If there’s one distinguishing feature that makes Teyon’s Heavy Fire series stand out from video gaming’s crowd of military shooters, it’s that it has no distinguishing features. Like, zero. It has features, sure, but nary an original idea nor even a whiff of one.
Heavy Fire: Black Arms 3D continues the series’ tradition of being a complete waste of brainpower for both developer and player alike. Much like its 3DS predecessor, Heavy Fire: Special Operations 3D, Black Arms 3D is a spiffed-up version of a WiiWare title that tweaks enough of the periphery experience to provide a more pleasant experience, but leaves the uber-dull core intact.
That core is an arcade light-gun game, but without the charm, challenge or actual lightgun. Instead of murdering everyone ever in the Middle East, your squad is sent into the jungles of Brazil to shoot-bang generations worth of cartel members across six ostensibly different missions. What this entails is a new, greener environment, but the same ol' baloney gameplay.
Now, inherently the genre is limited, centering wholly around making the absolute bare minimum player interaction — pointing and shooting — the thrust of gameplay. With spectacle, humor, surprise and a clear creative direction, a game of this ilk can succeed by fooling the player into forgetting that they are doing literally nothing else but pointing a plastic toy at a screen. Sadly, Black Arms 3D has none of these qualities. Black Arms 3D's idea of spectacle is shooting at harmless trucks and explosive barrels, sleepily moving the camera from scene to scene and flooding the stage with braindead cannon fodder. For whatever inexplicable reason, dozens of enemies at a time insist on jumping out at you, settling with just standing there, shooting and missing, until you drag the reticle over with the stylus to put them out of their polygonal misery.
It’s as if you’re fighting a great war against suicidal pop-up cardboard cutouts. Enemy soldiers sort-of loop the same animation over and over until a red exclamation mark appears above their head to indicate when they might actually pose a threat. The actual danger is too inconsistent to be able to communicate any relevant information, though — sometimes a marker can be there for several seconds without any damage done, other times a foe will harm you the second they appear. This makes for some really awkward and frustrating difficulty spikes that feel beyond your control.
Possibly the most damning thing about it all is that the whole game lacks any sort of spark whatsoever. The camera attempts to be more dynamic than in Special Operations, which it is to a somewhat flashier point, but the drab feel of the game hasn't changed in any significant way. The camera stiffly moves around lifeless, silent stages and settles on some portion of a building where enemies run out at you in the same pattern over and over, and over, and over, until you've spent far too much time in the same spot murdering the same exact character models far too many times. It then stiffly moves on to the next shooting gallery, where the same scenario plays out. Black Arms 3D feels incomplete, as if it is a sketch of a game that could one day have potential. In this state, it simply doesn't.
The same tweaks made to Special Operations 3D have been implemented here as well, but the package is still a paper tiger. There’s an economy that rewards you with cash based on performance in a stage, with which new guns and upgrades are purchased between stages. No longer will you have god-tier weapons by the second mission like on WiiWare, but by the third of six brief missions you’ll have a weapon that performs well enough to not really require much better. This 3DS edition is less of a looker — not that the WiiWare version was a show-stopper — but stereoscopic 3D almost makes up for it to establish a greater sense of place. However, playing in 3D has a tendency to slice the framerate in two.
Heavy Fire: Black Arms 3D is some of the most unimaginative shooting gallery action that $5 can buy. Sure, there are quantifiable improvements over its WiiWare blueprint, but minor improvements to the skeleton do nothing for the heart. When challenged by a squad of inane mechanics, rote encounters, choppy framerates and soulless stages, the only way to win is to not play at all.