Reviewed: June 23, 2008
Released: May 15, 2008
For old timers like myself, something like Xbox Live Arcade’s recent release of Assault Heroes 2 is like a walk down memory lane. With the core mechanic being top-down, 360º shooting mayhem, it’s like taking a step back into my more formative years in the 1980’s where the decision to spend a quarter balanced between a full-sized candy bar (the new “king size” bars were a whopping 45¢), a can of store-brand soda, or three lives in one of the newfangled videogame cabinets. As you can image, any kid lucky enough to have a whole dollar in his grip held everything he needed for food, drink and about a half-hour’s worth of entertainment.
Back in those days, just about anything with bleeps and blips travelling across a CRT screen was mystifying enough to elicit attention from the masses of youth eager to experience the new technology. Developers of that era were limited in their computing power, and modern day concepts like Artificial Intelligence were nowhere in the picture – instead, most gameplay was built using simple logic-function relationships and timing sequences.
But you guys and gals of the GCM readership already know this stuff, so I won’t bore you any longer with my reminiscing. Rather, I will just say that Assault Heroes harkens back to that time with its top-down – yet slightly isometric – scrolling 360º dual-analog shooter (now that’s a mouthful), where enemies come running in waves, and timing is of the utmost importance.
I cannot say I played much of the first Assault Heroes save for a few minutes with the downloadable demo – but I think my experience was enough to say that Assault Heroes 2 does not stray far from the first title’s formula. The meat of the game is your basic run-and-gun arcade style shooting using the left analog stick for movement, and the right analog for 360º firing – but while the game definitely relies on old-school twitch timing, there is a definite sense that the coding holds a bit more intelligence than old timey shooters like Smash TV.
With an almost constant rate of incoming fire flying in from all directions, the gameplay is a fast and furious blend of dodging and shooting. Obviously, the trick is to shoot as many enemies as you can before absorbing too many bullets yourself – which brings in the sense of intelligence as the player manages the distinct firing patterns from each of the various enemy types and vehicles surrounding the character.
Thankfully, the player has the same ability to mount high-powered assault vehicles and mow down swarms of enemies through the game’s four distinct environments – the game’s trademark dune buggies make a return as the main mode of transport, but there are also helicopters, tanks, and even a mech suit to trod around in. Each vehicle has its own set of strengths, weaknesses, and ultimately Achilles heel – and managing these skillsets quickly becomes pivotal in the player’s success in the game.
But the game does step out of the box by forcing gamers out of their vehicles for a series of cool on-foot missions. Some of these change up the gameplay to be a more twitch motion based affair; for instance, one early side mission puts the player in a narrow gorge with a series of enemies perched on top. These enemies drop in randomly and the gamer must see the visual clues and doge to avoid their attacks while not rolling into another. It’s really a neat break allowing the game to use a bit more mind power rather than fire power.
The on-foot enemy characters come in only a couple of flavors; environment-appropriate infantry types and/or Serious Sam-style kamikaze bombers. And as with the vehicular enemies, certain attacks work better on each character type; infantry responds best with a ranged pray-and-spray tactic, whereas the bombers really like to catch missile fire.
No arcade shooter would be complete without its share of boss battles, and Assault Heroes does it up right with a series of multi-layered pattern-based bosses that really run the player through the wringer. While nothing here is as creepy as the Contra monsters (anyone remember the bloody baby head butt monster from Contra on the PS2? Yek!), Assault Heroes 2’s bosses likewise morph into different creatures and objects throughout the battles – making each transformation sequence a bittersweet moment of relief, amazement, fear, and frustration in which the gamer can take a deep breath and prepare for the next onslaught.
One feature that makes Assault Heroes 2 a bit more accessible is the inclusion of co-op play either locally or via Xbox Live. And given the fact that the game has a series of co-op Achievements to snatch, it is obvious that the developers intended the game to be played with a partner. Sure, the screen can get a bit muddled up with twice the weapon fire filling up the screen – but crafty gamers will find plenty of opportunities to mix and match weaponry to most expeditiously dispatch of enemies and boss characters.
The visuals in top-down shooter games like Assault Heroes 2 tend to follow the same rules as the visuals in soccer titles – because the viewpoint is so distanced from the action, the games get away with some liberties that other genres could not get away with. Certain qualities like surface texturing, character modeling, animation, and special effects are all massively recycled throughout the course of the game – and we really do not care about any of this because the gameplay is so darn good.
Assault Heroes 2 features mildly-destructible environments, with certain buildings and bunkers crumbling away in Mech Assault fashion, and neat touches like trees burning and breaking to unveil hidden enemies and objects.
So even though the visuals are not the most amazing stuff we have ever come across, we still think the game looks great for what it is – especially in widescreen HD where the edge sharpness and color density really allow the objects to pop against the backgrounds.
As with the visuals, any shortcomings in the sound department can be swept under the rug in lieu of the gameplay. To be completely honest, it only takes around 30 seconds into each level before the sound effects start recycling themselves – but gamers will hardly have the time to focus on rehashed explosions and weapons fire amidst the hailstorm of incoming ammo.
For a mere $10, Assault Heroes 2 is hands-down one of the better values on the Xbox Live Arcade. The game takes old-school gaming traditions and blends them with modern day concepts – resulting in a game that feels familiar, without feeling old.
Assault Heroes 2 features around five hours of intense shooter action, two player co-op play either locally or via Xbox Live, and some of the best boss battles this side of Ninja Gaiden. What more could you want for $10?
I really enjoyed my time with Assault Heroes 2, and I think you will, too. There have been a number of interesting Xbox Live Arcade titles over the years, but few have hit the ideal blend of gameplay, skill, and personal satisfaction like the Assault Heroes titles.
The best part of any of these Xbox Live Arcade titles is that if you are a member of Xbox Live (which you most likely are if you are reading this article), you can download a sizable demo of through the Xbox Live Gamestore and see if the gameplay fits the bill.