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Heavy Bullets Early Access Review

Reuse, reload, repeat.


GameSpot's early access reviews evaluate unfinished games that are nonetheless available for purchase by the public. While the games in question are not considered finished by their creators, you may still devote money, time, and bandwidth for the privilege of playing them before they are complete. The review below critiques a work in progress, and represents a snapshot of the game at the time of the review's publication.

Heavy Bullets takes a different approach to tried-and-true shooting mechanics. In this first-person roguelike, you are armed with a pistol and a handful of bullets that, once fired, must be retrieved. You are forced to plan out every move, making every shot count. Otherwise, the disheartening click of an empty gun is the last thing you hear before swarms of digital monsters make you wish your aim were sharper. Ammo recycling is an interesting premise, but the reuse/repeat theme seeps deeply into the game's core, negatively affecting the overall design. After hours of walking down familiar corridors boasting the same color scheme level after level, things begin to blend together, and the once-novel idea gets lost in the blur of pinks and blues.

In Heavy Bullets, you must reset an infected security mainframe, from where else but the inside. Armed with only a shiny, low-poly revolver, you tackle the game's eight mazelike stages while fending off waves of digital beasts and mechanical turrets that hide around corners waiting to strike. Your reward for staying alive to the end of each level is a bright-green hatch that drops you into the next stage. There isn't much story to speak of in Heavy Bullets; the end goal and a promise of $5,000 are the sole reasons to keep pressing on in this dangerous and strange digital world.

 It may look pretty, but danger lurks around every curve.
It may look pretty, but danger lurks around every curve.

Though it arms you with a revolver, Heavy Bullets is strictly a dungeon crawler; the gun is merely a tool used in your fight to survive. You fire large projectiles that strike enemies with a thunk. When enemies are dead, the bullets drop to the ground and playfully bounce in place until reclaimed. Since bullets are not unlimited, falling victim to the urge to spray and pray during enemy encounters makes your day far worse than necessary. On top of that, you are granted a small amount of health at the onset of your game. Reckless theatrics come with a harsh lesson, and dying means starting all over again from the very beginning.

With that in mind, you quickly discover that Heavy Bullets isn't very forgiving if your aim is poor. Imagine moments in which you fire into a room filled with enemies, but are unable to take them all out. Now you are left with one option: go in and get them, all the while trying to dodge gnashing teeth, flying bombs, and poisonous fangs. Many of the enemies can be taken out with a single shot into the body, though some are shielded and require a bit more finesse to tame. A turret, however, can be destroyed only by hitting its bright-green power box, which is often obscured--this is where precision firing becomes your best friend. Hitting reload inserts one bullet at a time into the weapon, creating tension during fights. You can also hurl bombs, but they are better against stationary turrets; most enemies move so quickly that it's best to use the pistol in most encounters.

Plant life adds some flavor to the theme.
Plant life adds some flavor to the theme.

Heavy Bullets captures the essence of 1980s arcade games. Bullets fire to the sound of distorted pops and pews as a thumping electronic soundtrack plays in the background. The sharp, angled environments are made up of brightly hued aesthetics, which look as if the game dipped a large paintbrush into this era of parachute pants and swiped the walls in gradients of pink, blue, and green. Digital plant life such as grass, trees, and bushes adds some variety, which does prevent the game from becoming a drab march down hallways--for a time, anyway. Tall patches of grass and rocks can be used strategically. Many enemies cannot see you through the grass, and large boulders can protect you from oncoming fire.

Each level is procedurally generated, but it doesn't take long for things to start feeling overly familiar. Several hours in, I noticed the game's rooms and hallways looked like places I'd already been, and I swore I ran through the same patch of grass at least a dozen times during my playthrough. It could be that Heavy Bullets draws from a limited pool of set pieces, since some rooms and twisting hallways do make returns. But I believe the actual reason is that the color scheme doesn't change from one area to the next, giving the game the appearance of one long and winding level. I enjoyed the style of Heavy Bullets at first, but after many hours of looking at the same color patterns, I became desperate for a change. Even monochrome would have been enough to break the haze. The game would benefit from different designs as you descend into the mainframe; as it stands, the conformity makes for some boring gameplay.

