Slowly but surely, Teyon is on its way towards a half-way decent entry in its Heavy Fire series of military pop shooters. After squeezing out two downloadable disasters and an inexplicable retail release, Teyon returns to the well with Heavy Fire: Special Operations 3D — a reloaded version of that first WiiWare gem, now with added eye-popping dizzles and much-welcome tweaks. It's still not all that remarkable, but it's possibly the most fundamentally sound entry so far.
The core of the game is the same, yes — the same American squad is sent in to shoot everybody ever in the same generic Middle Eastern stages of its console forefather — but to their credit, Teyon didn't just slap the title on the eShop as-is and call it a day. In fact, it seems that the developer had a good think about what wasn't working and took steps to add something interesting to the mix. Why it felt it necessary to revisit this game in the first place, though, we're not so sure, but so it goes.
What made Heavy Fire on WiiWare such a snooze-fest was a complete lack of tension — even when armed with the puniest of guns, the hundreds of standee enemies posed virtually no threat against massive clip sizes, increasingly overpowered weapons and instant reloads. Without any sort of danger or friction to speak of, the game devolved into mindlessly sliding the cursor around the screen for no real reason other than to feel as if your $5 wasn't completely blown.
Teyon's solutions are admirable, if not obvious, ways of tightening a rather loosey-goosey game and are evident from the get-go. Instead of just hopping in and shooting the planet, players are prompted to select from three profile types of differing attributes that behave like difficulty levels when creating a new save file (yes, there are save files now). Once in-game, no longer are the weapons grossly overpowered, nor can bullets fly endlessly and infinitely. By shrinking clips to a more reasonable (i.e. realistic) size and reloads now taking a second or two depending on the weapon, players are forced to be more cognizant of both accuracy and timing — poor judgement can render one defenceless against the swaths of angry men pointing guns. Because this time around, the red exclamation mark above their heads to signify danger means that enemies will actually shoot back instead of...not doing so.
And, thank god, you can put the game down and come back to the stage at which you left off instead of having to start all the way from the beginning every time. It blows our minds why this was omitted before, but there you go.
Completing stages awards cash based on your performance, which can be spent on repairing, upgrading or purchasing new weapons. Clip sizes and reload times can be expanded and shaved, and weapon maintenance is a must unless jams in a firefight are your thing. This economy is a far more interesting solution than the original game's purely score-based distribution that provided god-tier guns by the second stage, supplying more incentive for replay than chasing a higher score.
But these new tweaks can't quite save Special Operations 3D from its shady past. In the jump to 3DS, Teyon has cut the awkward score-sharing on its website in favour of nothing at all, rendering high scores somewhat redundant. Multiplayer has been nixed, which nobody will likely miss anyway, and the same goofy difficulty spikes still happen and almost feel more cheap now that the available firepower has been toned down.
Somewhat expected, the game isn't quite as pretty as it was on WiiWare — not that it was in award-winning territory before, but nice extras like motion blur and stylistic filters have evaporated. The 3D effect is pleasing, if a bit stark on the louder end of the slider, but the smaller screen can make spotting enemies more difficult than it should. Audio-wise it doesn't sound as tinny as on WiiWare, although it's still a bit flat and oddly quiet thanks to virtually no background music.
The worst, though, is that despite its shiny new threads the core of Special Operations 3D is a hollow, mindless churn of a game that excels at nothing at all and serves no purpose other than to show how to not build a light gun game. With no real new ideas nor particularly well-executed old ones, the title lacks a defining raison d'être, feeling bored with itself after a few stages of the same old song. The mechanics are adequate but the game simply has no soul.
Hats off to Teyon for figuring out how to make the rough and severely underwhelming Heavy Fire: Special Operations play a little smoother and tighter on 3DS, and there is no doubt that the studio is on its way to what could very well be a worthwhile entry in this series — but no matter what is bolted to it, the core of this revision remains a bland, anonymous, lowest-common-denominator shooter that leaves no taste behind and ultimately may as well have not even happened. Heavy Fire: Special Operations 3D is a better game than its predecessors, yes, but it is still a needless do-over for an undeserving game.