Review: Assault Heroes 2
Nearly as bad as John Terry but not quite as funny.
When Wanako dropped the original Assault Heroes on us back in Dec 2006, it arrived with little in the way of hype or expectation and for me personally my first thoughts were that I needed another twin-stick shooter on XBLA about as much as Chelsea need a new trophy cabinet.
However, a quick go on the demo convinced me that this was different to the XBLA norm with its smooth difficulty curve, pinpoint controls and some nice, but tasteful, graphics. Indeed, up until Omega Five, Assault Heroes was probably the favourite of my fifty or so Arcade titles.
Assault Heroes was exactly what XBLA should be about. Classic coin-op style gaming but reinvented for the new generation echoing as it did the likes of Ikari Warriors, Mercs and Shock Troopers. So when Wanako (arf!) announced a sequel was in the works, I was about to add a third stick to the formula.
So finally, after a stream of turd releases (Wits and Wagers, Rocky and Bullwinkle and the like) interspersed with moments of rare quality (Lost Cities), Assault Heroes 2 arrived. This time with a whole lot more hype and even more expectation. Indeed Peoww even announced the release date on our not-stolen-from-other-sites news page.
I picked the game up without bothering with the demo and plunged in and from thence the pain arose.
Wanako promised Assault Heroes but bigger, better and with a host of new features. Well, Assault Heroes 2 is certainly bigger. Clocking in at a choresome two hours. But is it better? Not really, but I’ll get onto that in a moment. What of the new features? Well they exist, but only to plague the living.
We were promised hijackable vehicles. That to me means stopping a vehicle, dragging the driver out and jumping in. The word ‘hijack’ takes on even bigger significance in what is essentially GTA season. Occasionally, you’ll find a parked vehicle and can get in it. Theft? Maybe. Hijacking? Not exactly. The vehicles themselves tend to grant defensive improvements but rob you of the four-weapon assault vehicle that you spend most of the game in.
There’s another ‘improvement’. The fourth weapon which is now an ice gun. Useful against helicopters, utterly pointless against anything else as the flame thrower will do the same job. So where AH1 had three weapons (slow but powerful, fast but weak and intermediate), this game has four with the fourth feeling tacked on. It also slows down your weapon selection process.
Also, the nukes and grenades now don’t get re-equpped between levels. An annoyance but not too bad as the nukes aren’t particularly useful anyway. For one, they just don’t do enough damage and also they visually block out of most of the screen (without removing enemy bullets – oh dear).
Now this leads us onto the main problem with this game. The visuals. Sure it still scrolls smoothly and the graphics, for the most part, are nice enough but for reasons that I’ll never fathom, Wanako have slightly zoomed the camera out and also increased the detail on the ground. It’s no exaggeration to say that for large parts of the first two levels I was unable to see a fucking thing.
In an effort to disguise the lack of progress in the game engine, they’ve upped the detail and now I can’t see what’s killing me. It’s just like trying to play a vert-scroller on the Speccy! Level two (jungleâ€¦ yawn) is a total mess. You can get used to it a little but invisible-death syndrome still pops up far too often.
Maybe my tastes are unrefined when it comes to arcade shooters, considering among the only ones I’ve played are Geometry Wars and the original Assault Heroes, so it’s not surprising I consider this game to be a combination of those two. The sheer amount of ordnance on screen, even in the first few areas totally outshines it’s comparatively tame predecessor. To that extent it’s much more suited to cooperative play (now you can easily fight your own corner), along with the doubling of length, that makes enduring the challenge alone seem pointless.
The widening of scope arguably blurs the crisp visuals and makes it harder to differentiate friend from foe (and other friend) than before, but I’d say this adds to the tension of combat – then again, I sit too close to the television so I don’t have a problem. It’s clearly a sequel with a capital S: harder bosses, better underground sections, faster gameplay, stronger weaponry (the devastating ice gun).
Further welcome additions include such as the ability to carry all your weapons and do barrel-rolls when on foot; or hijack enemy vehicles if you feel like it. These are counterbalanced by underpowered nukes and the very annoying fact that your jeep (buggy?) loses all it’s upgrades upon death. Also, if you’re playing with a selfish SOB, be prepared to fight for those pick-ups.
I haven’t gone into the basics, simply because I am reviewing the controversial sequel to what is (at 400M$ points) an essential XBLA purchase. No.2 is priced at twice that much and I humbly suggest it’s worth every, er… point. Or maybe you’d rather save them for Commandos 3? Like I said, what do I know?
Secondary Score: 9/10
The cutscenes are still remarkably poor (as they were in AH1) and the bosses still aren’t much cop. The usual array of bigger vehicles shaped like snakes and whatever. The giant spider now replaced by a giant whale. You get the idea. These are, as expected, tedious bullet sponges that overstay their welcome and generally frustrate without impressing. It shocks me that twenty years after R-Type developers still just don’t have a fucking clue.
The bosses serve as punctuation at the end, and in the middle, of the levels which is just as well as invariably you’ll need waking up by the time you reach them. The levels just drag on and on and on. The last time I attempted a complete run-through (ended three zones from the end by the game crashing out), I was so utterly bored of the sight of each level.
Assault Heroes didn’t have the most original levels but they were the right length and well-designed. Assault Heroes 2 relies on repetition to extend the length of the overall game and it really shows. Instead of the original game’s excellent sea level we now get a space one which plays almost like an old-school shoot-’em-up but even this gets old pretty quickly and is eventually followed by a tedious battle through a spaceship that just screams ‘mundane’ at you.
Another slap in the face are the controls. The shooting is no longer truely in 360 degrees. The analogue stick locks to 0, 90, 180 and 270 degrees when you get within ten or so degrees of those positions. Basically precise shooting isn’t allowed in this game.
Add to that unenjoyable lair sections (ironically too zoomed in and liable to steal all your lives), laggy online co-op and all sorts of glitches that threaten to end your game prematurely and you’re left with a lemon in my book. Firing up Assault Heroes 1 for just a few minutes really hits home just how far Wanako have fallen.
So how do you score something like this? Technically it looks (at times) and feels pretty solid and 800pts would fair for a game of such length but if I took away a point for everything that I really hate about this game, Wanako would actually owe me a review. Still, it has to be done and whilst the score you see below may not be a negative number, bear in mind that Assault Heroes 1 would have scored at least an eight from me.