Heavy Fire: Red Shadow (PS4) Review
Release Date: October 16, 2018
Publisher/Developer: Mastiff LLC
Platform: PS4 (reviewed), PC, Xbox One
Price: $19.99 (an extra $9.99 for PSVR support)
There's this arcade game at a local pizza joint called Beach Head 2000. It's got this tall, gangly spindle arm holding a VR helmet up in the air. It usually costs a dollar or two to play, despite it's age, thanks to the fanciness of the cabinet. It's one of those my kids are always asking me to play despite the fact that it looks like it's made for someone at least over five feet tall, and probably a bit more careful than they'd be. Within, your generic Army guy must hold a beachhead by bunkering down and eliminating an entire army all by yourself.
Heavy Fire: Red Shadow looks to be a modern attempt to bring that gameplay home. Whilst Beach Head had home releases on PC, this is the first I've seen to offer an immersive VR experience. Heavy Fire is an ongoing series, with the previous ones being on-rails light gun shooter style games, albeit usually with controller support (the WiiWare editions did offer Zapper support, and the Xbox 360 title had a four player mode, though all players had reticles on the same screen). Red Shadow tries something new by sacrificing another aspect. You do have full 360 degree movement for aiming and shooting, but you are bunkered down in a single place. With four levels (and day or night motifs) and nowhere to go, there's not much to see and only so many enemies the game can throw at you at once. Therefore, it doubles down on that "Beach Head 2000" arcade feel.
There is a very loose story involving Korean and American tensions rising to a breaking point that boils down to good reason for you to shoot people. It's that happy stretch of the imagination where nuclear tensions are involved, Korea gets to throw it's whole military at you, the sole line of American defense, and you only get support if you blow up enough heads. I did enjoy how you can bank supports for stronger ones. The first grade of support is a supply drop, followed by an infantry, mortar launches, and even an attack helicopter that'll pelt the small enemies and allow you to focus on the bigger threats. It's a risk/reward system that allows you to determine how to best eliminate the enemy.
To be honest, that's about it. You have your machine gun and rockets. As you battle you get promoted, which allows you to unlock things like a more stable gun or chain feed to eliminate reloads. Eventually you have a powerhouse gun that makes the game more of a "spray and pray." Enemies can come from 360 degrees, which kind of kills the benefit of holding a beachhead, especially in your unarmored turret. The main spin of the turret is controlled by the left analog stick whilst precision aiming is done with the right. The right stick is cumbersomely slow and the left is rather fast which makes for some disorienting aiming structure. Eventually you get the hang of it but it gets frustrating when your sight ends up in the lower right corner of the screen and you spin around to fight someone else head on and have to either drag the cursor back up or pretend like you're trying to shoot and only that little corner of your glasses is clean enough to see.
You're always aiming for a high score, even with inexplicable bonus challenges thrown at you (like kill 30 enemies in twenty seconds) that makes it feel even more like it belongs in an arcade. The game is a budget title at $19.99 yet locks VR support behind a $9.99 DLC paywall. I understand that the game is being sold on the non-VR Xbox One, but it's still frustrating to see the potential of the enjoyment of VR (that would likely quash my aiming issues as well) be another 50% price increase after you've already bought the game. I feel it's a bit of a mistake offering the free demo, as you can basically see all there is to offer minus the VR without taking that first price hit. Alas, I was given a code for review but as a small-time review person I do not own the VR setup. (Note: the PlayStation Store feels rather confusing on this hit. It says "PlayStation VR Compatible" then at the bottom of the descriptor says "A PlayStation VR version is available to purchase from within this version" and the DLC is considered an "add-on" which is why I'm labeling this as such.)
Graphics and audio also fall into that "simple quarter muncher" attitude. Several screenshots I've seen show bland buildings and items that don't really react to your gunfire. You have a commanding officer barking orders (well, rewards) at you that could stand to pick up a freaking pistol. There are several waves and challenges in each area, but it boils down to eight levels, half day and half night of the same area.
Heavy Fire: Red Shadow would get an amazingly fun and appropriate score as a true VR arcade game. As a home console game, you lose a lot of what would make it fun. The VR paywall is frustrating, as is the completely immobile action of sitting in a bunker and spinning around. The story is light and to be honest incomprehensible once the fate of the world rests on your combo kill streaks and you're already surrounded by the enemy. Games like this make me wish that companies would figure out what it takes to make a light gun work with an HDTV and not be "just another fancy way to point an on screen cursor." If you struggle at all in the beginning, you quickly upgrade and power up until you are so powerful it's just a matter of "pointing in the right direction" and your biggest threat is how slow your turret turns. There are leaderboards and such, but I don't have a lot of encouragement to do well once I start seeing the patterns and knowing what to expect in every wave. Your generic "Sergeant Will" has two guns and that's it. I'd pop a couple bucks into this in the arcade, but without the VR system at my home I'm not sure if I'll get 20 rounds out of it before I'm ready to move on.
-Smart support banking to sacrifice protection for stronger supports
-Upgrades make you feel powerful
-With VR it would be like having an arcade system in your living room
-An "on rails" shooter series has turned into an "in a hole not moving" game
-VR support is another $9.99
-The kind of story I'd ignore because I couldn't hear it in the arcade
Thanks to Mastiff LLC for providing a copy of Heavy Fire: Red Shadow for review!