It's time we put a stop to the romanticism of life in space. Too long have we had to endure the thrills of blast-filled chases through asteroid belts and hyperspeed flings among the stars. Who do these games think we are? Interesting? No, we want the truth! We demand the 9-5 trudgery and certain, unforgiving death that comes with being a cadet in Star Command! We demand Hold Your Fire: A Game About Responsibility.
On its surface, Hold Your Fire has an excitingly fresh concept. As the amusing in-game text points out, your role is to protect the innocent people of the galaxy from space-faring threats. Anything that goes against this one command will be met with your termination. Not the pink slip kind; the black body bag kind.
Although Hold Your Fire gives every indication of an arcade-style space shooter, the above edict means you can't go spamming the fire button. Space isn't all warlords and jerks, and hitting a ship that isn't attacking means you're done. The game, in fact, seems set to place an innocent ship right in front of you at game start, meaning an impatient hammering of the fire button to get into the game will most likely get you toasted before you even set out.
This element of checking targets and being more thoughtful of placing one's shots would be enough to earn the game its use of the term "responsibility." However, the design takes the concept of protective duty too far in some aspects and not far enough in others, putting a serious dent in its fun factor drive.
The player-controlled ship is held to left and right movement at the bottom of the screen, facing oncoming ships in a top-down view as a nice space field saunters by in the background. These other ships, at least in the onset of the game, move straight down the screen at a relatively calm pace. Since the majority of ships are innocent, it can be up to 10 seconds before you come across a hostile.
The "attacking" ships are like every other ship except that they blindly shoot straight ahead, aiming at nothing. This doesn't make them feel like threats as much as neglectful captains who've accidentally set their can of space pop on their fire button. Let them past you, however, and the neglect falls squarely on your shoulders: you die.
By the way, you really don't want to die; especially because there's only one life. Every death is a flash of red, the Wilhelm scream, and an instant ticket back to start it all over again. And again. And again. The developer saw fit to set an on-screen tally not of how many times you die, but of the 9 different ways in which you can do so.
Destroying an enemy ship means placing yourself in harm's way as your ride only fires from the front, so expect to catch yourself on the tail end of enemy shots a number of times as you desperately try to slip in before your window of opportunity closes. If you're successful, you get a point. So, look forward to 1 point about every 10 seconds or so. No points are given for anything else like letting innocent ships pass or picking up items (if there were any). You're on minimum space wage.
If you manage to survive up to 10, small asteroids will start coming into play. Letting these pass by will kill you, and shooting them causes them to break into four smaller asteroids going in separate directions that may hit innocent ships and kill you, and while you're dealing with them an "attacking" ship may just pass you by and yes, kill you. Yet even while all this might sound hectic, it's not. It still feels plodding. It may speed up over time, sure, but the fact that any one mistake equals instant death means odds are high of repeating a dull beginning an exhausting number of times before even having a chance at anything more dramatic or new.
The music, at least, is enjoyable even if only one track plays during the game. It's a mix of sci-fi tones and thrumming electric guitar that surprisingly didn't seem to get old in our time of responsibility.
Credit needs to be given to Hold Your Fire for having the notion to take on trigger-happy shooter tropes, but the overall execution of the idea just makes it feel adrift. The demands on the player are high and yet the engagement feels low, giving it a feeling of tedium. Instead of using the "responsibility" aspect to force the player to try and be perfect, it might have been fun to give the player actual choices to face. Do you let an enemy ship by to take care of another problem, for example, knowing it may have consequences down the line? Unfortunately, the only choice the player makes in Hold Your Fire is whether they want to hear the Wilhelm scream again.