If you’ve ever had the pleasure of reading my ramblings before, you would have heard of me banging on about my time in the old-school arcades of the 1980s. But please, let me indulge you with the same once more.
See, back in those arcades there were games that provided you with a real (read: plastic) gun mounted on a machine. The reason? So you could look down the sights and believe you were more accurate in shooting the bad guys found in whatever game took your fancy. This generally made arcade based shooters great fun to play, until the modern console scene took over and it all became the massive juggernaut that it is today.
Heavy Fire: Red Shadow reminds me a lot of those arcade games, but now in the present, with VR a reality, it may well work even better. But does it have enough of a draw for us poor mortals without the magic helmet?
There’s a political story here about North Korea, South Korea and America, all getting very upset with each other. But all you need to really know is that there is a war ongoing and you are defending the oncoming attack in a big turret. I’ll be honest and say that I was confused by the other bits of narrative, but I don’t think much was missed – this is all about shooting anything that moves.
You start things off with the tutorial, getting shouted at by a drill instructor who tells you the rules of war. Basically put, you find yourself in the first person and left to operate a huge machine gun in a turret, shooting everything that moves around you. This initially sees you defending a beach that has invaders coming from all angles; land and sea. You can spin your turret through 360 degrees should you so wish, and you will need to because the enemies come from all corners thick and fast. You’ll quickly discover that a soldier with a green icon on his head is not a threat, but when it turns to amber it usually means you need to get a shift on. Slack off and it won’t be long before you have a whole bunch of them shooting away with a red icon… it is then when you’re in big trouble. Thankfully you can get extra health by requesting supply drops every now and again, but Heavy Fire: Red Shadow takes no prisoners and does become a pretty tough proposition.
From there on out you are left to pull hard on your trigger in order to shoot some machine gun goodness, with a small zooming feature for the hard to reach bad guys. The other button controls special support attacks like rockets, the opportunity to summon some infantry to come and help the fight, or an airstrike or helicopter support to mop up the beaches with their heavy attacks.
Red Shadow comes with four different environments, with just a couple of levels on each, and even though the standard is to kick back and shoot as much as possible, there are also mini-missions that pop up from time to time; like shoot 12 soldiers in a certain time and you will gain experience to unlock your perks, which in turn bring the support items that you will find yourself relying on.
The stages are long, and the waves at times seem endless. When you add in the difficulty found through the game as a whole, then also drop in the likes of suicide bombers who will only go down should you have the reflexes of a panther, you’ll quickly realise that Heavy Fire is something that will really take some proper focus. There are, thankfully, checkpoints to reach so when you get overpowered you won’t have to do the whole level again. That is a relief because it does get very tiring.
The main problem I have with the whole Heavy Fire experience is that found in the repetitive nature and lack of variety in the shooting. Perhaps we’ve been spoilt with this modern age of gaming, but you’d usually find this kind of thing rocking up in a AAA blockbuster as a quick firing turret section; a tiny side mission in a huge campaign. That’s all good, but I don’t know if this setup can justify a whole game. In VR it probably makes a whole lot more sense and I can understand the enjoyment factor from that perspective, but for me, without the magic helmet that our friends elsewhere have access to, it’s a game that becomes dull very quickly. It doesn’t do anything wrong per se, but it doesn’t do anything new and definitely has an old generational feel about it.
That aged feel transfers over to the visual department where Red Shadow fails to wow. It’s a very bland, average world with muted colours, low-res explosions and average landscapes. The soundtrack is dramatic and has that epic war feel to it, with an entertaining voiceover from the drill sergeant, and an earnest cutscene at the beginning, but neither the visuals nor audio do anything to up the ante.
The whole Heavy Fire: Red Shadow experience feels like it should be on VR, and that may well be the best way to get anything out of this turret shooter. The price is too high as well – at least for anyone to take a punt on – and even though it does nothing wrong and all appears to work fine, it does become very repetitive quite quickly.
I think there is just about room for a game like this on the Xbox market, but any developer wishing to go down this route really does need to think a bit more about how to make their product interesting and original. For now though, I will remember the plastic gun and the old arcade fun it delivered.