The United States, 1986: the Soviets launch a surprise attack on the US and with little effort quickly overwhelm American forces. As all hope seems lost and the presidential advisors are telling their leader they must surrender and offer terms, he reveals their Trump Card, their last line of defence – the Atomic Tank – which will enter the Soviet home land, smash their bases and strike at the heart of the Red Army war machine.
Atomic Tank is unashamedly old school in it’s designs – you pilot the titular vehicle against a near-endless supply of Soviet forces before coming face-to-face with a screen-filling boss, and then moving on to the next area and doing the same thing again in a different region. The visuals are simple and functionable with characterised cute stylings, and the package as a whole evokes memories of classic scrolling shooters like SWIV or UN Squadron.
The left analogue stick moves the tank to the sides across the screen and the right deals with the direction of fire. The screen constantly scrolls to the right, with enemies pouring from either side both on land and airborne. Foes are a mixture of small, fast craft which usually take a couple of hits or less, massive bombers or blimps which need to be peppered with dozens of shots, and everything in between. Most enemies fire missiles which can be shot down mid-air, but when there are a dozen helicopters all shooting homing missiles, that is easier than it sounds.
Tactics come into play in the shape of support helicopters – these fly overhead periodically and drop items such as a shield, nuclear weapon or increased firepower. Similarly, destroyed enemies will occasionally drop icons which charge a superweapon – a huge laser that destroys everything in its path. Collecting four such icons activates the weapon and it doesn’t last long, so a mild balancing act comes in to play as to whether to use it as and when it becomes available or hold off on the hope of better timing.
In between each level you can upgrade six different secondary weapons up to three times each – these include defensive orbs which circle the tank, homing missiles and lasers, and the rate of these weapons is increased through pick-ups from the ally choppers. By the end of the game every weapon can be fully upgraded so tactics don’t really come in to it, but there is still an element of planning in what weapons to upgrade and when. As for those nukes; they can be used at the touch of a button and clear the screen of all enemies (bosses excepted), so when things are getting a little intense it’s a good way to calm it down.
Arguably the finest aspect of the game is the online modes. Up to four players can partake in an onslaught against the Soviet forces, with one mode allowing only three lives per player and the other allowing infinite respawning so long as at least one team member remains alive. Things get utterly chaotic with multiple players taking part and despite the increased firepower it can be very easy to accidentally die by stray shots, since it’s harder to keep track of exactly what’s happening. The game is even better played in local co-op, if you can coax three friends around who have controllers.
Heavy Weapon doesn’t do a great deal wrong. It may have taken a long time to reach PS3 from it’s PC origins, but it’s definitely one of the better shooters on PSN, sitting alongside the likes of Everyday Shooter and even Super Stardust HD. It’s not cerebral and it’s not subtle, but it’s bloody good fun, and exactly the sort of quick blast one might expect from downloadable games.