Remember last September when the Heavy Bullets pre-alpha was free? It’s been under heavy development ever since, not only landing a publishing deal with the ever-awesome Devolver Digital but also showing up on Steam Early Access. Unlike many Early Access games, though, Heavy Bullets is just about done. There’s a bit of bug-testing, a final round of polish, and maybe a little more content to finish up before release, with player feedback being taken into heavy consideration. It’s a bit early to review, but all the major pieces are in place to allow this stylish roguelike FPS to show what it can do.
(Mostly what it can do is make this preview take forever to write. It keeps calling me back on the pretense of checking on a detail or two, and that’s another 30 minutes gone simply trying to get a little bit farther than the last time.)
The story is as basic as it gets- there’s a mainframe that needs to be reset on level 8 with a $5000 reward for your trouble. Shoot everything in the colorful randomized levels between you and it. Try not to die, fail at not dying a near-infinite amount of times, get a little farther on each attempt. It’s not an uncommon formula, but Heavy Bullets puts its own unique spin on it.
Unlike most FPSes, you’ve only got one kind of gun. It’s a six-shooter that fires reusable bullets, and once shot the bullets stay where they land until collected. Firing off all of them at once is a great way to get dead quick so careful shot placement is critical. The initial six bullets you start with are nice for the first level or two, but by the time you’ve made some distance it’s a good idea to buy a few extra from the vending machines that are scattered throughout the compound.
(And there’s another 40 minute round played. Almost beat the level 4 boss for the first time. He will fall soon, oh yes!)
Every dead enemy drops a few coins, and managing your money is a major aspect of survival. Staying healthy isn’t cheap, after all, and the potions and other accessories necessary to stay alive aren’t so common that you can survive on pure scavenging. The vending machines come in a variety of styles and sell everything from new abilities, like the ability to reload more than a single bullet at a time, to items with effects both obvious and subtle. Red Potion heals a single heart and antidote cures poison, but it’s going to take a bit of experimenting to figure out what the (very handy) Tool Box does. Alternately you could bank the money to use on the next life, because while death is perma-, a bank account is forever. A big part of Heavy Bullets is the fun of figuring out things as you go, both in terms of what items do and figuring out a pattern of purchases that suits you best, but even once you’ve got a comfortable rhythm the randomized nature of the game still keeps you on your toes.
(The room of scythe-spiders who block shots by crossing their legs in front of their shootable faces was not kind to me this game. Jerks…)
The big draw of roguelikes is never knowing what’s next. They sacrifice level design to focus on action, with each encounter being about reaction rather than memorization. A purple worm could be hiding in any cluster of purple weeds, or a gun turret around any corner. You never know when an explosive kamikaze cluster-bug will scuttle towards you at full speed, or even whether the next room will be a long set of corridors or a giant area with a tree in the middle and long grass cutting down on visibility. There’s a structure and pattern to the action, of course, but each encounter is a new enemy configuration in a new level. A bright purple level in a flat-shaded low-poly world suffused with a lovely neon glow, true, but it’s a style that looks great in motion.
Heavy Bullets was already a load of fun in its pre-alpha stage last fall and since then it’s only gotten bigger and expanded with more options. It’s now an 8-level run with two boss encounters, plenty of tools and goodies to spend your hard-earned loot on, and a large number of monsters and machines to whittle away any hope of survival. Heavy Bullets is a polished and stylish break-time shooter, and its Early Access status shouldn’t be any reason to pass up making run through its hyper-colorful corridors.
(And now, if you’ll excuse me, it’s time to see if I can finally turn the level 4 boss into a broken mess of limbs and electronics.)