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Heavy Bullets Finds Virtue in Simplicity

Heavy Bullets’ central premise – it is a rogue-like game set within a stylish 3D world – is immediately comprehensible within moments of playing the game.

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Heavy Bullets

This is a game that knows what it wants to be. It is not epic. It is not complex or subtle. It’s a game in which cartoonish bullets are your only defense against an army of polygonal snakes, spiders, and robots. Heavy Bullets focuses on this experience, and delivers it very well. By building a game around a few key features, Heavy Bullets gleefully rejects the dominant trend toward increasing complexity in game design. Every superfluous element of Heavy Bullets has been stripped away. What the player is left with is a hard-core of satisfying gameplay.

The player’s ostensible goal in Heavy Bullets is to reset the mainframe of “Highrise Hunting Ground” in order to protect the corporation’s customers. However, this minimalist back story is quickly forgotten in light of your true goal: survival. The world of Heavy Bullets is a dangerous place. Strange monsters assault the player at every turn, while the building’s security system has decided you are a priority target. At the outset of the game, your main defense against these threats is a revolver with just six bullets. Fortunately, these bullets – the game’s titular Heavy Bullets – are reusable. Once fired, the bullets will remain wherever they ended up, dancing around in a seeming effort to entice you to pick them back up. This feature works better than one might expect. It forces the player to approach each fight tactically, taking efforts to only shoot when necessary. At the end of each fight, though, it is easy enough to quickly gather used bullets and move on.

Further aiding you in your adventure are the various power-ups that you can either find or purchase at one of three types of vending machines that occur randomly throughout each level. Players can earn coins by destroying enemies, and judicious use of this cash is essential for survival. There is considerable variety in the power-ups available which allows for a number of different approaches to the game’s challenges. However, Heavy Bullets is not interested in burying you under a bewildering assortment of perks and features. Befitting a game that puts a priority on pushing the action forward, the purpose of each power-up is clear and it is fairly easy to make a decision about which to bring with you.

The game stays true to its roguelike roots and utilizes a permadeath mechanic, meaning that once you die you will have to start the game over at the beginning. While this might be frustrating at times, Heavy Bullets takes a number of steps to minimize the sting of such an unforgiving system. Most notably, the game features a banking system which allows you to take steps to pass along gold or items from one playthrough to the next. There are trade-offs to using this system, but it does allow the player to feel like they accomplish on any given playthrough even if it ends in their death. Moreover, the levels are procedurally generated, meaning that the game never plays exactly the same way twice. Finally, and most importantly, every minute of the game is enjoyable, and it is a pleasure to continue playing even if progress is sometimes ephemeral.

Heavy Bullets visual style is simplistic but memorable. The game world is rendered in a blocky 3D style that is reminiscent of the polygon era. But Heavy Bullets is no simple nostalgia trip. The game takes abstraction as a starting place and builds a convincing world around it. A vibrant neon color scheme brings every corner of the game to life. This unrelenting, high-contrast color enhances the natural strangeness of the game and helps imbue even simple hallways with a sense of mystery and menace. That said, more investment could have been made in providing a variety in game settings. Despite slight tweaks to the environment as the game progresses, it is hard to escape the sense that you are constantly playing through variations on the same rooms and hallways.

The ambient music propels the action along. During Heavy Bullets‘ periods of quiet exploration, the soundtrack comes through in a barely-audible trickle, gently reinforcing the game’s the atmosphere. When the game kicks into high gear, the music  seamlessly transforms into a pulse-pounding techno beat, and gloriously enhancing the natural adrenaline that such moments provoke. The sound design is restrained but effective. Often, the game feels like it takes place inside an retro arcade machine, and the sound effects are appropriately gamey. Bullets go “blik”, coins go “plink” and keys make a  “breee” sound. Most enemies, too, have an audio cue that warns you of their proximity without breaking immersion with the game.

Overall, Heavy Bullets does an excellent job of uniting gameplay, graphics, and audio design together into a highly coherent vision. While the game may lack a certain amount of depth and variety, it turns this simplicity into a strength. Heavy Bullets takes pains to never get in your way. Everything in the game is designed around the core gameplay experience: shooting and surviving. For those who are looking for a simple and addictive thrill, Heavy Bullets will deliver.

4/5


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Hamish McPherson is a freelance writer based out of Vancouver. You can follow him on twitter via @McFierce_Ham.