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Joystiq review: Assault Heroes (XBLA)


It really is quite unnerving how rapidly a game like Assault Heroes can expose a terrifying desire, possibly even an instinct, amongst every single gamer alive. Perhaps it's just common sense, but when something moves, we absolutely have to kill it. Whether it's a tank, an alien, a robot or just a poorly constructed mass of pixels meant to represent evil, taking a step towards us is rarely interpreted as a welcoming gesture. No, sir. That step was your last.

That isn't to say we're a naturally violent lot. Some games simply slip into that easily accessible groove where things come rushing at you and your brain automatically makes sure that a bullet's gone out to greet them. Assault Heroes taps into this familiar area with some precision, much like a group of miners donning helmets and heading into a nostalgia mineshaft. They'll come back with the shiny things you adore, but it's not like you haven't seen any of it before. Maybe you've witnessed it in a necklace or ... let's just forget this metaphor. It's crap.

Assault Heroes is not crap (don't leave yet!). In fact, it's well presented, challenging when it needs to be and, most importantly, a good deal of fun. Presented from an overhead perspective, the game has you steering an armored buggy (and sometimes a boat) into an onslaught of enemy units, almost all of them moving. Steering with the left directional stick and firing with the right, you'll quickly grow accustomed to avoiding rockets and returning fire, especially if you've played Geometry Wars recently. The weapons at your disposal comprise an all-purpose mini-gun, a flamethrower (for the suicidal infantry) and a slow but powerful flak cannon (which seems more like a Gauss rifle). Throw in some power-ups and score modifiers and it sounds like fun, right?

Well, of course it does. You've played this game before, in some form or other. That's why the game is easy to recommend, but also why there's a slight bit of hesitation in doing so. When playing Assault Heroes, not all of the conflict takes place on the screen -- some of it will be inside of you, as you attempt to decide whether or not the game has a retro feel about it ... or whether it has a generic feel about it. It probably has a little bit of both.

The graphics, for instance, are vivid and filled with neat little flourishes, such as trees toppling before tanks and stormy weather lighting up the landscape. But even when gigantic drilling machines are bursting out of the ground (you'll be continuously expecting Shredder to step out of them) and screaming kamikaze fellows come rushing at you, it becomes clear that the game lacks any sort of personality to call its own. It doesn't mean it's any less fun to play, just that you're much less likely to remember it a year from now.

The game's pace is pretty fast and if you're not paying attention, your precious vehicle is unlikely to last for very long. Luckily, you can continue fighting on foot -- a slightly more daunting option, but an option nonetheless. A new craft usually warps in at the last moment and you'll be very, very grateful for that during some of the boss battles. "Old-school" is the descriptor you'd want to apply, since it boils down to avoiding fire and shooting at curiously exposed weak points. And before you even think to ask -- yes, there's a giant enemy crab.

At this point, it seems like the game's greatest flaw is that it feels a little too familiar, a problem vanquished easily enough by the "I like this sort of game" argument. However, "this sort of game" is often dependant on the participation of another player. Indeed, multiplayer lends itself exceedingly well to "this sort of game," making the following observation all the more frustrating. Assault Heroes' multiplayer is, for all intents and purposes, broken.

It's not like it never works. That would at least have been predictable. Here, an online co-op session may, but probably won't occur, depending on factors invisible to the player. It could be poorly tested code, it could be planetary alignments or it could just be some sadistic person flipping a switch somewhere on the Live network. After entering a lobby, the two players are frequently faced with perhaps the most accurate status screen ever conceived. "Waiting..." Yes, that's what you'll be doing until you exit back to the dashboard. In one of our tests (with Richard over at Xbox 360 Fanboy), we got our first game to work, but upon exiting and restarting, it no longer allowed us to connect.

From recent memory, both Street Fighter II and UNO had multiplayer issues right off the bat. Why is it that an update needs to occur before we can enjoy the benefits of a Gold Xbox Live membership? More obscure bugs slipping through are understandable to a degree, but to have your entire multiplayer component hinge on the roll of the dice is not really acceptable. There's the local co-op to fall back on, but it lacks the convenience gamers have come to expect from Xbox Live (especially when their friends smell funny).

It's important to note that Assault Heroes is still worth an 800 MS point ($10) purchase. It may feel somewhat generic and lack any obvious innovation, but its core gameplay is about as much fun here as it is in any decent top-down shooter you might recall enjoying. It's simple, really. Things move and we like to shoot them.

As loathsome as they are, you'll still be wanting some sort of score. If it wasn't for the busted multiplayer, Assault Heroes would net a solid 7/10.

Final score: 5/10

[Note: We'll gladly revise the score when Wanako games decides to repair the multiplayer component.]

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