Monday, August 20, 2012

SC On: Heavy Fire: Afghanistan (Wii)


About 12 hours: the length of time this game was in my possession, from when it came in the mail via GameFly to when I drove to the nearest post office and dumped it in a mail box.

1 hour 45 minutes: the approximate length of time it took me to beat this game, if you include waiting for story dialogue, navigating menus, and in-game cutscenes.

If there was ever any doubt that Call of Duty and similar games are watering down military shooters, and shooters in general, look no further than Heavy Fire: Afghanistan.  I don't really know where to begin or end with this game as it left very little of an impression in the time I had it.  It's one of those games that just sort of happens and you forget about it after a while.  Hell, I only returned the game a few days ago and I have to go back to the stream recording I made of it just to remember certain basic things.

Like, for example, there's a story to the game.  Hell if I could tell you the details of it because it's one of those generic "Ra-ra-U-S-A-get-them-terrorists-I'm-a-good-soldier-fighting-for-my-country" deals (I think,as most of the "story" is just briefings for missions) and it seems to shift from one soldier to another.  I say "seems" because I got lost as to who I was playing as somewhere between the armored jeep, the helicopter, and the ground unit.


Getting to the actual game, it's a rail shooter.  Yup, a rail shooter.  You go on a set path through a shooting gallery of terrorists of many kinds, including the stereotypical Middle Eastern guy, the dude wearing a balaclava who doesn't look like he fits in the environment at all, and... actually, that's about it.  I'm sure there's at least one more, but most of the enemies are so far away from the player that the only way I saw them was by waiting until they shot at me so I could pick out their gun flashes.  This was a constant problem, regardless of terrain or time of day, which is amazing since most of the time you're standing perfectly still.  In theory it should be easy to see them when they move, but not so.

Then again, sometimes enemies (and by "enemies" I mean the balaclava guy) will try to walk up to you and knife you with one of the most awkward and slow attack animations I've seen beyond the early Playstation days.  Said enemy even disappears from the screen entirely for a split second after getting shot.  Surely great care was put into the creation of this title.

Not only that, but framerate drops and enemies and environments popping in are commonplace for this game.  Remember how I keep saying I don't care about a game's graphics so long as it doesn't affect the gameplay?  This game is a prime example of that distinction.

 No, dammit!  I said GRAPHICS, not CONTROLS!

A cheap-looking Metal Gear Solid-esque red exclamation point appears over enemies that are about to shoot and hit you, and I never did figure out how long I had to kill them before taking a hit and causing... someone... to yell... something... as I lost a point of health and a .png file of a bullet hole in glass appeared on screen.  Sometimes it was almost a full second.  Sometimes I almost instantly took damage.  Sketchy hit detection doesn't help here, either, nor does the helicopter stage where your pathing makes it nearly impossible to hit some enemies you need to kill to advance, causing the helicopter to drunkenly sway back and forth over the terrain and thus making it even harder to kill them.

It hardly mattered though, as there were health and ammo pickups everywhere.  I only died two or three times due to my deliberately wasting ammo and avoiding pick-ups and/or not knowing where an enemy was until it shot me.  The first wasn't even much of a problem, as when the default machine gun runs out of rounds, you switch to a pistol with infinite bullets.  Sure you can't mindlessly spray bullets anymore, but it doesn't make the game that much more difficult.

Oh, aside from the rocket launcher in the last level, some grenades, and the rare machine gun turret, these are the only weapons in the game.

The DLC melee weapon!

And to top it off, I played through most of the game with the Wii Zapper controls.  The catch to this is that I don't own a Wii Zapper.  I was using the remote and nunchuk with the control scheme for a different peripheral because its control scheme suited the remote and nuchuk better than the remote and nunchuk controls.  Why would you have grenades assigned to the awkward-to-hit 1 button instead of, say, A, Z, C, or the + or - button?  Why are there two buttons assigned to reloading?  Why is every quick-time event (yes, they're here too) done by lowering the Wiimote when it involves everything from vaulting cover to sliding under things to fighting off a terrorist to jumping?  It's as if they decided to design the game around the peripheral most Wii owners don't have and doesn't come with the game (like certain hunting titles) instead of the basic controller that nearly everyone has. 

As for the game's interface, it consists of a couple graphics in the lower left showing your weapon, score, health, and ammo, all of which look like they were photoshopped in at the last second.  The score obviously goes up for shooting terrorists, but also for shooting random shit in the background.  Not only that, shooting these random objects, most of which don't distinguish themselves in any way from the rest of the level, sometimes yield certain on-disc "achievements" of sorts.  These are kind of like the dog tags from Metal Gear Solid: Twin Snakes in that they have no function and don't unlock anything, but without the novelty, challenge, or fun of collecting them.

There are also bonuses for doing things like not getting shot in certain areas and getting long-range kills.  Wait, why does the game reward long-range kills when the enemies never move aside from sometimes going behind cover and you have to kill them anyway to advance?

For each stop on the path of this Middle East shooting gallery there's a Time Crisis-like cover system at work.  The player can continually go into cover to reload (manually), though there are often enemies in areas that can still hit you while in cover.  Having multiple cover areas to hide behind only made the problem worse as the enemies on the opposite side of the screen took their turn to peg me with rifle fire.  This feels like something that was created with good intentions, but which backfired in execution.

Speaking of execution, hit detection at times is either way off or non-existent.  I've had both shots five feet to the side of a terrorist score a kill and a tank that did no damage after scoring a direct hit on a truck.

My thoughts exactly.

I should mention that this game actually has a few decent things going for it.  There's an option for co-op or head-to-head multiplayer (local only) and an online leaderboard for high scores.  There's an upgrade system between levels which allows you to choose between things like hold more grenades, get boosts to total health, and speed up reload time-

Actually, by "speed up reload time" I mean "drop frames of animation."

And there are a lot of levels.  I thought at points that the levels were really long but in truth none of them lasted more than ten minutes, except one where I spent three minutes trying to hit a guy in the previously-mentioned helicopter stage.  As a result the game can be finished in less than two hours, but there are two catches.  One, the game essentially tells you to replay all the levels again in a new-game-plus type mode where there are fewer ammo and health pickups.  Uh, no thanks.

Second, this is what the ending looks like:

That's a wrap!  We're done here!

And that's the story of how I learned to stop playing and love games not named Heavy Fire: Afghanistan.