In these days of ‘super consoles’, it’s easy to forget what videogames used to be like. Back when games consoles didn’t have enough processing power to run a good-sized Nuclear submarine, and it wasn’t possible to create the massive virtual worlds for the gamer to run around in that you see today, games had to be smaller, and simpler. The upside of this was that the developers had to focus on making the gameplay so addictive that the graphics and the sound and everything else wasn’t quite so important. As a result, game concepts tended to be more straightforward than they are today.
Heavy Weapon, downloadable for the PS3 on the PlayStation Network, harks back to an era when gameplay was king. That’s not to say that it doesn’t look good – in fact it most resembles a deluxe-model late 90s arcade machine for visuals and sound – it’s just that the focus is very definitely on the gameplay.
The concept is extremely simple: you’re the commander of a meaty modern tank, with devastating firepower and one clear mission: to obliterate the enemy. You do this by driving through each horizontally-scrolling 2D level, taking on wave after wave of enemy aircraft (and, in later levels, the odd ground vehicle) and blasting them to smithereens. To simplify things further, the landscape of each level is constantly moving and your tank automatically keeps up with it, so you basically only have to worry about moving the vehicle left and right within confines of the screen via the left analogue stick, while you fire in any direction you like by pushing the appropriate way on the right stick.
At first this might take a little getting used to, as those whose coordination isn’t too good may well need to get used to moving the tank in one direction while directing fire in another, but as – aside from one other button which we’ll come to in a minute – the two sticks are the only controls you really have to worry about, movement and shooting should eventually be mastered by all but the most ham-fisted of gamers.
From the off, aircraft of all shapes and sizes fly across the screen above you and lob bombs, bullets, missiles and a variety of more exotic ordnance your way, and your task is simple: avoid all the enemy fire and blow them all out of the sky. It sounds straightforward, and it is. Every so often a friendly supply chopper motors into the field of battle and (if you can manage to avoid shooting it down in the chaos of battle) drops you some kind of handy power-up, like a speed boost, or a shield increase, or – most dramatically – a nuke.
The nuke is where the only other control button comes in – once you’ve got a nuke onboard, tapping R2 triggers an almighty (and very satisfying) explosion which wipes out any enemy aircraft or vehicles on the screen – for those old-school gamers out there, it’s basically a ‘smart bomb’ – which then provides you with a second or so of respite if everything is getting a little too hectic.
At the end of each level, you’re faced with a massive end-of-level boss, who, in the tradition of all 2D shoot-’em-ups, is packing seriously scary firepower and takes repeated hammering with your weapons to destroy. These bosses range from massive tanks through awesome airships to a slightly bizarre massive wrecking-ball-type contraption and a decidedly unusual robotic gorilla.
Successfully beat the boss, and before the next level begins you get the chance to upgrade your tank with various weapon enhancements, including homing missiles, rotating ‘shield’ orbs, lasers and a device that fires massive bolts of electricity at the bad guys.
And that, quite simply, is the game. It’s one of the easiest games to just pick up and play that I’ve encountered in a long time, but also one of the most addictive. Its real attraction lies in its simplicity; no complicated plotlines, no massive control combinations to learn, just level after level of ever-more-insanely-manic action, as new and ever-more-dangerous enemy aircraft appear thick and fast.
If you only like your games cerebrally-challenging and the kind of thing that you have to devote entire afternoons to because the gameplay is so complex, then this might not be your cup of tea. But if, however, you like the idea of a game that tests your reflexes to breaking point on the first level, and then proceeds to make each successive level more adrenaline-packed than the last, to the point that a lot of the time there’s often so much going on onscreen that you’ll have trouble taking it all in, then this is the game for you. It’s not a game you’re likely to be devoting months and months of solid gaming to, but at the bargain price of just six quid to download, it IS a game that you will go back to, time and time again, for a couple of hours of cathartic, madcap, no-complex-thought-required, highly enjoyable shoot-’em-up action.
If, like me, you’ve been into videogames from the very start, back before TV stars talked about them and long before it was actually considered ‘cool’ to like videogames, then the gameplay here will be familiar to you. If you’re a younger gamer, and hence missed out on what many nostalgically refer to as ‘the good old days of gaming’, then have a go at this and you’ll get some idea of the sort of games your mum or dad grew up with, and perhaps understand what the older generation are on about when they talk about how ‘once upon a time it was the gameplay that really mattered’. For me, Heavy Weapon will be a firm fixture on my PS3’s hard-drive for a long time to come, and that’s why I’m giving it an Almost Perfect 9 out of 10. Quite simply: miss this one, and you’re missing out.
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