Is anyone else out there old enough to remember the early days of Mastertronic, Codemasters, Firebird and the other 8-bit budget software houses? At their best, they provided decent games at pocket money prices. You knew you weren’t getting an A-List title, but that was fine – you couldn’t expect Knight Lore for £2, but you could expect something that would suck up a few dull hours and give you an enjoyable run.
In a way, the various download stores like Xbox Live Arcade, PSN Store and – where relevant – Steam, are doing the same thing. You pay your ￡5 to ￡7 knowing that you’re not going to get the next Gears of War or Uncharted, but you hope you’ll get something simple, easy on the eye and fun. Assault Heroes 2 fits the bill almost perfectly. Unpretentious, lacking in ‘wow’ factor and not at all revolutionary, it’s still a cracker of a game for the cash.
Those of you who played the original Assault Heroes last year will know roughly what to expect: a scrolling, twin-stick 2D shoot-em-up that brings to mind old 8-bit classics like Ikari Warriors and Commando. The plot is practically non-existent. Last year’s badass has been beaten, a bigger badass is back for more, and it’s up to you to send him and his armies packing. To do so you have a Warthog-style armoured assault vehicle, but you can also pop out on foot and take over waiting tanks, helicopters or cannon-packing mechs. Make your way through each level, shoot anything that shoots at you, beat the boss, then go onto the next. If you want classic arcade action, no frills, this is it.
Now, I didn’t play a lot of the original, but to my mind this is definitely the better game. It looks sharper, with cleaner textures, more atmospheric lighting, more detail and some fine vehicle and enemy design. You couldn’t say that Assault Heroes 2 was exactly gobsmacking – it looks a lot like an HD version of a first-generation Xbox game – but it’s certainly not an ugly piece of work, and some of the bosses are terrific. It also helps that the game tends to stick to a high, zoomed-out vantage point; when your enemies are many and each only a few pixels high, you’re more focused on filling them with lead than checking out the relatively low-polygon models.