It is not a good omen for a game that most of the way through writing a review, the reviewer is still having trouble remembering the name of the game being reviewed. And yet, this effect seems almost intentional when the name of the game is Heavy Fire: Black Arms 3D. It’s as if those responsible for naming the game have already given up on trying to sell the game on its own merits, content to employ a strategy of making its title sound like as many other army-dudes-blowing-stuff-up games on the market as possible. Its art is an angry army bro in sunglasses, driving home the point of “THIS BE ARMY GAME SO CALL SOME DUTY ALREADY”. It could trick susceptible parents and ten-year-olds into thinking it’s something that it’s not; it could be the least subtle bandwagoning game on the market.
Black Arms 3D actually starts well. The first thing that you do is take a selfie in an army-hat template. “YOU ARE THE BRO,” and all that. It was a sign that the game might not take itself all that seriously.
It is the last sign that the game might not take itself all that seriously.
You take the selfie to identify which save slot happens to be yours. Once you get into the game, you get on the rails, and you start shooting. It’s a light-gun game implemented via stylus, which seems like a reasonable idea until you start playing.
Black Arms 3D is a brutally hard game and not in a good way.
There’s an inherent problem with trying to put any sort of shooting game on a portable system: the tiny little screen(s). When you’re looking for the next thing to shoot, it takes you out of the game if you don’t see what hit you just because it’s too small on that screen. There seems to be some attempted mitigation of this issue via Metal Gear Solid-style exclamation points over the heads of the bad guys who are the most immediate threats, but the semi-transparent visual on those exclamation points means that you’ll miss them just as often. Of course, your army bro is shooting bad army bros in the jungle, so even the large ones are hard to see on a fairly regular basis.
That’s right, in a genre of game where one of the biggest problems is small targets, the developers put the game in a setting that makes the small targets hard to see.
The other major problem here is that once a bad guy comes into view, there is no indication of how long it’s going to be before that baddie decides to start shooting. Some guys give you a full ten seconds; others, you don’t get one. Again, the exclamation points are here to tell you who’s going to be shooting at you next, but by the time you actually notice the exclamation point, you’re down a precious life point. The only real way to figure out which one of the bad bros is going to be shooting next is, really, to get shot by one. The problem, of course, is that with three or four on the screen at any given time, it can be awfully tough to figure out which one is the one who actually got you.
The moral of the story is that repetition is not just key while playing Black Arms 3D, it’s absolutely necessary. The player hardly feels responsible for losing, because the player is in an impossible position. When you’re squinting to see what are ostensibly human figures that are often no more than ten feet in front of you, the game is rigged.
None of this is even to mention the ugly apparent framerate dip that happens when you try to play the game in 3D. If you thought it was hard in 2D, just try it with your enemies skipping all over the screen! And yes, that’s an exaggeration, but on-rails shooters like this require absolute precision. All 3D seems to do is stack one more “game” element against the player, for what really comes off as an inferior visual. The 3D feels tacked on and actually detracts from the game.
Black Arms 3D is actually the second game in the 3DS Heavy Fire series. Both Heavy Fire games actually started out as WiiWare games, which were then ported to the 3DS two years after their respective releases.
These are games that make sense on a television. There’s more real estate on a TV screen with which to see what you’re shooting at. There’s a thing you actually point at the screen in order to shoot the bad guys. On the 3DS, you move the stylus around the bottom screen to move the reticle on the top screen. It’s a mechanic that you get used to, one that is certainly better than trying to use, say, the directional pad to move the reticle, but being a better option than an awful one is no justification. It’s difficult to see a quick-reflex shooter on rails succeeding on the 3DS.
Maybe with a different approach, one can. Black Arms 3D isn’t the one to show us it’s possible.