On-rails videogames get a bad rap these days. The amount of freedom given to players in traditional FPS design is now being taken for granted. Players expect to have access to a highly detailed and believable world within moments of loading the software. More immediate, arcade style experiences like Heavy Fire: Shattered Spear are becoming less and less common. But does that mean our industry has ‘moved on’? Not if Teyon have anything to say about it.
Given a voice by then up-and-coming publisher Avanquest Software, Heavy Fire: Shattered Spear came to Europe more than six months after its debut in North America. It did so with a very wallet-friendly price; pitched at a boxed market with the same confidence as the publisher’s 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 had a lesser audience on UK high streets.
The game features some kind of highly derivative plot that makes Independence Day look like Shakespeare. But you don’t pay the entry fee for a game like Heavy Fire: Shattered Spear and expect to find moral dilemmas or cerebral challenges. This is the video game equivalent of a Fast & Furious movie. 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. Not every game has to be pushing the boundaries of 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 you progresses through the game you’ll earn experience points and occasionally rank-up. Upon doing so you can unlock new assets, such as expanded ammo caches or new weapons. And it’s a good job you can as Heavy Fire: Shattered Spear is no easy ride: later on 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. This forces you to leave cover for a split-second when reloading, 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 the default option later in the game. 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 game that has obviously been developed by a small team with a limited budget. 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. However it is clear that the animation has not benefited from extensive motion-capture. To overcome this the game uses some clever camera angles, keeping the momentum going without the player baulking at the poor graphical quality. The days of technical limitations in game development are moving ever further behind us, but having to combat budget is something that is essential for every development team.
There are many gamers who would take offence at Heavy Fire: Shattered Spear. The suggestion being 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; 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. It’s intended for the Time Crisis generation. Gamers who know when a game is intended to be nothing more than an adrenaline rush. And who will love it for exactly that reason. Heavy Fire: Shattered Spear is certainly not going to please everyone, but those gamers looking for a simple few hours of escapism with friends could do a lot worse.