Preview: Heavy Bullets

Heavy Bullets, developed by Terri Vellmann (with music by Doseone) and published by Devolver Digital, is a FPS dungeon crawler where you must reset the security mainframe and reap the rewards. With only a revolver and six bullets to begin with, you must carefully make you way through each maze-like area, eliminating enemies as you go. Heavy Bullets is unpredictable in the best possible way thanks to it's procedurally generated levels. Because of this unpredictability, Heavy Bullets remains fresh throughout numerous playthroughs, which results in a fun experience that could have a better home on other platforms. Heavy Bullets has eight levels, all randomly generated, that challenge you to reset the mainframe at the end of the final level. It is by far one of the most unpredictable games I have ever played. How successful you are is often dependant on luck. One level you might get the best stuff, finishing with full health and ammunition, the next might find you with low health, low ammo, and no hope. This unpredictabililty is what encouraged me to try again, and again, and again. You never know what your next attempt might bring. There's always the chance that, if I play again, I could get the best stuff, and get to a higher level.

Did I mention you start with six bullets? Each bullet, when fired, must be picked up and reloaded manually, one by one. You also start with three bombs. Your abilities in-game can also be upgrade for a price. These abilities vary, from faster reloading to more health and item capacity. The gameplay principle is simple, and easy to get the hang of, but difficult to master at the same time. Accuracy is crucial, as missing a shot puts you at great risk of being attacked by quickly approaching enemies. Enemies need only to be shot once to die, but they are fast and agile, and missing a shot will set you back one bullet until you have the chance to retrieve it.

Speaking of which, Heavy Bullets is also challenging. While I always wanted to beat the game, I found myself thinking more realistically, instead of trying to beat my highest score. Logically, new and more challenging enemy variants are introduced as you reach higher levels, making your life more difficult. Some of these enemies can only be defeated by certain weapons or items. Not only that, but there are boss battles at the end of levels four and eight. You can't simply sprint through the levels either. Most enemies are as fast, if not faster than you are, and you cannot finish the level if there are enemies near the exit. Keeping this in mind, I found myself spending a lot of time on each level. Charging in guns blazing is the fastest way to get yourself killed, so I spent most of my time slowly creeping around corners, surveying the area and taking enemies out one by one. Stealth is non-existent however, as the enemies will see you as soon as you see them in most cases. .

To aid in your attempts to beat each level, you can find or buy items in many of the game's vendors (as well as finding hidden items and using collectable key cards to reach locked doors). These vendors include a vendor for health, ammunition, and a bank. You can obtain many items, from health potions to rockets, from high heels speed pills. You can only carry one of these items at a time, unless you have a backpack (which allows you to carry 2 items), forcing you to choose what items to bring and what to leave behind (or sell).

This brings a layer of strategy to Heavy Bullets. Deciding what you bring and what you don't is crucial to your survival. Whenever I completed a level I found myself backtracking to find whatever items I could, and then recuperating. Then I would have to choose what items I wanted to bring to the next level. I could bring an antidote in case I get poisoned by a ringworm, or a bomb in case I encounter an enemy unaffected by standard bullets. Indeed, this is often a gamble, as you never know what will happen once you start the next level. What you do with your money (which can be retrieved from fallen enemies or by selling items in the bank) must also be taken seriously. You can either spend it all on upgrades and items, or conserve it for health/ammunition further down the line, or even deposit it in the bank. One of the items you can buy in the bank is a will, which carries over any items/cash you have when you die onto your next playthrough. Again, I found myself having to choose whether or not to buy and bring it with me. If I were to come to an early demise, at least I would have a good start the next time I played, but at the same time, bringing a different item could save me from death, and bring myself closer to the illusive eight level. Call it strategy or gambling, but Heavy Bullets is more than a mindless shooter.

Heavy Bullets is a difficult game, as I said earlier, but is also a fast paced game in some ways, so you'll usually find your sessions cut short. Getting to the final level will take numerous playthroughs, and Heavy Bullets feels somewhat like a pick-up-and-play type game. For this reason, I would love to see it on handheld devices such as iPhone, Android and PS Vita. I would love to just pick up my phone while on a train journey, play a level or two and be able to come back and resume later. For this reason I feel Heavy Bullets doesn't fit into the PC demographic as well as others. This would also introduce a social feature to Heavy Bullets, as friends try to beat each others scores, similar to Flappy Birds. Heavy Bullets depends almost entirely on its replayability factor. If you've enjoyed games like The Impossible Game or Dark Souls, where you must replay levels over and over again, you'll feel right at home with Heavy Bullets.

Visually, Heavy Bullets is a treat, kind of like those Crunchie ice creams that pop in your mouth. Different, but good all the same. It feels very retro, like something you'll find in an arcade, and it's neon colours only cement this. These bright neon colours are found throughout, complimented by polygonical structures.The idea is that your supposed to be shutting down a security mainframe, and the maze-like maps give the feeling that you're stuck in a computer, infiltrating its defences. I welcome any game that houses an original art style, so I was fascinated by the art direction of Heavy Bullets. In fact, it was this art style that drew me to Heavy Bullets in the first place. Backing up the visuals is a similarly retro soundtrack. It sounds perfectly suitable for an 16-bit game! 80's gamers will find much to love in the visuals department, as a great change from today's photo-realistic AAA titles!

As a whole, I am thoroughly excited to see Heavy Bullets, currently on sale in Steam Early Access, make a final release. Its easy to learn but difficult to master gameplay and replayability factor may just cause an addiction, which will hopefully spill over onto a handheld release somewhere down the line. With more content sure to come from Terri Vellmann and Doseone, I would definitely keep Heavy Bullets on my radar, especially for lovers of the FPS genre, dungeon crawlers, or just those who want a decent challenge.