Before the term arcade flight shooter had been coined, I was watching with wonder as some local teenage hero somehow made their Afterburner credits last through a number of missions. I never really managed to get comfortable with the frantic action and hard line of the genre. It just cost too many coins to get to grips with the custom fighter yoke controls, never mind working out the confusing objectives. Yet for all that, there was something compelling about these types of game. They appeared to be so much more involved than similar shooters like Space Harrier, yet differed very little in their play mechanic.
Heatseeker is a game from this same stable. There is no pretension that it is a simulation. Fun, firepower and speed are the order of the day rather than difficult technical landings. It does its utmost to keep the adrenaline pumping as wave after wave of targets are put across your path. In a certain light you could almost consider this a shoot ‘em up – the action is prescribed and the moves are limited. It’s only in the full 3D world that Heatseeker separates it self from its vertically scrolling relations.
The Wii controls are well utilised by Codemasters. Time has obviously been invested to develop a control scheme that is initially usable, and with time opens out to reveal a subtle and flexible implementation. It keeps the action to the arcade friendly prescription with a forgiving assisted flight. Even on the professional setting, the game gets you out of many scrapes that should by rights have ended with you hitting the ground. You control the plane’s direction by pointing with the Wii-mote. You can then pitch left and right by tilting it accordingly. This provides an experience that can be both uncomplicated and subtle. Small adjustments can be made when homing in on your targets, whilst large sweeping turns can be executed during dog fights. Added into this mix are the Nun-chuck’s analogue stick which is used to control thrust, and the Wii-mote‘s D-pad to choose weapons and assign wingmen to particular targets. Finally the B button takes up its usual fire trigger role.
The game is structured around 18 different missions that involve piloting a particular plane to achieve a series of attacks and recognisance. The planes – which include the more famous birds such as F-15, F/A-18 , F-16, SR-71 Blackbird and the F-22 Raptor – each feel very different to fly and fight against. Although unfortunately, the same can’t be said of the missions and the environments in which these planes fly, as they become quite repetitive and don‘t encourage repeat plays. The action rarely strays from blowing things up over Islands and open seas.
That said, there is certainly plenty to keep you entertained for a good many hours. Although these sessions with Heatseeker are enjoyable and filled with great moments, you often come away feeling that the joy of the flying mechanic could have been stretched further with a more involved game structure. Although sticking to arcade play is part of the remit, I would have liked to see the odd mission thrown in that nudged play towards simulation. I really think the controls are up to the more in depth play required by the various sorties we have become used to in simulation titles.
There is no preservation of fuel or arms in Heatseeker. Another staple decision of the arcade shooter is honoured here, that of simplifying any ongoing concerns and focusing the play on the current moment of engagement. Furthermore, these moments are bolstered with a considerable arsenal to draw upon. You will be employing missiles, bombs and torpedoes to do the majority of your explosive bidding.
Graphically, we are back to the same old story. Here is a game that has been ported from the PS2 and it shows. There is none of the impact that the Wii is clearly capable of delivering. Compromises to ensure streamlined multi-platform development ensure that the action is ironically kept well and truly on the ground. Time will tell, but I think we will see games appearing before too long that show what a longer Wii specific development can deliver. Within these limitations, the on-screen assets have been well handled and the display has been well laid out. All the telemetry is immediately obvious and can be navigated without referring to the manual. This is a million miles away from the dials and numbers of your full-on flight simulations.
The sound too isn’t anything to write home about. Mission orders are dictated audibly which is a nice touch, but in terms of adding too much atmosphere to the experience it pretty much draws a blank. The voice work is unfortunately more towards the comedy end of the spectrum and is hard to listen to for the details you require for each mission.
Overall this game is going to deliver to those not looking for an ongoing or involved flying experience. It does what it says on the tin (box). It delivers an arcade flight experience with plenty of bangs for your buck. If you are looking for something more complex you would probably do better playing something on a different platform. But if, like the majority of Wii owners, you are a looking for some easy to pick up flying action, this could be well up your street.