Heavy Fire started out as a simple WiiWare game that felt like a throwback to the lightgun era. The first game, subtitled Special Operations, didn't feature the greatest graphics, and it didn't revolutionize the genre, but it was quite fun, especially when you factored in the cost of downloading the game. A year later, the sequel Black Arms featured the same type of action with the same price but in a different setting. It was still a fun game, pleasing fans of a genre that is finally seeing a renaissance of sorts. More than six months after the release of that title comes Heavy Fire: Afghanistan, which represents a few firsts for the series. This is the first game that has seen a retail release instead of a digital one. It is also the first to see a multiplatform release, with the Wii version being accompanied by PC and PS3 iterations.
The plot is probably too simple for some. You play as a soldier who knew he wanted to be a Marine since the age of seven. Right after high school, he enlisted and is now part of the force, engaging in missions against terrorists in Afghanistan. That's really all there is to it. There's no ultimate boss to fight, no larger mission to stop, none of the standard tropes one would expect from any shooter. For some, it may be refreshing to not have to worry about a crazy story that tries to flow like a movie, but for others, having no overall point makes the purpose futile.
Like the plot, the gameplay is also rather straightforward as it adheres to typical lightgun shooter mechanics. You'll shoot at enemies while taking care not to shoot at friendly forces. While most items in the environment are indestructible, you can still shoot out some signs, jars and boards as well as pick up health packs and other items from the field. You will carry a machine gun at all times with limited ammo, and once you run out, you'll whip out a pistol that has unlimited ammo but needs to be constantly reloaded. At the end of each level, you'll be given a synopsis of how you did, including score and accuracy. Like any lightgun shooter, this is all standard fare.
Despite this, the game tries to do a few things differently across the campaign's 14 levels. Taking a page out of the Time Crisis series, Heavy Fire: Afghanistan lets you enter cover once you are positioned. Unlike that game, though, you'll have two or three areas to take cover instead of just one. You also have two different guns in your arsenal, the standard machine gun and the pistol, which has unlimited ammo. There's a leveling system in place, where snagging trophies helps increase your character's rank and lets you upgrade things like faster reload time, carrying capacity for ammo and grenades, more health, and a better machine gun. Finally, the game sports a second difficulty level once you finish it. It makes the game more difficult and changes around the environment a bit.
Unfortunately, the game does a number of things to dampen the experience. Even on the hardest difficulty level, most of the enemies seem to have a tough time actually hitting you. There is an exclamation mark over an enemy's head to let you know that his shot will finally meet its target, but that only seems to be important when facing off against large groups. While you have two guns with you at all times, you can never switch them at will. You always have to deplete your ammo reserves on the machine gun before you can switch to the pistol, and you'll always revert back to the machine gun once you obtain ammo for it, making for a pretty inelegant system if you accidentally hit the ammo crate.
There are times when the cover isn't foolproof. In more than a few situations, you only have one piece of cover available, but going to it doesn't completely protect you from enemies. This wouldn't be so bad if you can fire back from cover, but there are times when this doesn't work, as shots that seem to go through end up hitting the walls instead. Finally, while the presence of your soldier's hand and gun are nice, they end up being obstructions when you're viewing the shooting space. It gets much worse when you're placed in a helicopter since your view is completely inside the cockpit, forcing you to spray and pray instead of firing more calculated shots.
Heavy Fire: Afghanistan supports several different control schemes, all of which come with some kind of caveat. Players can use the Move controller just like a Wii Remote where the trigger fires the gun, the Circle button reloads, and X throws a grenade. Reloading can also be done by a remote shake, though it can mess up one's aiming, and movement is sometimes needed during certain events to gain bonus points. Holding down the Move button and moving the controller in one of three directions lets you take some cover, and while the mechanic is sometimes useless, it functions well thanks to the extra sensitivity of the device. Oddly, this sensitivity doesn't come into play when you need to move the controller or during reloads, making you repeat the action a few times before it registers. Players can also use the Navigation controller in tandem with the Move so they can use the analog stick to take directional cover. However, doing so limits you to two players instead of four, so it is only a preferred method if you are only playing with one other person. Interestingly, Move support is optional, since you can still use the standard DualShock 3 or SixAxis controller to play the game. However, the cursor moves too fast with the analog stick, and with no real way to change that sensitivity, it isn't a good alternative for those who want to play without Move equipment.
Graphically, the game tries to employ some expected tricks. There is heavy use of light bloom to add some shadows to the environment; unfortunately, it also temporarily blinds you sometimes. That bloom also does a good job of making things like your gloves and the shiny pistol chrome stand out. What it also does, unfortunately, is show off some pretty bad smoke layering on the environment as well as the lower resolution of the textures and characters. While the smoke layering is bad, it come off better than the muzzle flash, which looks like a bright yellow spot that's been tacked in front of the gun barrel. Aside from texture issues, the environments have some good foliage, but that comes at the expense of geometry, so you'll see items pop up often as the camera swings around and flies by.
Characters move well enough as long as you don't look at their mouths when they speak, and it becomes hard to tell if they die since there's no visual feedback stating that they've perished. Getting hit is also problematic since all you're given is a bullet hole in glass instead of a flash or other type of feedback to let you know that the enemy actually hit you. Worse yet, the bullet hole is distracting enough that it actually hides enemies who repeatedly shoot you, causing even more holes to appear on-screen. In the end, the game really looks like an upgraded Wii game with a minimal amount of work done to make it appear marginally better.
The sound ranges wildly between serviceable and bad. The music isn't that bad, as it tries to evoke the same vibe heard throughout most action movies and games. It's not memorable material, but it works well enough as background music, though the title screen and menu music can be grating once the vocals kick in. The voice actors sound bland. Your character sounds like he's bored, and the dialogue doesn't sound authentic or exciting. When stating the time, he uses the 12-hour clock instead of military time, so it's 8 PM instead of 20:00. Everyone else has the same tone of disinterest and repeats the same lines over and over again when not in a cut scene. There can only be so many times when a fellow soldier tells you to shoot a truck or get the ammo on the ground before you tire of it. The sound effects sound bad. The explosions don't sound as loud as one would expect, and all of the gunfire sounds distant and muted. Your pistol sounds like it has a silencer on it although you can't see it, and all enemy gunfire sounds small and distant even when enemies are very close to you. It's bad enough that you'd rather turn up the music and voices just to drown out the effects.
Heavy Fire: Afghanistan certainly isn't the best lightgun shooter on the PS3. Shooters like Time Crisis: Crisis Zone handle complexity rather well while games like The House of the Dead: Overkill Extended Cut handle simplicity in a much better manner. This seems to do neither very well, and when saddled with decent graphics but mediocre sound, it becomes a less appealing game overall. The only saving grace is the ability to play with four players simultaneously, though that makes this already easy game much easier to handle. If you already blew through all of the lightgun shooters that the PS3 has to offer, then get this game, but only when it drops below its already-low $19.99 price point.
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