By: Matthew Striplen
Ah, rail shooters. They will always hold a special place in my heart, mostly because I love Star Fox 64 more than is probably healthy. Unfortunately, the Heavy Fire series has once again failed to impress with their latest FPS railer, Shattered Spear. What is essentially a re-packaging of its previous installments, Shattered Spear disappoints on many levels.
The most broken aspect of this game are the controls. Anyone who has played a post-Halo FPS is probably familiar with its revolutionary control scheme: left stick controls movement, right stick aims weapons. Shattered Spear decides to buck that tradition in favor of aiming with the left and moving with the right, with no option to change the configuration. I appreciate Teyon, the developer, attempting something different, but this just felt awkward, no matter how much I played — maybe the people at Teyon are all southpaws?
Controlling the reticules with any accuracy proves to be an even greater challenge. When moving the crosshairs, the rate of movement starts slow but quickly accelerates to a speed that is difficult to manage. This flaw singlehandedly undermines the entire game, as it prevents the player from easily doing its most important action: hitting the target.
In regards to movement, only a few options are available. Players will have the opportunity to take cover behind various objects throughout the game, which is indicated by up to three large arrows onscreen. Pressing the corresponding direction on the right stick enables the player to hide. Sometimes an arrow will instead point the player to another set of enemies instead of a safe place. Unless the player has prior knowledge of the level, this typically results in a swift death. This can be especially awkward when facing enemies from multiple angles, which forces you to hold down the direction to continue looking the right way.
After playing a handful of levels, I decided to do some research into what games looked like at the beginning of the PS3’s life cycle. Shattered Spear looks similar to, or worse than, many of the games from 2006-07. Grainy textures and environments are common, along with some glitchy looking shadow effects. The opening cut scene looks especially messy. Character models appear polygonal and their movements stilted. The graphics improve in certain levels, which makes me think parts of the game are just unfinished.
Shattered Spear‘s soundtrack is a bit forgettable. It sports the epic, though generic, orchestral background found in so many modern war simulators. The voice acting is equally unimpressive, bordering on bad. Unfortunately, there’s also a glitch that randomly cuts all audio until the player reboots. Another audio glitch may occur, which keeps the effects intact, but eliminates the music. This can be fixed by restarting the level, but not the checkpoint.
Put simply, if you’ve played any previous Heavy Fire games, you should have a pretty good idea of what to expect in Shattered Spear. This entry has the player taking on the role of an American soldier in Afghanistan. Hundreds of faceless terrorists, or “Tangos,” as the game likes to call them, pop out of the ground and shoot at you until they’re shot. Honestly, that’s about it. There are a few vehicles and weapons to use, but not enough to prevent the game from getting repetitive fast.
When not in a vehicle, the player has the option to throw a limited number of grenades. This function is incredibly unintuitive for a number of reasons. There is a slight delay between when the trigger is pressed and when the grenade is actually thrown, which accounts for preparing the weapon. The throwing animation is so stilted and short that discerning when the grenade actually leaves the player’s hand can be difficult. This combined with the already subpar aiming mechanism does not make for good gameplay.
Shattered Spear‘s difficulty level is remarkably inconsistent. A few levels were a total walk in the park, while others were teeth clenchingly hard. If, by chance, you make it through the main campaign, which can take as little as 2-3 hours, “Veteran” mode becomes unlocked, which is just a slightly harder version of the exact same game.
In fact, the only difference I could find between the two modes is that the player takes damage faster. There are the same number of enemies in the exact same configuration, in the same environment. Additionally, playing a perfect level is impossible. Numerous instances arise where taking damage is unavoidable. I’m in major support of any modern game that dares to pose a challenge, but Shattered Spear just ends up feeling unfair rather than hard. In turn, this makes the reward of victory much less enjoyable.
As progress is made, Armory points are earned, which are used to unlock any number of upgrades, including four guns, four clip increases, extra health and faster reload. These are a nice thought, but it is far too simplistic to be of much interest. The different guns are fairly useless, as each enemy only needs one bullet to be put down. In fact, unlocking a weapon with a slower rate of fire, such as the shotgun, actually makes the game more difficult.
Ranks are also awarded for completing levels. Although this feature is presented like something special, it is nothing more than a progress meter. The ranks offer no special perks or bonuses. Even the online leaderboard doesn’t bother to post rank next to the gamers’ names. The leaderboard also serves no purpose, as Shattered Spear has no multiplayer, let alone online.
Last, be prepared for some hefty loading times. Luckily, levels only need to load once, but it usually takes the better part of a minute.
Ultimately, Heavy Fire: Shattered Spear will not be remembered well, if at all. With its boring plot, generic and repetitive gameplay, broken controls and poor sound and graphics, redeeming qualities are hard to find. Had the controls been usable, I would have awarded a significantly higher score, but a good action game without tight controls cannot exist.