I find myself to be fairly unforgiving when it comes to indie games. Not because I just don’t like them for no reason, but that I like to think I know when something is striving to be good – or at least refreshing or experimental, and when it’s just being made for the sake of being made. I don’t know if it’s for financial purposes or other ‘wrong reasoning’, but Heavy Bullets is an anomaly to me. By no means am I saying that developer Terri Vellman has made this game for money and no other reason, or that publisher Devolver Digital saw an opportunity to be in on that. Simply that I, for the first time since indie devs took their place within the industry, don’t know whether I actually like this game or not. It’s fast paced and twitchy, which if SSHD or Quake are anything to go by, are among my favourite types of gameplay specific games… but it’s also threadbare, irritating and sometimes unfair, which are traits I do not find engaging.
I wanted to topload this review with my confession of not having reached the endpoint of the game, and then wonder if this invalidates my opinion in your eyes. With the wave of journalistic integrity admonishment going around in the recent weeks, I wasn’t going to sit here and say “yeah, I finished it” when that wasn’t the case. However, while waiting for the review to go live, I have seen the game to its end. A bug occured (I assume) making me immune to all sources of damage. Having now seen how the game progresses, I can firmly say there’s no way I would have finished it based on my own skill. I’ve tried to enjoy it… hell, I want to enjoy it, but I simply don’t know if I do. This isn’t to say that I think it’s a game nobody can derive entertainment from, I’ve definitely had SOME fun with it, but is that enough to recommend its purchase to others?
Heavy Bullets is a roguelike, procedurally generated, neon first person shooter developed by, new on the scene, Terri Vellman and published by Devolver Digital of Hotline Miami fame. The aim of the game is to proceed through High Rise Hunting Ground, a place initially perceived, so it would seem, to be a safe place to hunt. Of course, that wouldn’t serve as a very exciting premise for a video game (unless you’re making Cabela’s Big Game Huner), and so the kicker is that the security system – which can be found deep within the hunting grounds itself, because… reasons – has been corrupted. The beasts found within the grounds, as well as the defense systems, are attacking and killing clients and that’s not a good thing for business. You play as one of the many people on the payroll as they one by one enter High Rise hoping to gain a cool $5,000 from management for reaching the security system and rectifying the issue. Pfft, no big deal, right? Safest place to hunt, they said! However, the payout goes only to the one who actually survives the task, the rest (and you’ll meet them all) simply meet their demise.
Gameplay centres largely around conservation. Conserve bullets, conserve money, conserve items and, try as you may, conserve patience. When a bullet is fired, rather than being useless they drop to the floor near the point of impact and can be reacquired, reloaded and then – brace yourself – re-fired. Assuming the situation calls for it and you met your target, otherwise you’ll have to look somewhere off in the distance for your misplaced munitions. Targets come in various, shapes, sizes and mechanics. For instance: Imps, who charge at first sight; Snakeworms, who hide, fairly efficiently, in the seemingly innocuous tall grass; and turrets, which lay dormant until the player is within range; as well as a whole host of other simple yet effective monsters. Along your travels, you will come across a variety of passive and active items, such as repellent, homing missiles and potions, as well as additional grenades to compliment the count of three you start with by default. These can be found in the field and purchased from the randomly placed vending machines which also have randomly generated stock. Some focus on offensive items while others stock health related gubbins.
There is a third type of vending machine, however, that plays into the roguelike elements found within the game – I simply call it ‘the banking machine’ as that is primarily, though not solely, the purpose it serves. Acquired coins from successful kills will accumulate over time, but death clears your pockets of all unless you deposit it before meeting your maker. Once in the bank, there it will remain for subsequent playthroughs. Through the banking machine you can withdraw money at a later time/playthrough, and the same can be done with items, from grenades to potions to silver lives (a heart made of silver that will passively absorb damage while it lasts). Useful other features of the banking machine are the ability to sell items, on occasion players will come across items – such as an ore chunk – which serve no purpose other than to be sold, though bullets, potions and the like can be sold in spite of their usefulness. You can also purchase various stages of life insurance policies which will, obviously, deposit a certain percentage of your accumulated wealth into your bank upon your passing; or Last Will, which is a physical item that must be carried – removing an inventory slot which you only have one of by default – but does the same as insurance only with 100% of the carried money AND items.
I imagine some gameplay would be nice and answer and curiosities on design and audio, so here it comes.
My opening sentiment remains. I don’t really know how to feel about the game, it’s irritating to make so much progress only to lose it all, and having stored money and munitions isn’t the condolence one really wants when they made it so far. That being said, there is something in the gameplay that makes it very satisfying in moments of breakneck awareness and accuracy. It doesn’t pretend to be anything it isn’t… and that’s a time killer. However, if I have ten minutes to kill, my time is probably going to go to One Finger Death Punch.
A PC review copy of Heavy Bullets was provided by the Devolver Digital PR team, and the game is available now on Steam for PC, Mac & Linux.
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