Review: Heavy Bullets
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There are two obvious ways to make your roguelike compelling. The first and most obvious is to have really engaging gameplay, like fun combat, exciting movement, or clever tactical options. The second is to just give it a ton of depth, I mean tons of systems or complex mechanics or a boatload of unlockables, all to give players something to focus on in their misadventures. My problem with Heavy Bullets is that it doesn’t seem to do either. The gunplay is competent but slow and methodical, practically the antithesis of the FPS genre. And there’s very little new to look forward to in subsequent runs, with little in the way of items to find or systems to master. Heavy Bullets needs more to keep me invested, plain and simple, and it’s just not there.
Don’t get me wrong, I love the premise. You’re one of a legion of janitors in a high-rise indoor hunting ground for the wealthy and decadent. Thing is, something went wrong with the security system and it’s started gunning down the wrong sorts of people. Nobody with any authority wants to risk their neck to get past the scads of automated gun turrets and reset the system, so the executives have put a reward out for anyone willing to do the deed. This might just be your ticket out of this dead-end dystopian job, which is why you’ve taken up your thick-ass company revolver and set off into the hunting grounds. And if the turrets or the wildlife get you, there’s always another hot-blooded janitor waiting in the wings.
The hunting grounds themselves are a tangle of vibrant hallways and dark foliage, like a laser tag arena that’s been viciously overgrown. Levels are roughly linear but the actual shape and connections of hallways are randomized, so you’ll be taking different twists and turns each run despite always heading in the same direction. You’ve got eight levels to descend through to reset the security system, and while there might not be too many differences between their neon gradient walls, the threats lurking within them do indeed change. Early on you’ll face toothy imps that charge you, poisonous snakes that lie in wait under bushes, and automated turrets that can lock onto you in an instant. Later the foes get leggier, denser, and more deadly, adding explosive critters and security systems with even smaller weaknesses.
None of these foes are very complicated to deal with, because you don’t have any complex tools to deal with them. Your main weapon (and only weapon, most of the time) is a revolver that fires six meaty bullets, bullets of such stature that they bounce off of foes after disintegrating them and must be scooped back up to re-use. Seriously, you start with six bullets, and the only way to get more is to buy them from vending machines or pray they appear as random rewards to grab. It’s not an issue early on because you can pop the one or two enemies in a room and then recover your rounds, but later you’ll need a deeper reserve to deal with more densely-packed rooms. You do also have a small supply of grenades, and vending machines and rewards also offer one-off weapons like rockets or mines to occupy your single item slot, competing with other consumables like health potions and passive boosters.
Aside from some purchasable upgrades from vending machines and the ability to bank cash and items for future runs, that’s it for the mechanics of Heavy Bullets. The bullet recovery gimmick is notable, but not all that different from grabbing pickups from fallen foes in any other FPS to keep going. What it really means is that every shot must be careful and deliberate, and enemies tend to either be stationary or bee-line towards you to make ammo conservation easier. There’s no running and gunning here, as charging forward will just get you iced by turrets. It shares its pace with something like Void Bastards, except there’s nowhere near the same level of interactivity or exploration to help balance out the pace of the game.
I think that’s what’s so disappointing about Heavy Bullets, the fact that it compares unfavorably to just about any other FPS you care to mention. The look and feel is similar to something like Receiver, but not built around anything nearly as compelling as the gunplay in that game. There’s no verticality or setpieces to any of the levels, but even something like Bunker Punks did more with that formula with gear to manage and more strategic choices. I wouldn’t say the core of the game is actually bad, but it doesn’t provide a compelling reason to play it over anything else in the genre. It’s a shame because I really do like the concept, and the satisfying THUNK of fat bullets against enemies doesn’t get old. I just wish there was anything else to invest in here besides that.
Oh man, just after leaving a comment about this on your City of Brass review I went back and played it, beat it and I think it’s safe to say it’s a rare example where I find myself on the other side of the coin. Perhaps I’m just on a kick for slower paced rogue-lites after CoB, but I really enjoyed Heavy Bullets.
You’re definitely not wrong with regards to how little depth there is. I’d say it’s the main thing that solidifies I will likely never go back to it since every run very much feels the same due to the lack of progression and noteworthy upgrades. I also despise this system some game employ where you stash resources for a later run, basically ruining your current run on the off chance a later one will be better, except with Heavy Bullets cash is near worthless due to the aforementioned lack of substantial upgrades.
However, the gameplay loop just didn’t get boring for me, much in the same way City of Brass didn’t, and that too was a game I criticised for having a rather narrow upgrade path. I thought the mixture of tip toeing around the levels leading into rapid and almost “over before it’s even started” gunfights worked incredibly well. The game tested my aim unlike any other rogue-lite tbh and I found myself playing more aggressively just because I enjoyed the raw nature to it all.
It’s definitely one I can understand not liking though. Every flaw you highlight I not only understand but agree with, yet it’s just one of those things where the core gameplay hooked me so much I could ignore the roadblocks in its way.
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It’s really nice having an alternative viewpoint on my reviews. Thanks for sharing!