Heavy Weapons is a new arena shooter from Long Animals (Drift Runners) and Robot Jam (Panda: Tactical Sniper). It bills itself as "the ultimate Flash shooter", and assuming they aren't talking about some kind of camera designed specially to produce red-eye, then that must be a diss on other worthy contenders like Death Vs. Monstars or Zunderfury.
On what grounds does it claim the title? Basically, there's lots of stuff in it. There are 60 levels, packed with nearly as many species of cannon fodder, who drop valuable crystals when you heartlessly mow them down. And there are 21 weapons to spend those crystals on in the between-level shop. Presumably, those are the heavy weapons of the title, but very few of them give the impression of overwhelming destructiveness. I'm assuming that they are simply hard to pick up.
Move your ship with [WASD] and shoot with the mouse. Press [Space] to cycle through your weapons, or, if you don't mind the early onset arthritis that will result, use [Q] and [E] to switch weapons more precisely. You can also scroll the mouse wheel, but since that simultaneously scrolls my entire browser window, I do not so much enjoy that option.
Purchased weapons are added permanently to your arsenal, but you can only take three into battle at a time. This is the main strategy of Heavy Weapons: customizing your ship to take on the particular mix of abstract creatures and ships in each level. Though the first 10 levels or so will let you get away with any old splatter-caster, the next 50 will punish you if you make the wrong choices.
Each level requires you to destroy a certain quota of enemies, and then gives you 5 seconds at the end to gobble up money at double value. Warning: you can still die during this bonus period, which I've nicknamed the Ragequit Coda. Kind of a questionable design choice there.
Analysis: The best part of the game is the huge variety in your weapons. While you'll probably center on a couple of no-nonsense standbys (marry me, Arc Spread), it's great fun matching the quirks of the oddball ones to the challenges of the increasingly specific bad guys.
The Spliner, for instance, sends out a blast of spiralling energy in a line and then runs out of juice quickly. It doesn't do a lot of damage, and it can't cope with a sustained flow of enemies. But nothing incinerates a swarm of lightly-armored ships faster, and if you switch to another weapon after setting off the Spliner, you can double your firepower for a second as it continues to pulse.
The game is set against an abstract neo-primitive backdrop of vectors, a topographical map that, with each level, suggests a new world without defining it. The enemies with the most personality are the ones based on other shooters. The aliens from Space Invaders. The neon shapes from Geometry Wars. The drones from Boxheads. Combined with the early-3D look of the other baddies, it all evokes a feeling of strange timelessness, as though the past 20 years of shooter history has been digested by a digital amoeba and fossilized.
The problems mostly come with Heavy Weapons' structure. Long Animals and Robot Jam are going for a very specific experience, sometimes at the expense of player comfort. You can't upgrade your ship's hull or speed. You can't upgrade your weapons. You can't sell the weapons you have to try others, and you can't even go back and farm cash on the earlier levels (you only get a level select after beating the entire game), so it's very possible to get stuck on a tough level with a weak selection of arms and no way to switch strategies. That's bad news in a game with 60 levels and only one save slot.
Worse, you have no idea if that new expensive weapon you're blowing hundreds of thousands of credits on is one of the standbys or one of the quirky experiments. All you get before the irrevocable purchase is a vague description. There should be a video of the weapon in action, or even better, a practice arena. It's hard to collect money in this game, especially when the enemies cluster right on top of the crystals from their dead fellows, and a preview of my purchases would be not only appreciated, but necessary.
Heavy Weapons is pointlessly hardcore, in other words, although the smooth controls and forgiving early levels might sucker you into thinking it's a easy-going casual shooter. This will be great for players who don't mind restarting a long game a couple of times, trying to optimize their upgrade path, but frustrating for everyone else.
I also have to award a special booby-prize to the loud, jarring, nonsensical sound effect that randomly assaults your ears when you die. The game had such a nice moody atmosphere going before it started screaming and gibbering at me.
Don't let me scare you off from trying it, though. Heavy Weapons is still one of the sharpest shooters I've seen in Flash, with a distinctive look, a kitchen sink approach to design, and a unique conglomeration of influences. Great? Yes. Ultimate? Eeeeeeeeeehhh… I don't know. Let's put it in the Worthy Contenders folder.