Genre: Top-Down Shooter
Publisher: Sierra Online
Developer: Wanako Studios
Release Date: May 14, 2008
With the wide variety of games on Xbox Live Arcade, it's quite understandable that it can be difficult to keep track of all of them. Assault Heroes was one of those titles that was a boatload of fun, but ended up lost in the waves between games like Geometry Wars, Lumines Live and Street Fighter. Those who played the title found an enjoyable top-down shooter that was absolutely great for multiplayer. Luckily, semi-obscurity didn't mean that Sierra Online was going to give up on Assault Heroes. In March of this year, the original Assault Heroes got a price drop to a mere 400 Microsoft points, but the real prize is going to hit later this week: Assault Heroes 2, a full-fledged sequel to the original title.
For those who've played the original top-down shooter, you'll be glad to hear that Assault Heroes 2 doesn't switch up the formula too much, and most of the basic gameplay is unchanged. One to two players team up to take control of the heroes and blow their way through an endless swarm of enemy soldiers and machines in their path, with a few twists along the way to keep things interesting. Assault Heroes and its sequel put you in control of a soldier in a super-advanced 4x4 jeep brimming with weapons. This jeep can sustain a bit of damage and even regenerate health in certain situations if left undamaged long enough; if it is damaged too much, though, it's destroyed. This is where Assault Heroes sets itself apart from most shooters. If your jeep is nuked, your driver gets thrown free and can continue to fight on foot. Survive long enough, and your jeep will respawn, allowing you to continue with full health. While on foot, your soldier is an extremely vulnerable target, so surviving until you get a new jeep isn't quite as easy as it sounds.
Aside from your super jeep, Assault Heroes also gave you access to a wide variety of weapons. At any time in your jeep, you could switch between a minigun, flak cannon and flamethrower. The minigun is a machine gun with a high rate of fire but piddling damage; the flak cannon is a slow, powerful and long-range weapon; and the flamethrower has short range and is incredibly powerful but has a habit of running out of fuel. Each of these weapons could even be upgraded by picking up power-ups scattered throughout the stages, although dying reverts them back to their basic form.
Your heroes also have access to grenades and nukes. Grenades are powerful weapons with limited ammo that can be thrown ahead to take out bunkers and other fortified structures, while nukes are limited-use super weapons. Press the nuke button, and everything around you that isn't a boss dies messily. These weapons all return in Assault Heroes 2, but they're now joined by the new ice thrower, which is sort of a modified version of the flamethrower. It's got slightly longer range and is much more effective against smaller foes, but it isn't as useful against bigger enemies. It isn't a huge change, but it provides another effective way for you to tear through foes.
One nice addition to Assault Heroes 2 is that your super jeep is no longer the only vehicle available to your plucky hero. While blowing the living crud out of every enemy in his path, your hero will occasionally come across abandoned enemy vehicles. By hopping out of your jeep and into one of these, you can turn the enemy's own firepower against them. Different vehicles have different sets of weapons. The helicopter, for example, turns your spray of machine-gun fire into twin arcs of deadly bullet rain. These new vehicles do have their downsides, though. They're fairly rare, so you won't be switching between them too often, and some of them have start-up times. If you try to hop into a helicopter during a firefight, expect to be shot down before the blades even start spinning. That brings us to the final downside: Each vehicle is a one-use only toy. Get shot down in a helicopter or tank, and you're right back to your jeep instead, so learning to dodge enemy attacks is the key to keeping your precious new vehicles around for more than a few minutes.
Perhaps the biggest difference from the last Assault Heroes title is the increased focus on out-of-vehicle combat. In Assault Heroes, you were in pretty deep trouble once your jeep got totaled. Your soldier only had a weak peashooter of a machine gun and no defensive abilities whatsoever. The primary goal was to survive until your jeep respawned, but that wasn't always easy. Thankfully, Assault Heroes 2 gives your soldier a significantly better chance of survival outside of his heavily armored vehicle. Your hero no longer just has access to his machine gun; once you leave the jeep in Assault Heroes 2, you take all of your weapons with you and can switch between them at all. These on-foot versions are a little weaker than their vehicular counterparts and can't be upgraded, but they're still a significant improvement over the classic peashooter. Beyond his improved arsenal, your hero is also a darn sight more agile to boot. By pressing the A button as you're running around, you can do a dodge roll, which lets you cartwheel out of the way of incoming fire. This, far more than the large number of improbable guns, is what allows you to survive the respawn period. (There were a few moments where I actually found it easier to survive on foot than in my killer super jeep!)
These improvements are important, since Assault Heroes 2 adds quite a few more on-foot segments than the original title had. They don't come close to outnumbering the time you spend in your jeep, but your soldier is going to spend a fair amount of time outside of his machine. Returning from the original title are the underground bonus levels, although they're larger and easier ? partially due to a more forgiving death system that doesn't force you to make it through with a single life, and partially due to the improved on-foot controls and weaponry. There are also a healthy dose of on-foot areas aboveground; these segments focus on enclosed areas with your heroes versus weaker enemy troops, and they really encourage you to learn how to best use your enhanced on-foot abilities to survive.
All in all, Assault Heroes 2 isn't a tremendous change from the first title in the series. The gameplay hasn't undergone any major modifications, and most of the tweaks and adaptations are going to matter mostly to those coming in from the first Assault Heroes. The good news is that the original Assault Heroes was a lot of fun and Assault Heroes 2 only improves on the original concept. The addition of extra vehicles, extra weapons and the improved on-foot controls all serve to turn an already fun game into something even better. Xbox 360 players seeking something fun to blow off steam between rounds of Grand Theft Auto IV will most certainly want to check out Assault Heroes when it hits next week.
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