Ever since I’ve seen the movie Independence Day as a kid, I have been looking for a fun combat flight simulator to blow some aliens out of the sky. Heatseeker partially fulfils my dream. Unfortunately for me there are no aliens in this game, only bad-ass rebels.
I would like to warn the die-hards though. Heatseeker isn’t a game with hundreds of options, but instead focuses on quick and continuous action by limiting the possibilities. It’s all in the simplicity, the challenge and the satisfaction of shooting down enemy fighters.
The game takes place in a parallel world with our existing planes, but where all super powers are at war. Rebels have never been this numerous and posses enough resources to finance hundreds of airplanes, ships, submarines and SAM-sites. This actually doesn’t make any sense at all, but O.K., every game needs a setting, right? The missions fit in with the story and are of course very abstract. Luckily for us, there’s quite a bit of variation in them to make it up.
In total, seventeen types of airplanes were put in the game. Models like the F-15, F-16, MIG-1.44 or F-117 ‘Stealth’ Nighthawk belong to the possibilities. These babies hold an unlimited supply of bullets, missiles, rockets and bombs. After firing, they automatically replenish so there’s no need to reload at an airstrip or carrier ship.
Targeting goes fully automatic, but only if your selected enemy is in the centre of the screen. When there’s another bird in front of yours, it won’t lock on it. Fortunately an arrow at the side of the screen shows which way the enemy went, so you can follow it while dog fighting.
Where the game does stand out, is with the controls. These were mapped perfectly to the Wii remote. O.K., it’s not a real joystick, but it’s still very intuitive. The game has two steering modes: arcade and professional. In the first one it’s just a matter of aiming at the screen: up is up, down is down and sideways makes the plane turn in that direction. The ‘professional’ mode differs from the first by the fact that the control has to be rotated to steer the plane. It’s a bit more difficult, but it greatly improves your freedom while in the air.
Heatseeker isn’t much of a graphical hit, but its clouds did surprise me. At the moment you’re flying through them, they seem to dissolve, leaving you with this magical feeling. Also, razing through the debris of an exploding aircraft makes your day every single time. Additionally the ‘impact cam’, which captures the explosions in slow motion, adds that extra bit of atmosphere.
Unfortunately, the game also has some downsides. For instance, it is never really clear what exactly your objective is. Arrows on the screen seem to point rarely to your objectives. Also, bonus objectives are given not enough attention, making it hard to collect the unlockable planes and weapons. The thing I miss the most is some kind of free-flight mode, giving you the opportunity to practice on dog fighting without keeping track of your missions.
Heatseeker is fun! It isn’t a realistic simulator and might not look all that great, but offers a decent and addictive gameplay. It can be a great way to start your career as a pilot, but ace fighters should be wary of this one as it’s rather basic and has limited freedom