There’s a certain breed of game you can find on your computer, the kind of flash game where if you’re stuck in front of a monitor for a while it makes for a nice time waster. Games like Bloons Tower Defense and Agar.io, simple, free, but admittedly repetitive experiences that you can play without much commitment. Heavy Weapon feels like it was cut from the same cloth as these kinds of games, and I honestly wouldn’t be surprised if someone showed me a free flash game that played exactly like it. Moving to a console removes that aspect of a game like Heavy Weapon, but a port wouldn’t make these games inherently worse, it just removes a niche. Even if we had been looking at a free flash version of Heavy Weapon, it’s not quite up to snuff when it comes to holding the player’s attention.
Heavy Weapon, sometimes lengthened to Heavy Weapon: Atomic Tank, puts you in charge of that Atomic Tank, although that name is a bit more grandiose than the machine you are in control of. Taking the form of a twin-stick shooter, you move the Atomic Tank left and right with one stick and point your cannon with the other, the level advancing on its own as enemies fly in from above or drive along side you to try and take you down. The Atomic Tank starts off with just a single rapidly firing shot, but that won’t last for long as a helicopter will fly by every now and then to drop power-ups. Rather quickly you’ll get a spread shot so accuracy isn’t as important, shields to help keep you take hits, and speed boosts to make dodging easier. The helicopter can also drop nukes which serve as a screen wipe to help keep you from getting overwhelmed, but I found the game usually puts out manageable waves so the nuke ends up more a way to deal with peskier enemies. You are told not to shoot the helicopter when it flies in with supplies, but besides I assume a point penalty, there never seemed to be an issue with it taking damage, although I still wouldn’t go out of my way to shoot at it either. Enemies you kill, besides adding to your greater score, may also drop pieces to the Megalaser. If you manage to get all four pieces, you briefly get a super powerful beam that wipes out anything it hits. It’s definitely overkill since most foes are already easy enough to dispatch, but it’s fun overkill! However, death will strip you of all your laser parts and nukes, with three total deaths meaning you have to restart the level entirely. Between levels, the Atomic Tank can receive a single upgrade, the player able to invest in defensive orbs or different weapon types that fire in conjunction with the basic cannon. So far, almost all the mechanics are about where you’d expect them to be for a mindless bit of shooting fun, but I wouldn’t say the game’s core design is the issue, it just plays poorly with the other aspects of the game.
The skills of your foes are pretty limited, most enemies relying on missiles and bombs that you can shoot out of the air quite easily. A few foes fire small purple shots that can’t be destroyed or have unique weapon types to actually try and hit you, but even then these are pretty easy to dodge or adjust to. The only real big threats are some bombers that drop nukes that will instantly kill you if they touch the ground, necessitating a quick focus to avoid losing one of those precious three lives. The bosses also do a decent job of putting up a fight rather than being cannon fodder, usually having some attacks that require proper dodging to avoid an instant death. The screen never gets too full during any kind of fight though, mainly because your weapons will quickly get strong enough to fill the screen with their own attacks. Dodging most things is pretty simple, the harder part of it being finding the enemy’s attacks amidst your enormous spray of various weapon types. Some enemies like the divebombing jets or the tanks on the ground require you to be a bit more intelligent with your movement, but otherwise it’s just a lot of back and forward movement that doesn’t require too much focus. The shield power-ups and the orb upgrades usually catch anything that slips through anyway. Still, even if you’re mindlessly mowing down the basic enemies, the bosses make a good end to the affair, but there is something that kills the thrill of this otherwise basic yet decently fun gameplay loop: the level design.
Even if you enjoy blasting foes without much resistance, Heavy Weapon reveals most of its enemy types too early and repeats them in hardly changed patterns. Almost every level in the game drags on as the game seems to focus on level length over variety. Strangely, despite giving levels different visual themes like a frozen tundra, a dinosaur infested jungle, and a spooky Transylvania analogue, the enemies are always going to be a bunch of planes and helicopters with the rare ground vehicle, blimp, missile, or satellite tossed in. Even worse, once you’ve reached what seems like the end of the game, the game sends you back to the first level to play everything again but slightly harder. The game isn’t endless though; if you persist through the game a second time with repeated environments and the same bosses that only have small alterations showing up, you unlock the final level and can finish the game… but if you choose to exit the story mode at any time, you will be made to start again from the beginning, meaning you’re in for one long repetitive haul if you want to complete this game. Even the levels themselves like to repeat themselves, as you might come to notice that most stages are divided into phases. A set pattern of enemies will appear for a time, swap out for the next predetermined set, and the game will alternate between the two repeatedly until it decides to introduce a new pattern or you’ve finally slogged your way to the boss. Almost every level goes on way too long already, with brief periods of doing nothing but waiting around as well, so padding the length with repeating the same foe arrangements is what makes an otherwise decent yet simple gameplay style turn into something that feels dull and repetitive.
Strangely, despite its story not having much thought put into it, I actually think its one of the game’s more appealing aspects. Set in 1984 because why not, you are a caricature of American patriotism up against the cartoonish communists Red Star. Every area you go to in your quest to take them down has a small screen describing the country you’re about to visit, with cheeky little jokes that sadly don’t translate to the levels themselves. One cute touch though is that most every levels ends with the tank having to pull into a gas station to fill up, obviously having run out of juice after the needlessly lengthy trek through the country. It’s not really enough to make the mission mode better, but it’s something to keep the game from feeling too basic.
This game also offers a co-op mode for up to four players, although that does nothing to alleviate the troubles with level length and repeating patterns. Even a few friends there to chat with won’t help sustain something that can’t muster up a basic level of engagement. There’s a survival mode on offer as well which basically means you’ve now got an endless level until you die, but just like the main game, the challenge seems to be more about having the attention span and thumb fortitude to stick it out as long as you care to. The one mode I feel makes a more interesting addition is Boss Blitz, where you have one life to go through all the bosses and gradually get doled out the upgrades between each battle. It really helps to show that Heavy Weapon could have been a better game if it was tightly designed instead of stretched out and tedious.
THE VERDICT: When Heavy Weapon’s elements are more controlled and condensed, I feel the gameplay can provide that simple thrill of a shooter where the character is incredibly powerful, but Heavy Weapon is far too long for its own good. Every level wears on and the developers decided to fill space with repetition rather than even the most basic of shifts to what you face. If repetition had only cropped up so blatantly for people aiming for high scores it would be understandable, but instead it is a baked in part of the experience that players of any skill level must inevitably face.
And so, I give Heavy Weapon for Xbox 360…
A BAD rating. Heavy Weapon’s basics aren’t flawed. The shooting is fine if a bit overly effective most of the time and the game puts in a few enemies that require you to shift away from mindless firing, but the simple yet enjoyable gameplay is wasted when there’s too much in the game and yet not enough to do. Even levels that start off challenging and fun become trite once you face that same pattern that used to be unique to that stage for the third or fourth time. Punting you back to the start for a second go through the same environments even weakens the game’s cartoon appeals. Slicing the length of most every stage in half would already be a good step to keeping things fresh, with the game perhaps not even needing to add more enemy types or making a more complex shooting system if it just avoided showing how empty it was through extended periods of duplicated content.
Heavy Weapon’s area design is meant for a game that has great enemy variety, but the enemy variety on offer would better fit a faster paced and shorter game. This clash of elements is what keeps Heavy Weapon from being a good time waster, as it instead literally wastes your time as it somehow can’t think of any way to sustain the simple thrill of shooting downs planes with a nuclear tank.