Heavy Fire: Red Shadow

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Let’s get “Heavy Fire: Red Shadow’s” mortal sin out of the way at the start. This game is absurdly expensive.  As a standalone flat game, “HF:RS” is $19.99.  To play it in VR requires an additional $9.99 investment, totaling up to $30, which puts it in the same price-league as “Apex Construct,” “Archangel,” and “Bow to Blood.”  This game is too damn expensive.  Maybe there’s a diamond in the overpriced rough?

  

QUICK NOTES

Developer: Anshar Studios/Mastiff LLC

Publisher: Mastiff LLC

Genre: Turret/Wave Shooter

Controller: Dual Shock

Price: $19.99 Base Game + $9.99 VR Add-On

Length: 3-4 hours

PlayPSVR Score: 4.0

 

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There isn’t a diamond. But there is some decent gameplay elements.  “Heavy Fire: Red Shadow” sets you on top of a hill, behind a turret and a rocket launcher. Enemies approach your encampment in waves and you gun them down and blow them up to keep them from getting closer.  It’s a simple gameplay model enhanced slightly by the ability to call in reinforcements such as “support drops” for more health and missiles, infantry to surround your base and target weaker enemies, and air strikes to run bombing raids on the battleground.  Some enemies approach on foot, attacking you with rockets or rifles or even suicidal kamikaze attacks. Other enemies come in jeeps, trucks, boats, or even ships which require rocket attacks to sink before they can unload a platoon of troops.  Periodically leveling up in the game gives you enhancements, such as more powerful weapons, shorter reinforcement recovery times, or even unlimited ammunition.  The game takes place in 4 levels-a beachhead, a harbor, an air force base, and a small island city-with a night and day variant of each.

 

Although the simple gameplay is enough to provide an entertaining wave shooter experience, the lack of originality mixed with a bevy of nuisances hampers the potential for enjoyment.  The game suffers from a lack of balanced design in a multitude of areas:

-Limited rocket supply mixed with slow-moving ships resulted often in the game’s pace screeching to a halt. Extended rocket reload times meant that even when rockets were available, they were difficult to use as aiming rockets at a ship meant not aiming your turret at other encroaching enemies.

-The higher tier reinforcements are mostly useless, as deploying them limits your ability to call in missile resupplies, and they are also unable to destroy approaching ships. 

-When a higher tier reinforcement becomes available, the game automatically selects it for your, which meant I would often call in an air-strike or helicopter, depleting my reinforcement gauge when I meant to call in a simple supply drop.  Even when focusing on ensuring my selection was made, the jumpy reinforcement meter made it nigh impossible to accurately select the desired reinforcement.

-The indications for taking damage are at best subtle and at worst unnoticeable. Combined with glitchy sound design, I often found myself surprised to see a kill screen.

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-The game’s method of checkpointing mid-mission means that if you do die in the middle of a mission, you’ll restart without any available reinforcements, but with a mid-level amount of enemies approaching you.  This means that the difficulty spike that killed me, even with infantry and a bounty of rockets must now be overcome by myself with only 5 rockets on hand. This is the epitome of frustrating.

 

If the lack of balance wasn’t enough, the game seems to completely ignore any semblance of VR game design beyond being able to look around.  The game is controlled entirely via dual-shock even though it begs for head tracking or even dual-shock motion controls. The initial settings differentiate VR view and gun-position, meaning that as the gun turns, the view does not.  This ensures that any attacks from behind will be impossible to deal with as it is known that the PSVR cannot track very well behind the player.  Fortunately, this setting can be adjusted in the options to lock the VR view to the gun’s view, a necessity in my opinion.  This does not, eliminate, however the odd design choice to have all menus in the game be in the direction of the initial turret position.  While not game-breaking, it’s odd to beat a mission, have your gun’s position locked 180 degrees from starting position, and then have to physically turn your entire body to hunt down the menu.  This is made worse by no indication of the menu’s location, or if the level is even actually complete.

 

These design deficiencies go hand in hand with the other odd choices the game makes.  The game’s story offers up a seriously told story about North Korea peacefully reunifying with South Korea, with America being too-handcuffed by its own social welfare programs back home to be able to do anything about it (as if peaceful reunification was a bad thing?).  What the game’s story doesn’t offer up is who the player is, why they are where they are, who they are shooting, and what all this shooting does for the cause.  I honestly wouldn’t be surprised if someone proved that the soldiers I was killing were actually American soldiers and that I was a North Korean gunner.  All levels lack any semblance of context beyond potential throwaway lines read sternly in generic cutscenes.  Why even include this in the game if it was going to be so inconsequential and disregarded?

 

Despite all of the aforementioned shortcomings, I must admit I found something addictive in the endless most presented after beating the game.  With all upgrades and a handling on the games inconsistent mechanics, I played for about an hour in the endless mode, racking up kills and my score (with an automatic global ranking update in the HUD, an oddly nice touch) while the debris of blown up ships accumulated on the beach (they don’t go away, so the water was full ethereal wreckage).  But this hour was certainly not worth the full price of admission.

 

As I state on our podcast, this game feels like a sophomore-level computer science had a “My First Video Game” assignment in Unreal and clicked a button to automatically add VR, refusing to optimize or test it beyond preventing the game from crashing.It’s at best a benign military-inspired wave-shooter added to the VR catalog. But given the price, I feel like it’s really just a trap designed to catch new VR enthusiasts who won’t know better.

Alex PegramComment