Have you ever heard of the Heavy Fire series? You could be forgiven for answering that question with a dumfounded look. Released primarily in the US (but can be found on our fair shores in the UK) the series of on-rail shooters developed by Polish team Teyon (most famous for their Rambo video game) began in 2010 with Special Operations and a follow up called Black Arms for the Wii/3DS in 2010 and 2012 respectively. The series then branched out to include the Xbox 360 and PS3 with PSMove support with their next 2 titles Heavy Fire: Afghanistan and the sequel, Shattered Spear, neither of which were received well by critics. Teyon know what their target audience want through and, review scores be damned, the series has garnered a small but passionate following that enjoy the faux realistic gun play and fictional-but-most-definitely-based-on-real-world-events settings.
The series is back then, releasing on the Xbox One, PC and PS4 with PSVR support (reviewed here without it) and this time it’s the North Koreans that are threatening the US in this latest entry, “Heavy Fire: Red Shadow”. The premise is as schlocky and as rote as you might expect from the series; The North Korean’s have broken the peace with the US and are on their way to invade. Your character, a grizzled veteran, has rounded up as many guns and pals as possible and is going to singlehandedly halt their progress across the Pacific ocean.
The biggest change for Red Shadow compared to the rest of the Heavy Fire series is that this isn’t an on-rails shooter. Instead, this game resembles more the Vortex arcade shooter but with 360˚ rotation. Stationed in a meaty, rapid firing turret complete with rocket launcher, the idea is to beat back wave after wave of soldiers that descend on your stationary location from various spawn spots around you without taking too much damage and falling in battle yourself. You can spin in a full rotation (and you’ll have too if you’re going to survive) with the right stick and can aim within your current view using the left stick.
The main game is broken down into 8 different campaign mission’s, each of which are built up by 3 increasingly more difficult sections. Each section represents a generous checkpoint system too so if you do get over run, you won’t have to start the mission from scratch. While the game does boast 8 missions, not all of them represent a new location to defend. A number of them are repeated but with a lighting change (from day to night) and with added level of difficulty (a layer of fog which obscures your view until boats get closer, for example). There’s also an Endless mode which does exactly what the name suggests, complete with online leader boards.
The gun play in Heavy Fire: Red Shadow is shallow but fun. It’s as simple as pointing in a direction and pulling the trigger until whatever you’re shooting at explodes or falls. The game starts easy enough, with boats transporting troops towards your beachhead that can be sunk before they land, but before long, Jeeps, troop transports and more are spawning from your left, right and occasionally behind you. Ignoring the dull narrative surrounding it, this game is a pretty solid arcade shooter that tests your accuracy and crowd control, forcing you to choose what to assess where to shoot and when to ensure you don’t get blown up.
To assist you in defeating the NK troops, Red Shadow has some tricks up its sleeve. Firstly, surrounding your crosshairs is a circular indicator which highlights danger in the 360˚ arena. The sections on this dial, like the hands of a clock, glow green when there’s an enemy in that direction, orange when you’re going to receive damage from that direction soon (say a rifleman is taking aim on you) and red when you’re taking damage from that area. This colour scheme also corresponds to icons which float above the heads of enemies which indicate what kind of foe they are. A rifle, for example, indicates that they’ll stay back and shoot at you but a small bomb icon means they’re a kamikaze troop which will rush at you and do a pretty hefty amount of damage if they manage to scramble to your location and blow up. This system certainly helps you manage threats but in the later levels, unless your quick and can dispatch certain troop transports before everyone unloads, the dial will be a near constant red reminder of your mistakes.
On top of this is a support and progression system. The more troops and vehicles you shoot during each wave, the more XP you are granted. You can earn more XP per wave by doing things stylishly like chaining together headshots (easier said than done when manning a recoil hungry machine gun). This XP eventually builds into levelling up which awards an unlock point which can be spent on things like reduced recoil, better supply drops, gradually refilling health, better infantry support and more. These unlocks carry forward, even after you’ve been defeated, which makes the game accessible to even lower skill players who might need to repeat a section a few times to get a helping hand.
In terms of support, there’s also a pretty interesting system in place here. A bar across the top of the screen fills gradually as you rack up kills. This bar offers the ability to call in supply drops packed with health or rocket ammo, to call in infantry which defend you from stray troops and, eventually, an attack chopper. There’s a risk vs. reward element here because once you’ve called in a type of support, the bar resets to zero and needs to be filled again. Do you hold off calling in infantry to cover your rear in hopes of earning enough to call in a chopper later or do you gamble and call in support early and make later waves more difficult? It’s an interesting twist that’s not explained anywhere near enough in the game or during the tutorial, unfortunately.
Visually, Heavy Fire: Red Shadow is unremarkable among today’s modern day visuals. That’s not to say it’s ugly – it’s not, it’s just a bit grey and washed out but it does what it does well with some pretty neat wave effects on the bodies of water and some nice explosions to go with them. The visuals are matched by a metal guitar laden soundtrack that’s just a little too bland and on the nose for my tastes. Of course, you’re likely not looking to Red Shadow to be an audio and visual masterpiece. You’re here for the shooting and that’s what it does best.
Heavy Fire: Red Shadow leaves the series’ original on-rails shooting genre behind it in favour of a more arcadey, static shooting experience reminiscent of coin-op classic Turret Tower or the more recent EVE: Gunjack and surprisingly, it works for them. There’s obviously been some real thought put in by developers Teyon on how to make this work for the series and this shows in how accessible this game is. It’s a shallow experience though, never really building to a crescendo and there needed to be a little more variety in defensive locations to really keep the experience going for the duration. It does become incredibly stale well before the credits roll but Heavy Fire: Red Shadow is “take your brain out and just shoot” dumb fun. For those moments after a bad day at work, when you just want to pop some melons, sink some ships and blow up a Jeep or 2, Heavy Fire: Red Shadow offers that catharsis but very little else.
Heavy Fire: Red Shadow is available now in North America on PS4 (reviewed on a base PS4), PSVR, Xbox One and PC.
Disclaimer: In order to complete this review, we received a review copy of the game from the publishers. Please see our review policy for more information.