Reviewed: May 10, 2007
Released: May 1, 2007
I’ve always loved flight simulators, whether they are more arcade style or realistic, but nothing to me is more satisfying than blowing away MiGs in the classic style of Tom Cruise, however I cant speak for everyone. Flight simulators, over the years have developed their own niche in the world of gaming, you either love them or you don’t. Consoles have been privy to a select number of these titles which have had their varying levels of success, and the latest entry in this niche of gaming is Codemaster’s Heatseeker.
Heatseeker is an arcade style flight simulation in which players take to the skies in a variety of real world aircraft and assume the role of a faceless pilot who goes by the call sign of downtown. Downtown has just been assigned to Lord Roberts airbase which gets attacked by a bunch of rebels and things just go downhill from there. Players then goes hopping around the world snuffing out all manner of bad guys and is charged with safeguarding the free world by blowing up anything unlucky enough to get in their path.
The developers at Codemasters are the same people who brought us the 2005 multi-platform title, Heroes Of The Pacific, which essentially established the formula for Heatseeker, and anyone who has played Heroes will see many similarities between the two games.
Heatseeker being a Playstation 2 flight sim will almost immediately draw comparisons to the long-standing Ace Combat series. Yes, there are jets in both games and you fly them around and blow stuff up, but any similarities end there, as Heatseeker is a far cry even from the relaxed realism of the Ace Combat games (sorry, but this isn’t Falcon 4.0).
Heatseeker is very much a modern flight simulator with arcade physics. While there is an option to switch between a “professional” and “arcade” control scheme, this has very little bearing on the game itself as there is no stalling, blackouts, or ammunition to worry about. While the game does boast solid controls, they can make the game feel a little over simplified at times, as the task of shaking an enemy missile is as easy as pressing the correct button as it appears on screen. Many flight sim enthusiasts may find this something of an insult, but it does allow players to concentrate on Heatseeker’s key ingredient, blowing stuff up.
Players are given access to a plethora of real world hardware, from the F-22 Lightning to the SU-47 Berkut, all for the purpose of blowing away the sometimes daunting odds they are faced with. Players will often find themselves toe to toe with 3 to 1 odds and a kill score numbering in the hundreds from a single mission alone, which apart from being completely unrealistic, is also pretty darn fun. There really is nothing quite like blasting away plane after plane while dodging flak from enemy destroyers and narrowly evading missiles from every direction with precision aerial maneuvers.
Sadly, this tends to get a little old fast, as it seems after awhile that this is all you end up doing. It is indeed cool the first few dozen times you do it. But eventually you realize you’re just getting on the other plane’s tail and launching your endless supply of missiles until he blows up, which isn’t terribly difficult considering the AI leaves something to be desired, as even the “ace” pilots will occasionally just crater themselves for no apparent reason. The game also doesn’t feature a whole lot of variety in it’s missions, leaving the campaign feeling a little bland, as you’re either escorting someone, or attacking something with a few wild cards occasionally thrown in as you continue down a linear track of progressively more elaborate missions.
The story that ties in with this campaign is hardly worth mentioning as it is about as deep as a puddle. You’re name is downtown, there are some bad guys that need to be taught a lesson, and you’re just the man for the job. This lock, rinse, repeat method of repetitive albeit intense gameplay encompasses the entire length of the rather boring and shallow single player campaign, which I felt could have benefited from an extra handful of missions as it felt all too brief.
The graphics of Heatseeker are a curious thing, as it seems that the slower you go, the uglier it gets. Luckily, during the majority of the game, you’ll be traveling at subsonic speeds so the finer details tend to just be a blur anyway.
The textures for the skybox and landscapes are large and chunky, and clipping issues are prominent, with ships colliding into each other on numerous occasions. The lone exception to the otherwise sub-par graphics are the planes themselves which look fairly decent and are pretty accurate to their real world counterparts.
There are however, a handful of interesting effects that help to sugarcoat Heatseeker’s less than spectacular graphics. Like when your plane exceeds a certain speed the entire world stretches and blurs following a sonic boom giving you a great sensation of speed. There is also a type of victim camera in Heatseeker called the “impact cam”, which uses varying camera angles and slow motion to accentuate particularly awesome kills. This effect is also used when you make a last second missile evasion, adding that extra bit of white-knuckle intensity to some of the dogfights in the game.
One of the definite high points to be found in Heatseeker is in its “so bad it’s good” music. The game features a handful of crazy butt-rock in the musical stylings of Top Gun and Iron Eagle. This may sound a little strange, but it fit’s the game’s style perfectly and is very appropriate for the absolute craziness and intensity the game brings to the table.
The sound effects in Heatseeker tend to be decent enough, with satisfying explosions and sonic booms, but nothing truly impressive. The audio department of Heatseeker does suffer dearly in the realm of voice acting which is simply atrocious. The voices in the game are either annoying, sound like they were trying a bit too hard, or maybe decided to insert random question marks in their dialogue (my engines are on fire?). However, the grand prize has to go to the FMV news anchor who fills you in on national affairs in between missions, bearing all the finesse and character of a fourth grader.
There is very little in terms of actual content in Heatseeker. The game consists of a relatively brief single player campaign that can be played on three difficulty levels. The game does somewhat encourage players to go back and play the missions again as all of planes may only be used after you have completed the single player campaign.
There are also a number of bonus objectives to complete in certain missions and a number unlocks that allow you to go back and experiment with different load outs along with a number of built-in cheat codes that can add an extra layer of absurdity to the game at times. However, beyond what the game ships with, there is not much else to it, as it lacks any kind of multiplayer or otherwise extended content, but at a reduced price tag it still remains a viable source of budgeted arcade style action.
Heatseeker is certainly not a game for everyone, and even the flight sim enthusiast may be a little turned off by it’s over simplification of aerial combat. But, for short bouts of intense and mindless arcade action, this game definitely fits the bill. Because unrealistic as it may be, Heatseeker is not a game that tries to be.
The game is very much an over the top, exaggerated representation of aerial combat and pulls it off wonderfully. Heatseeker is an easy recommendation to any fan of the Top Gun or Iron Eagle movies, but die-hard simulation fans may want to drop their flares and break right.