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It's also nice to see a game go so big on destructible scenery. Barracks, guard towers, trees, temples, and all number of enemy installations can all be blown into lovely jagged chunks. Combine this with an arsenal of miniguns, missile launchers, freeze-weapons and flamethrowers, and there's a lot of destruction on the screen. I'm still not quite sure I can say that this is yesterday's game remade with today's technology, but Assault Heroes 2 is a good example of how to make an old arcade genre feel more up to date.
The next thing that hits you is that this is a slicker, more enjoyably paced title than its predecessor. Assault Heroes 2 throws on waves of grunts like there's no tomorrow, but it also knows when to slip in tanks and helicopters, exploding kamikaze goons, and a variety of shock troopers. It's better at setting up set-piece battles than a lot of full-priced FPS games I could mention, and it's not afraid to use the landscape to create choke-points and do-or-die arenas of wanton destruction. As the early snowscapes give way to pseudo-Aztec Jungle settings and gloomy red sci-fi scenery the game trickles in new enemy types, new machines to drive and new challenges. There are even occasions when you're forced to proceed on foot, or where you can opt to leave the main path and hack your way through terrifyingly tight sub-levels - it's a bit like using a warp pipe in a Mario game.
Best of all, Assault Heroes 2 features some of the finest boss battles I've enjoyed in ages. They're imaginative, impressive and challenging, but not so challenging that they'll hold you up for more than a few tries. The giant alien whale near the start is a particular goody, rearing up spectacularly from the river bed to spit up troops or laser you to death, but those that follow have more than their fair share of memorable moments without providing insurmountable barriers to progress.
In fact, difficulty is a key strength with Assault Heroes 2. One of the few problems with recent Xbox Live Arcade shooters such as Ikaruga or Omega Five has been that they demanded real dedication; if you weren't prepared to put in the hours and improve your skills, then there was no way you were going to see even halfway through the game. Not so with Assault Heroes 2. I think that most of us could dial the game down to Easy and muddle through to victory, while the Medium level is a solid challenge, but not dispiritingly hard. Frankly, having sweated to bring you reviews of the aforementioned titles, Assault Heroes 2 came as a nice relief.