Fully in keeping with Xbox 360 Live Arcade’s distinctly retro approach, Sierra On-line jumps right in with this little offering, Assault Heroes, which is about as “retro” as you can get. The gameplay is simple, straightforward action with little to no higher brain functions required, while the graphics are colorful and splashy and about as subtle as a brick in the face.
Which ain’t really a bad thing. Sometimes, you just wanna blow sh%# up, y’know?
In fact, it’s not even worth going into the backstory (something about being an elite special forces unit hunting for the secret underground lab of some madman bent on blah blah blah), since you’re just going to jump into the action anyway. The control is set up like Robotron or Smash TV, with one analog stick controlling movement while the other controls which way you shoot, plus the occasional button press for special weapons and power-ups.
Played from a mostly top-down, just slightly isometric perspective, the gameplay consciously hearkens back to the forward-scrolling shooters of yore, with an especially distinct nod to Contra. You (and probably a friend, since the game is designed to be two-player, both online and off) begin by being dropped off in an armed and armored 4x4. After that you speed along and, basically, shoot everything that moves and most of the stuff that doesn’t – the fully 3D terrain is largely destructible, so blast craters and such endure as part of the landscape. Power-ups and new weapons are cracked out of enemies and crates and can get picked up along the way, everything from mini-guns and flamethrowers to full on nukes.
There are also a couple of levels where the 4x4 is replaced by an equally tricked out speedboat (guess which levels those are). However, should you sustain enough damage, your 4x4 or boat is destroyed and you’re forced to fight on foot until another vehicle can be supplied. And rest assured, all this action is backed up by giant bosses and mini-bosses, flashy special effects, and really, really big explosions.
So no, the gameplay isn’t exactly sophisticated, but it’s not meant to be either. A brief hands-on of an early version of the game at Sierra’s recent Gamer’s Week showed that the control was fairly tight and the gameplay strangely addictive. The real question is whether this kind of one-or-two-note gameplay has any legs over the long haul, but it’s definitely a game worth watching for.