One revolver. Six bullets. Eight gruelling levels of neon visuals, gun turrets and assorted monsters. Heavy Bullets, a first-person shooter dungeon crawl with randomly generated environments, keeps things simple but slick. Its gorgeous art style and smooth gameplay are definite points in its favour, but the lack of variety and brutal difficulty mean it’s not for everyone. Those seeking a slice of old-school arcade action will be rightfully interested in picking up a copy, but the experience is not for the more casual gamer.
To say that Heavy Bullets has a story would be a kindness. It has a premise, but it’s little more than that: the security mainframe at an unnamed company has malfunctioned, attacking customers and employees alike, and you are sent to repair it. You must battle your way through eight levels to reach it, with only a trusty revolver to keep you safe… and that’s about it. You receive a brief and slightly amusing message when you click “New Game” which explains this fact, but there is nothing more to the game than the trial which awaits you.
At its heart, this is a dungeon crawl and it never pretends to be anything else. Your target is the mainframe at the end of Level 8, and gunning your way there is what the game is all about. Overall, the game plays slickly and can easily become addictive once you’ve hit your stride. You have only six bullets for your revolver and you must use them wisely; the game rewards carefully picking your shots rather than spraying gunfire all over the place. You can retrieve and reuse bullets ad infinitum – a mechanic which means missing five out of six shots against two enemies is a fine way to get yourself killed.
Getting killed is something the game acclimatises you to pretty early on. Players will be lucky to survive the first level when they initially start the game up, usually brutalised by a common kind of enemy called an “imp”, which resembles a cross between Pac-Man and a rabid cat. There is no way to save and there are no checkpoints. Death is permanent and will see you sent all the way back to the start of Level 1, no matter how tantalisingly close to the mainframe you were.
If attempting the same task over and over again doesn’t sound like your kind of thing, then you probably aren’t going to enjoy Heavy Bullets. You have only three hearts to sustain yourself for the whole game and will frequently find this not to be enough. That said, the levels are generated randomly so things aren’t as repetitive as you’d imagine; unlike other difficult games such as Dark Souls, you can’t learn enemy patterns and locations because they’re constantly changing. You’re rewarded for your quick reflexes and sharp trigger action, rather than muscle memory.
This isn’t to say that each playthrough is entirely distinct from the ones before, however. There are vending machines dispersed throughout the world, and while most will simply sell you extra items and bullets, some are bank machines. These can be used to deposit the money you pick up from enemies, which can then be withdrawn and used on future attempts. You can also purchase life insurance and a will, which allow you to keep some of the money you’re carrying upon death, but these are largely not worth buying. In fact, the entire banking mechanic feels underdeveloped; it’s a neat idea, but in practice it simply isn’t that useful. Unless you have a particular overabundance of coin (you wish) there isn’t much point in squirreling it away.
Another aspect that helps keep the boredom at bay are the fantastic aesthetics. Heavy Bullets is dripping with bright neon colours and the eight levels are presented (although for reasons that are never really explained) as a vibrant, jungle-like environment. The graphical style is chunky and pleasing, reminiscent of eighties’ arcade games but with a fresh lick of paint. It has a wonderful retro quality to it, and it’s difficult to tire of seeing your enemies explode in showers of blocks, coins, and other assorted bits and pieces.
The sound design is similarly top notch and helps contribute to the arcade feeling. You’ll be hearing an assortment of old-school bleeps as you buy items and defeat your foes, and it fits seamlessly with the visual presentation. The music is also excellent, and while it might not be memorable this is actually a point in its favour. It never overwhelms the game or your experience of it, but simply provides the appropriate acoustic accompaniment it should.
Yet for all that Heavy Bullets does well, it feels like it could do better. It might not pretend to be anything more than a dungeon crawl, but perhaps it should. The humorous text opening is well written enough to make you want more, and makes you wonder whether the story couldn’t have been expanded – even if only with similar text segments between levels. The simple fact is that the game doesn’t feel like enough as a pure dungeon crawl. There isn’t enough content.
As slickly as it plays, it doesn’t really live up to its promise. There aren’t a great many different enemy types and after a few hours even the superb visuals aren’t enough to save it. There isn’t any real aesthetic difference between any of the levels, so unfortunately you will end up acclimatising to your extraordinary environment sooner or later. Even a simple change of colour scheme would have helped to freshen things up, but no such change ever takes place.
For gamers seeking a slice of arcade-style action, they could certainly do a lot worse than Heavy Bullets. The gameplay is fun, the aesthetics are first-class, and for people who love a challenge, it will certainly provide them with one. The difficulty is really what provides it with any duration, though; were it not for the constant need to start again from the beginning, you could probably complete it in an hour or two. It’s certainly a good game, but it needs more content – in a lot of different ways – to be considered exceptional.