Platform: PC (Steam Early Access, £5.94)
Developer: Terri Vellmann
Publisher: Devolver Digital
Six bullets. That's all standing between you and a thousand virtual meanies hellbent on deleting you with extreme prejudice.
Don't blink. Don't panic. And most importantly of all, don't miss.
Heavy Bullets is a fun and frantic little thief of time: an attempt to merge the tense exploration, procedurally-generated dungeons, limited resources and permadeath of a Roguelike with tense and twitchy corridor shooting. All wrapped up in an eyepopping stereoscopic art style that tries to capture what it might be like to be trapped inside a malfunctioning glitchy mainframe.
Despite still being in early access, it's really shaping up very nicely indeed. Heavy Bullets is a feast for the senses... and it's out to kill you. For the record, here are a few of my early attempts in humiliating video format:
By now you almost certainly know what to expect from Rogue and its fourteen billion descendants. Heavy Bullets is no exception, creating randomly-generated multi-level labyrinths to explore, packed with pickups, varied enemies to destroy, helpful pickups and an all-too-distant exit. Familiar stuff, but the first-person perspective makes the action feel fresh and relevant, with slippery, simple and precise mechanics that hark back to the shooters of old.
Not to mention that the attractive electric visuals are like nothing we've ever seen; bright, hot, crisp and violently colourful without resorting to the increasingly over-used voxel gambit. It's lovely, like Wolfenstein 3D meets N.P.P.D. Rush. We'll go with 'glitchpunk' as our trendy buzzword of the day.
Your bid to shut down a misbehaving mainframe is naturally countered by a horde of nasty security protocols and viruses manifested as ravening monsters, scythe-bladed horrors, static turrets and hovering drones. They hit hard and will quickly whittle down your limited health, unless you plant one of your six chunky bullets right between their eyes. Or battery pack.
The emphasis being firmly on "six" bullets, though, because your chunky revolver is only chambered for half a dozen. As such you'll need to aim perfectly under intense duress, making sure every shot counts, but pleasingly your plump projectiles aren't destroyed when fired. Rather, they'll bounce around the environments and can be picked back up; whether after clearing out a room or desperately circle-strafing about like a madman.
A simple twist, but a neat one, that makes every engagement a tense and hectic showdown. Expect many many permadeaths punctuated by intense satisfaction when your reflexes come good. Oh, and be sure to manually reload.
Heavy Bullet's minimalist sound design is worthy of note. Every enemy, bullet, pickup or coin emits its own unique ambient sound, which you can use to locate incoming threats or ferret out handy hidden secrets. Be sure to crank up the volume and listen intently - hearing the rattle of a poisonous virtual snake hidden in a bush could be enough to save your hide.
You doubtlessly noticed the words "pickup" and "coin" in the preceding paragraph, so it's high time we discussed the resource management and exploration side of things. Like any Rogue-inspired title, you can find a selection of handy items around the mazes, not limited to slow-motion power pills, daggers, health potions, missiles, massive bombs and more keycards than an early id Software game. You can usually only carry one at any given time (without a helpful upgrade), thus rationing your toys until the perfect moment is the key to success.
Coins also present a deadly cutthroat economy to indulge in, with every downed enemy releasing a satisfying shower of filthy lucre. You can spend your winnings via vending machines spaced throughout the levels, both on items, health, extra bullets and other helpful accoutrements, whereas more thrifty players will save up for future runs. Banking terminals allow you to persistently invest money and store items between attempts, giving yourself a nest egg when you need it most, while money-saving life insurance and even wills are on offer if you're willing to sacrifice short-term survivability for long-term profit.
We always preach caution when it comes to early access titles, but Heavy Bullets is easier to recommend than most. What's here feels content-complete and polished in a knowingly unpolished sort of way -- we're in a misfiring glitch-ridden computer, after all -- but naturally we always want more. New enemies would be appreciated, along with more tools and varied level geometry, especially since Heavy Bullets is based on repetition and recursion. Whether it remains fresh and vital after the umpteenth failed attempt remains to be seen.
But I can't wait to find out.