Moving through the world doesn't offer much in excitement. There are no puzzles or traps, and the mazelike path the game constructs in each level isn't more difficult to navigate than something out of a child's coloring book. Most detours lead to dead ends or small rooms quickly, so it takes little more than a sharp turn of the heel to get back on the right track.

Enemies range from digital monsters to turrets.
Enemies range from digital monsters to turrets.

As you descend deeper into the system, foes increase in difficulty and numbers, making each fight more harrowing than the last. You start off fighting simple enemies, ranging from floating black Pac-Man-like orbs with eyes and large white teeth, to robotic turrets (malfunctioning security devices) that fire lasers, missiles, or bombs. Once you get past the halfway point at level four, the game heats up. Turrets are suddenly gifted with the miracle of flight, and large serpents spit poison from across the room. And yet, against all that, my most despised foes had to be the snakes that blend into bushes and strike with little warning. I hate those things, so very much.

The AI powering foes is remarkably dumb, and it typically sends them running or flying straight at you. Worse, enemies occasionally get stuck on corners. To get them free, you have to inch forward, getting them to aim at your position, which eventually sets them back onto the correct path. Unfortunately, enemies appear to have one movement speed: fast. So when you finally coax them free, they charge at top speed, crashing into you before you can react. This happens more often than necessary and, unless you start pre-firing as they turn the corner, nearly always results in lost health.

Killing enemies rewards you with a shower of golden, bouncing coins to that you can exchange for one of dozens of available items in various vending machines. These machines are scattered throughout the level and can easily give you the upper hand in Heavy Bullets--that is, if you have the scratch. For a small sum of coin, you can purchase items that range from weapons to attribute boosters. The gun shop sells extra bullets and various types of bombs. You can heal yourself at Medbays, or purchase life-ups, which increase your maximum health. Vending machines also offer shop discounts and life insurance plans, which make it so you can keep a small percentage of your cash if you die. If you're not up to spending your hard-earned money, you can drop it off at a bank, which stores the precious loot even in the event of your demise.

Welcome to level eight. Things get real from here.
Welcome to level eight. Things get real from here.

There are a ton of usable and passive items in Heavy Bullets, so many that I had to start writing them down on a notepad as I played through the game. When I was halfway down the second page, I thought I had finally gotten them all. At least, I thought so until I found a dazzling pair of high-heeled shoes, which did nothing more than add a few inches to my height and, hopefully, made me look at least a little fabulous. You carry one item at a time, unless you purchase or find a backpack to carry one more. Useable items include potions that heal or remove poison. Others are onetime-use weapons such as mines, rockets, or homing bombs. Special items can be found by activating secret panels in the walls (marked by a small black X), as well as behind locked doors that need to be opened by keycards that drop randomly off dead enemies.

Heavy Bullets in its current build is nearly finished, making it one of the most risk-free early access games out on Steam. The developer has announced that the game is close to release, with some bug fixes and final tuning left. With a colorful look and challenging gameplay, Heavy Bullets can be a fun, if brief, game, coming in at around an hour to complete once you get into the groove. It's just a shame that most of the enjoyment gets dragged down by its unwavering adherence to repetitive design.

What's There?

Eight levels, two bosses, and a plethora of items to aid you in your quest. It will take around four or five hours to figure out the ropes, but once mastered, completing the game from start to finish is about an hour.
What's to Come?Not much more, according to the developer. As it stands, the game is nearly finished; only some tweaking remains.
What Does it Cost?$9.99, available via Steam

When Will it be Finished?

TBA, but the developer said it is close to the full release.
What's the Verdict?The need to retrieve bullets is a great mechanic that adds a lot of tension to combat. However, repetitive level design and poor AI stifle the overall experience.

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