Although I’ve rarely had an interest in scouring garage sales or thrift stores for second-hand gaming bargains, budget-priced games resting upon retail shelves are as seductive as the siren’s call. Driven by a feverish compulsion and negligent naiveté, I’ve waded through a procession of graphically-inept, shoddily coded-diversions. From Ruff Trigger: The Vanocore Conspiracy to the Big Mutha Trucker series, I’ve persistently endured- hoping to witness the arrival of the next troupe of triple-A developers.
While the Holy Grail of sub-twenty dollar gaming has yet to be discovered (admittedly, SEGA’s NFL 2K5 came very close), a number of serviceable diversions have been unearthed. Recent PlayStation 3 release Heavy Fire: Afghanistan certainly falls into the competent camp, delivering another competent entry in the console’s burgeoning light-gun library. Save for a few potentially patchable flaws, the title warrants scrutiny by fans of the genre, especially if they can score it for less than MSRP.
Drawing inspiration from Virtua Cop and Time Crisis, Heavy Fire: Afghanistan presents players with a first-person perspective on the action. Recalling the mechanics of the Crisis’ series, players are tasked with dispatching groups of foes, periodically taking cover to avoid enemy fire. Like both SEGA’s and Namco’s shooters, an unmistakable visual indicator warns of tangos about to return fire, playing a crimson exclamation point above their heads. While the title’s introductory levels give gamers plenty of time to react, later stages and higher difficulty levels reduce this time significantly.
Unfortunately, the game’s tempo and aesthetics intermittently prohibit the game from delivering any kind of militaristic authenticity. While the on-screen crosshair swiftly mirror every shift of the Move peripheral (Dualshock control is also presented, but you really don’t want to play a light gun game with an analog stick), movement of both adversaries and the player makes the setting feel like Atlantis, not Afghanistan. Worse, foes appear via a limited number of pre-canned animations, recalling Atari Game’s antiquated classic, Area 51. Seeing foes repeatedly pop out of cover, roll, and occasionally use a close-quarter stab makes Heavy Fire feel less like an actual conflict and more like a carnival shooting gallery. Enemy fire seems inexplicably unrealistic, with muted sound effects and an unnatural muzzle flash.
For players lacking a navigational controller, Heavy Fire’s cover system can be problematic. Pressing the primary button while moving the peripheral in a direction to choose a protecting location can be unwieldy- but when combined with a need to press of the “O” button to reload, players will wish they had an extra thumb. Thankfully, the subcontroller removes all of these complaints, so make sure you have the device if you’re plan on joining Heavy Fire’s enlisted ranks. Although the game accommodate up to four players, participants will want to avoid activating any supplementary Sixaxis’ or DualShocks before booting the title; getting the game to recognize the desired controllers can be a bit of a pain.
Thankfully, Heavy Fire’s blemishes begin to fade as the intensity heats up. Small details such as players being vulnerable (and being able to target certain opponents) while in cover, eradicate the binary simplicity of a game like Time Crisis. While the .50 cal’s explosion animation resembles a Safe and Sane firework, sporadically manning the Humvee’s top mounted gun, tanker gunnery position, or hot seat on a chopper offers a nice reprieve from clearing the streets of Kandahar or mountainous regions of the east. Visually, the title’s friendlies and enemies may move leisurely, but environments and hardware are drawn in functional detail. Rendered with a sun-bleached filter, the game belies its budget price, especially during the well-choreographed transitions between emplacements. Sonically, the game’s voice actors fail to capture the assurance and precision of exchanges between actual Marines.
While Heavy Fire: Afghanistan can’t compare to top-tier light gun games like Time Crisis 4 or The House of the Dead: Overkill – Extended Cut, once players prevail over the first few lackluster stages, the title exhibits a shooting experience. Factor in a twenty-dollar price tag and the title has the potential to dispense a fire-and-forget, ballistic-fortified weekend.