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Heavy Gunner Review: Testing your thumbs’ dexterity

Heavy Gunner 3D marks Com2Us‘ first foray into the science-fiction genre. Previously known for their successful RPG The Chronicles of Inotia: A Wanderer of Luone, this new title is something of a stylistic departure for Com2Us. The game favors an aesthetic of gritty realism over the cartoon fantasy and sometimes cutesy presentation of previous titles, with gameplay bent towards arcade action.

As the game begins, you find yourself in the gunner’s seat of the new UESF defense weapon, the Integrated Combat Platform (ICP), developed in a last ditch effort to protect the human race from extinction against the Tarmat invasion, the Tarmats being an alien race bent on the utter annihilation of our species. The ICP is a dual cannon, fixed position artillery unit capable of firing in a full 360 degree arc, and used to fend off incoming attack. The two cannons are operated independently by a single gunner — which makes little sense in reality, but makes for a unique video gaming experience. As the campaign progresses, the battle will move from defensive battles on earth, to offensive attacks on the Tarmat forces with the ICP mounted on starship hulls.

On-screen, the two cannons are controlled via virtual joysticks in the lower corners of the screen, operated using your thumbs. The cannons can be manipulated individually to blast incoming forces anywhere on the screen. Enemies will attack in waves from all directions, necessitating that you pivot your turret to defend your sides and rear. Heavy Gunner offers two control options for turning, tilt and touch. I personally found the tilt controls to be extremely frustrating, but began to enjoy the game much more when I switched to touch control, which allowed me to touch and swipe from the center of the screen to pivot the ICP. A radar display allows you to track incoming forces, and missions have different objectives such as surviving for a set amount of time, eliminating a set number of targets, or destroying a specific target.

Likes:

Concept: Heavy Gunner is a hardcore arcade shooter with a unique twist. Defending your position on all sides using two independent cannons, as a concept, really sets this game apart from other arcade shooters. As shooters go, Heavy Gunner is a world apart from Time Crisis or Duck Hunt.

Visual Presentation: Com2Us has in the past gone with fairly cartoon-like, 2D graphics, but not here. Heavy Gunner foregoes sprites for full 3D, and a “hard sci-fi” look akin to the Terminator or the 2003 Battlestar Galactica television series. Heavy Gunner looks pretty badass.

Nonstop Action: Constantly under fire from Tarmat forces, Heavy Gunner doesn’t give you much downtime to ponder things. The action is fast and furious, and you won’t last long on your laurels. Even the short breaks necessary to reload your cannons between salvos seem an eternity with enemy forces bearing down on you. Keep pace or die.

Customization Options: Mission success nets you currency to spend on new weapons and weapon upgrades. In combat you can arm both a primary and secondary weapon and switch between them on the fly, and weapons are different enough to be interesting and employed with purpose. For example, the Crusader Light Machine Guns can be aimed independently to fire on separate targets; the Avenger Heavy Machine Guns deal significantly heavier damage, but can only fire dead-center, meaning that you much pivot the entire ICP to aim and can target only one Tarmat at a time. The Crusaders are great for wiping out large invading forces, while the Avengers are ideal for dealing with large, singular targets. There are also energy and missile weapons, each with their own strengths and weaknesses. Your weapon selection can really impact how you play the game.

In addition to offensive customization, you can also spend credits to improve your ICP’s defensive capabilities, shield regeneration and even purchase an EMP “weapon” to use when feeling overwhelmed.

Stage Rank, Achievements and Difficulty Settings: In-game achievements give you goals to strive for beyond mission completion, of which I am always a fan. Stage Ranks are also used to rate performance for each mission, with greater rewards being given for a job well done. Achieving the S-rank and unlocking all achievements gives Heavy Gunner a lot of replay value. There are also three difficulty levels to choose from: Normal, Hard and Extreme. Fans will have plenty to keep them busy shooting for 100% completion.

Dislikes:

Controls: The first few times I played Heavy Gunner, I hated it and the controls were entirely to blame. By default, cannon pivot is set to tilt control and the pressure of aiming at separate targets with two thumbs while keeping your device in a flat position and using the accelerometer to adjust your view … well, it sucked. It wasn’t until I delved into the options menu and discovered touch-turning that I began to enjoy the game.

Even still, the thumb-sticks for the cannons don’t feel as smooth as they should. It’s not the deal-breaker that the tilt-turning was for me, but still a gripe. It makes targetting feel imprecise, and your cannons jerky.

Audio: Heavy Gunner’s audio is a mixed bag. The heavy metal riffs definitely suit the game, and I have no gripes with the audio content, but with the audio quality. It just sounds too compressed, like listening to mid-quality MP3 files instead of the original CD. The sound effects seem a little canned, and not quite as immersive as they should. Playing with headphones definitely improves things, but the audio isn’t quite at the level I’d like it to be.

I admit, I was not impressed with Heavy Gunner at the start. My first few attempts at the game left me with a poor aftertaste, and the only motivation I had to come back to the game was the fact that I had been assigned a review to write. But ultimately, perseverance has shown me the error of my first impressions. My first step towards enjoyment was ditching tilt-turning for touch control; I cannot emphasize enough what a difference this made in my enjoyment of the game. Then I delved into ICP customization and realized how unique each of the available weapons was, and the effect they had on the overall experience. My time with the game, and the discoveries I made only after penetrating the surface have led me to a very positive conclusion on Heavy Gunner.

On the surface, Heavy Gunner appears to be a shallow shooter, with the dual-thumb cannons only a gimmick. Taking the plunge beyond that surface, however, reveals the game to be quite deep, full of choices and with great replay value. How you choose to upgrade and deploy your armaments can vastly impact how you play, while the achievements, stage rankings and difficulty settings will keep you returning to previously completed missions, striving for perfection. In addition, the game has great visual and audio style, and the English translation is Com2Us’ best to-date. Heavy Gunner is one of the best arcade shooters in the app store, and a game I definitely intend to spend more time with.

Heavy Gunner 3D is developed by Com2Us and sells for $2.99; a free version is also available. Reviewed on an iPhone 3G.



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