On-rails videogames get a bad rap these days. The amount of freedom given to players in traditional first-person shooter (FPS) design is now being taken for granted and players expect to have access to a highly detailed and believable world within moments of loading the software for the very first time. More immediate, arcade style experiences are becoming less and less common, but does that mean our industry has ‘moved on’? Not if Teyon have anything to say about it.
Of course, here with Heavy Fire: Shattered Spear that’s exactly what Teyon are doing. Given a voice by up-and-coming publisher Avanquest Software, Heavy Fire: Shattered Spear comes to Europe more than six months after its debut in North America, but it does so with a very wallet-friendly price; pitched at a market hungry for fresh design with the same confidence and composure as the recently released retail edition of The Walking Dead. Heavy Fire: Shattered Spear undoubtedly does far less than Telltale Games’ magnum opus to progress the medium, but that’s no guarantee that it has a bigger audience on UK high streets.
The videogame features some kind of highly derivative plot that makes Independence Day look like Shakespeare, but you don’t pay the entry fee for a videogame like Heavy Fire: Shattered Spear and expect to find moral dilemmas or cerebral challenges. This is the videogame equivalent of a Fast & Furious movie: it’s a couple of hours of easily digestible high octane action that you can forget about thirty minutes later, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Not every videogame has to be BioShock Infinite or The Last of Us, pushing the boundaries of videogames as interactive storytelling experiences; sometimes it’s pure and simple escapism that is called for, and Heavy Fire: Shattered Spear packs this in every pocket.
An on-rails shooter that borrows liberally from the arcade light gun style of gameplay, Heavy Fire: Shattered Spear presents a few interesting ideas without breaking the mould. The player takes control of a reticule on-screen, guiding it onto the target before pulling the trigger. A wide variety of different firearms are available in addition to grenades and mounted weapons (at scripted moments), and a sidearm is always equipped for when the player runs out of ammo with their primary weapon.
As the player progresses through the videogame they will earn experience points and occasionally rank-up. Upon doing so they can unlock new assets, such as expanded ammo caches or even new weapons. And it’s a good job they can as Heavy Fire: Shattered Spear is no easy ride: later on the videogame the enemies become pretty aggressive and very accurate, demanding that the player either learns the enemy positions through trial-and-error or actively upgrades their character profile. Or better yet, both.
The default control scheme leaves a little to be desired. Using the left analog stick to aim and the right to take cover is a fine idea, however given that you have to hold the right analog stick to remain in cover it’s a little odd that reload is placed on a face button, forcing you to leave cover for a split-second while you press the reload button and potentially incurring some otherwise avoidable damage. Exactly why the development team at Teyon didn’t opt to use RB (R1 on PlayStation 3) as the reload button is unknown, but is certainly would have made more sense. Oddly, it does become a default option later in the videogame, but given that there’s no available customisation for the control scheme it would’ve been good to have established this from the very first level.
Heavy Fire: Shattered Spear is a videogame that has obviously been developed by a small team with a limited budget, and as such some impressive ingenuity has been employed to mask some of the bigger flaws in the visual design. For example, the character models are actually of a reasonable standard for the most part, but their animation has clearly not benefited from the extensive motion-capture that it’s bigger budget peers would have employed. To overcome this gap Heavy Fire: Shattered Spear uses some clever camera angles to keep the momentum of the action going without the player baulking and the comparatively poor graphical quality. The days of technical limitations in videogame development are moving ever further behind us, but having to combat budget is something that is essential to every development team as we move forward.
There are many gamers who would take offence to Heavy Fire: Shattered Spear, suggesting that its gameplay is too simplistic and its on-rails design too limited. These gamers are likely to be those who missed the arcade generation entirely however; a generation of players for whom 3D videogame design has always been the standard and light gun gameplay has been reserved solely for day trips to the beach. Heavy Fire: Shattered Spear isn’t designed for these gamers however, it’s intended for the Time Crisis generation; gamers who know when a videogame is intended to be nothing more than an adrenaline rush and love it for exactly that reason. Heavy Fire: Shattered Spear is never going to please everyone, but those gamers looking for a simple few hours of escapism with friends could do a lot worse.
Don’t forget: You can win a copy of Heavy Fire: Shattered Spear right here at Electronic Theatre. Simply visit the Win a Copy of Heavy Fire for Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 or Nintendo 3DS! competition page for more details.