As ever – be warned. Heavy Bullets is still in development and as such expect more features and content to be added after this preview was written. Despite this, the game is polished and fluid, with absolutely no performance issues or crashes – and the Developer reckons that it’s fairly close to release.
The game is a colourful, intriguing roguelike shooter, which by nature makes it feel like what I’d imagine a first person Hotline Miami to be. That’s about where the similarities stop though, as the blaring neons and thumping, adaptive music take hold.
Heavy Bullets, like Gunpoint and Hotline Miami before it, is one of a very prestigious list of roguelikes that actually interested me immediately. I’m pretty simple, so it may just be the colours – or it could be the premise. Or… lack of one.
You have a gun. You have some bombs. That’s it. That’s all you know. You’re tasked with resetting an infected security mainframe, with only the promise of $5000 driving you on. Well, that and curiosity – I found myself getting that ‘just one more go’ bug simply to see what awaited me in the level below.
The big focus of Heavy Bullets, as the title suggests, is the bullets. You have a six-shot revolver that you must reload manually, a single shell per press of ‘R’. Then here’s the thing. You have an extremely limited supply of rounds – but once fired, they can be picked up and re-used; provided you aren’t dead due to missing a shot with the last round you had (I’ve done it, it made me sad). This mechanic not only sets the game apart from it’s roguelike kin, but introduces some genuine tension into what would otherwise be a fairly simplistic shooter. You can buy bullets from vending machines too, which helps.
As you progress through the game’s eight levels, a varied menagerie of beasties and bots come to battle you. This begins with the menacing grin of floating, evil ‘pacman-of-death’ creatures and continues on to hideous poison-spitting serpents in the late game. The challenge is elevated each level, throwing more enemies at you and forcing you to really focus on connecting every shot so as not to be left defenceless.
It doesn’t just make the enemies more abundant and faster – they get smarter too. More prone to finding ways of not being hit – making those six shots count even more as you progress.
I haven’t actually got to the end yet myself (It’s always the little worms in the grass that get me when I get a bit cocky) despite attacking it quite a few times. This is likely because I’m terrible at it, mind.
Each playthrough is procedurally generated so you never quite take the same route twice – however level design is pretty simplistic. There aren’t any puzzles or real alternate routes to be found, and wandering off the beaten track or taking a wrong turn results in stumbling into a dead end or locked door pretty quickly. If you happen to have found a keycard, these doors can be unlocked for extra goodies and helpful items.
A special mention goes to the soundtrack by DOSEONE, a thumping electronic triumph in tension building and driving force. Indies really are demonstrating how to pair a score with a game and this is a cracking example.
Dan! What, exactly, is it though?
Heavy Bullets is roguelike FPS through and through. Death is heavily punished with a restart, although there are some quirky ways to avoid total loss of all your stuff. You can bank money you pick up from dead enemies for a future life (a tactic I employed, having a few quick and easy lives with the proceeds put towards a proper attempt at hitting endgame with plenty of powerups in tow) or buying life insurance to preserve some of your collected items and coins should you die. Which you will. Quite a bit.
That’s kind of the point though – there’s something satisfying and methodical about learning how to deal with different enemies and knowing that they won’t get you the next time round. Except the worm/snake things that hide in the grass and often poison you. They always get me, the bastards. I don’t ever seem to learn.
That’s all well and good, but what REALLY makes it stand out?
It’s a matter of taste with this one – but for me it’s charm. Charm and character. The high-poly, uberneon visuals, odd cast of baddies and downright weird assortment of powerups give it a sense of personality. It’s impressive, considering how simple and short it is, realistically. Speaking of powerups – there are plenty to choose from. Everything from antivenoms (worm/snake things be damned) to a pair of glamorous high heels that serve little purpose other than to elevate the player a few inches for a *slightly* better perspective. Yeah. You also start with throwable bombs which can be replenished, and homing bombs can be found as single use items. You can even buy yourself a little backpack to hold a precious few more items (otherwise it’s just the one), which is really handy if you’re lucky enough to find lots of cool things. I seem to always find 9001 antivenoms when I have no use for them and -9002 when I’m poisoned and on the brink of death. Procedurally CRUEL, AMIRITE?
Another thing that stands out for me is the option for death to not be quite so cruel if you play smart. Buy a Last Will or Life Insurance and bank some coins before death and start out with an immediate advantage next life. Keep doing this and you can get a pretty good snowball effect on the go, provided you can maintain the killstreaks and keep finding useful items. Sometimes you just want health or an antivenom, only to find a pair of heels. Well. At least when your legs drop out from under you and the camera hits the floor in a sickening ‘keel over’ manoeuvre, you can look bloody fabulous on the way down.
Early Access, right?
Yes – but only just, realistically. The game is very near completion and the dev (Terri Vellman) only set out to use Early Access as a chance to balance the game and fix bugs, so it’s been in pretty good shape since it’s launch on the programme.
This makes Heavy Bullets one of the safest Early Access purchases I’ve come across – as everything it is intended to be is already there. You shan’t be left waiting for huge content updates that may never come, or not be able to finish the game due to a lack of content. Everything just… works, which is pretty refreshing.
If you’re a roguelike fan, or if you like the art style and concept, Heavy Bullets is well worth a purchase in it’s current state. It’s intriguing, well polished and delivers what it promises. My only criticism is it’s inherent simplicity – if you’re good at it it’s likely that you’ll finish it off in a fairly short time and have little reason to replay other than chasing high scores. I’d really like to see an implementation somewhat akin to The Binding Of Isaac’s unlockable characters and game modes, allowing just that little bit of extra depth and giving skilled players a little more reason to keep playing. Not an issue for me, as I’m rubbish, but something to keep in mind.
Go out, have a go, kill some of those bloody worm/snake things on my behalf.
Format: PC, Mac and Linux
Published by: Devolver Digital
Out Now on Steam early Access for £5.24