Heatseeker Hands-On

We take to the skies with a near-finished version of IR Gurus' upcoming aerial combat game.

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Currently scheduled to land on the Wii, the PlayStation 2, and the PlayStation Portable in April, Heatseeker is a fast-paced aerial combat game that shuns realism in favor of over-the-top action. While taking the controls of around 16 different modern-day and near-future fighter aircraft, you'll be assigned to an international task force and pitted against terrorists who, more often than not, greatly outnumber you. We recently took delivery of a near-finished PS2 version of Heatseeker, and we've played through the first six of its 18 missions in order to bring you our impressions.

The only gameplay modes on offer in Heatseeker are a single-player campaign and a mission mode that lets you replay individual levels from said campaign. There are plenty of options with which to customize your experience, though, including three difficulty settings and arcade-style or realistic controller layouts. The arcade-style controls let you fly your plane in much the same way you would in an all-out shooter such as Afterburner, while the slightly more complicated "professional" setup affords you far greater control. Regardless of which controls you opt for, you'll find that locking onto and destroying enemy targets is a relatively simple process. You have unlimited ammo at your disposal, and based on our experiences thus far, your chosen jet can sustain an incredible amount of damage before you'll ever feel like you're in trouble. The challenge, then, comes from the sheer number of enemies that you'll be pitted against and, in many missions, from completing the other objectives that you'll be handed on the fly.

All of the missions that we've played through so far have appeared to be quite straightforward at the outset, but they invariably become more interesting as new objectives are added. Your enemies in Heatseeker include land and naval units as well as other planes, and you'll find that they each pose quite different challenges. Taking out an enemy hangar or a battleship will often require a number of bombing runs, for example, while jeeps, speedboats, and most planes can be taken out with a single missile or burst of gunfire. The armaments that you start each mission with will be automatically selected for you for the first couple of missions, but as you progress you'll unlock additional options by completing bonus objectives and such. The default weapon selection is generally a multirole setup that will allow you to be effective against whatever targets are thrown at you, while the unlockable options tend to be more specialized for air-to-air or air-to-ground combat, for example. In total there are around 40 different missile and bomb variants for you to experiment with, though the majority of these can be equipped only on specific aircraft.

Using evasive maneuvers and countermeasures ensures that you watch rather than have a starring role in impact cam replays.
Using evasive maneuvers and countermeasures ensures that you watch rather than have a starring role in impact cam replays.

Because Heatseeker has been designed to be as accessible as possible, you'll only rarely have to manually take off or land your chosen plane, and neither of these tasks is particularly demanding. What you will have to do, though, at least after you've shot your way through the first few missions, is keep an eye out for onscreen prompts telling you to take evasive action because an enemy has locked onto you. These warnings generally come only a few seconds before impact, and what course of action you need to take is determined by what kind of projectile is about to make a mess of your plane. On the PS2, evasive maneuvers and countermeasures are triggered using the rear shoulder buttons, while the Wii version will almost certainly require you to do something a little more energetic. In addition to taking down enemies and evading their attacks, later missions will task you with managing one or more wingmen assigned to your command. Using the directional pad you can tell your colleagues to perform simple roles such as attacking or defending a specific target, or sticking with you and firing on any enemy you engage.

Heatseeker is played at a quite frantic pace for the most part, and the closest thing you'll get to pauses in the action are the occasional close-ups of enemy targets getting blown up that come courtesy of the appropriately named impact cam. The game's visuals certainly aren't one of its most noteworthy features, but some of the explosions are suitably impressive--especially when viewed in slow motion. At the end of each mission you also have the option to watch a replay of your performance from various camera angles, which invariably has the effect of making you look far more skilled as a fighter pilot than you actually are--crashes into mountains, runways, and the ocean notwithstanding. We look forward to bringing you a full review of Heatseeker closer to its release.

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