Heavy Weapon: Atomic Tank Xbox Live Review

After going through a rather disappointing period of offering a never-ending collection of substandard retro titles each and every week, the Xbox Live Arcade really seems to be heating up right now. A few weeks ago the fantastic Assault Heroes was brought to our attention and now the equally great shoot ’em up Heavy Weapon has reared its head. Anyone that is at all interested in nostalgic 2D shooting should care about the release of Heavy Weapon… the only question is how much?

Right from the start, after a quick look at the menu it is noticeable that Heavy Weapon is one of the more feature-packed XBLA titles available with loads of modes available. First is the Deploy option, which after clicking brings up the three main game modes – Mission, Survival, and Boss Blitz. Mission is the game’s campaign mode in which you work through a long list of missions that get longer and harder as you advance. This mode is also available to play through in co-op, which – as always – is a welcome addition to any game! Survival is another fantastic addition that is all about lasting as long as you can while playing through one level. As you play though the level your tank upgrades as you go but as you advance – particularly past the 10 minute mark – many more enemies are on the screen at one time making it hard to stay alive. Then there is Boss Blitz – this mode only opens up after you fully complete mission mode but gives you an opportunity to play through all the bosses you meet in the story mode one after another. The bosses in the game all offer the retro approach of learning the bosses’ pattern then knocking down its health bar while dodging its attacks, as a result most bosses result in pure nostalgic gaming bliss! Multiplayer is also a huge plus for the game (over Live and local); in particular 4 player survival which can be only be described as chaos – albeit highly entertaining chaos. Two different modes are available in multiplayer – War Party and Arms Race. The War Party option offers the most entertainment as even if three players die at once they will all respawn once one player is left alive.

Gameplay is basically the same for all the modes, with movement and shooting mapped to the left and right analogue sticks respectively resulting in a fantastic dual stick system which is perfect for the game. It is then up to the player to move from left to right as the environment scrolls by, avoiding enemy bullets and other projectiles while shooting back at them. Enemies come in lots of different forms with planes, tanks, helicopters, rockets and more appearing as you advance; all of which appear at different heights in the sky… with the tanks of course being on the ground. Each enemy also fires a different kind of projectile which all move at different speeds. This leads to some exciting twitch gameplay which in my opinion is perfect for 2D shooters. As you’d expect the game does have its share of superweapons in the form of Nukes and a nifty item called the Megalaser. Nukes are dropped randomly by a helicopter – which also drops other items for your tank such as speed, ammo and shield upgrades and when used they wipe out all enemies on screen. The more powerful Megalasers do things a bit differently and have to be assembled in four parts. The Megalaser cannot be stored liked the Nukes and is automatically fired once the forth piece is collected. The laser can also be directed using the right stick and take out whatever it touches in one hit. It all sounds really simple and for the first few levels it is, but once you get past the first 3, the difficulty and the amount of enemies on screen ramp up, as does the entertainment factor resulting in a highly entertaining game.

What really makes the game feel special – and as a result highly addictive – is the levelling up (and down) of weapons to help you out and give a small advantage on certain stages and against certain enemy units. Once you beat the first level the game gives you the option to raise the effectiveness of one of your abilities – for example you can add a shield to your unit or maybe equip homing missiles. Then you enter the next level with your extra ability equipped. Then once you complete the next you get another point which you can either use to upgrade your current ability or add a completely new one – you can also subtract points and add them to another ability if you think it may help in a certain level. This continues as you advance through the game’s 19 missions until you have a super-powerful but highly personalized little green tank when you are approaching the end of the game – you’ll need it though as the last few missions are chock-a-block with units trying to take you down.

Heavy Weapon looks great visually and the quality and intricacy of the cartoon environment and its inhabitants shine through when viewed in HD. Each level in the game has its own theme with some having a grittier feeling than the others. One particularly nice touch is the little signs on the road as you move through the level reading “Enemy HQ, 1 Mile Ahead.” Audio is not great but it still sounds very good for a game that is limited to a 50MB download. All explosions – particularly when you drop a nuke – have good bass to them and each enemy seems to have some distinct sound to signal you as to what’s coming. Music is not as spectacular… the game has one main theme that plays through all the level and although it is a nice high-tempo song it can get a bit annoying after a while – particularly if you have to replay one of the later rock hard missions. All things considered though PopCap have done a very good job to get something of this much quality into such a small file size.

In all honesty if Heavy Weapon was ever released on the GBA, DS or PSP it would be a title I would happily pay the full retail price for… it is pure old-school gaming at its best. So, the fact that it is available on XBLA for only 800MP (£6.80/ €9.60) makes the game great value for money. While it does not offer the same difficulty level of the great Geometry Wars it is still a great game and is still very challenging to fully complete in its own right. Most importantly it unquestionably has that ‘one more go’ appeal that all great XBLA games strive to have. When all’s said a done Heavy Weapon is without doubt one of the brightest lights in the resurgence of 2D gaming.

Without doubt one of the best games available on any next-gen download service.

8.3 out of 10

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