choice. Building upon its 80s/early-90s aesthetic is the synthtacular soundtrack, composed by independent rapper Doseone. Why the background tunes keep fading in and out, however, I can't quite say. On the subject, I'd also like to give a tip of the hat to the sound effects. Each type of monster has their own cry which helps you tell them apart and react accordingly, even if you can't see them when they spot you. The pulsing sounds and screen flashes when you're low on health, however, not so much. It was unwelcome way back in The Legend of Zelda, and it's unwelcome here too.

If you've tried Roguelikes before and decided to hate them, Heavy Bullets will not change your mind. But as far as Roguelikes go, this is a good one. The action is fast-paced, the reusable bullets mechanic is a welcome twist on first-person shooter conventions, and the random level generation never gets too much in the way of your fun. Basically all you need to take from this review is that, for all the strengths of both games, I liked Heavy Bullets more than Receiver. It's a unique game that I wouldn't mind playing over and over in a vain attempt to make it to the ending.

+ The reusable bullets mechanic is a twist on FPS conventions.
+ The random level generation is integrated well.
+ A unique audiovisual style.

- Randomised items and shops are hard to rely on.
- A few jump scares.
- Not much of a story.

Control: 4 bullets out of 5
Design: 4 bullets out of 5
Graphics: 5 bullets out of 5
Audio: 4 bullets out of 5
Value: 3 bullets out of 5
The Call: 80% (B)

You might also like: Receiver, Tower of Guns, Strafe

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