I never really grew up playing shooters like a lot of people – especially single-player shooters. I somehow got into Apex Legends for a year until I burned myself out of it, but that’s a multiplayer thing. I’ve been missing out on single-player experiences, which are a different can of worms. You don’t feel a sense of commitment to a team, nor do you get destroyed by someone that’s just better than you.
In the past few years, I’ve been inching into playing more single-player shooters, which really kicked into gear last year thanks to a certain series cultivating an interest in Half-Life for me. In the indie sphere, I played High Hell – which was short but exhilarating – and Bunker Punks – which was just kinda disappointing. However, what fully cemented my interests was Cruelty Squad, which is honestly one of my favorite things I played this year.
I’ve been thinking about revisiting it recently since I last played it while it was still in Early Access. Then my unfocused brain said, “how about you check out some other games?” And so I have.
The games I bring before you today are defined by short play sessions and a lack of long designed levels, instead opting for procedurally generated stuff and a survival arena. It’s stuff perfectly suited for my easily distracted attention span, and maybe you’ll like them too.
Heavy Bullets is a bit of a lesser known title in Devolver Digital’s catalogue of published games. This is a first-person roguelike made by Terri Vellmann and Doseone, way before they made High Hell. You’re on a job to restore a company’s security mainframe in a facility overrun by monsters and hostile security devices, with nothing but a trusty revolver and whatever you find and buy on the way.
Unlike High Hell’s unlimited ammo gun, you can’t go in guns blazing in Heavy Bullets, at least at the start. You have limited ammo, though you can pick your bullets back up. However, this means that missed shots translates to having to scramble over to a fallen bullet to load into the revolver, which could easily lead to your death. As fast-paced as the game is, its design encourages a sense of caution in moving forward.
Want to get more wild with shooting? Unless you’re lucky enough to find spare bullets as item drops, you’ll need to buy them. Besides picking up your spent revolver bullets, you’ll also be picking up money from the corpses of enemies. Throughout a level you’ll find different types of vending machines to buy from. Out of an ammo machine you can buy, well, ammo, along with usable items and you can buy heals and healing items from another. With regards to the items, well, a lot of them don’t feel particularly useful? I don’t particularly see the usefulness of the separate resource bomb items (like the Binding of Isaac) for any situation outside of blowing up turrets you have trouble with, since most other enemies just kinda rush at you.
When it comes to Heavy Bullet‘s metagame, the most important machine is the one for banking. The game really does not expect you to beat it on a fresh run, and that’s where the banking comes in. Besides selling items in your inventory, you can also deposit money or store useful items that you can withdraw on future runs; furthermore, you can buy insurance or a last will to compensate you for fuck-ups and get discounts for all other purchasable items in the game. Ideally, you’d be saving up in hopes of having that one ideal run down the road, where you can pull out all the resources you need for victory – or at least, making it easier to stay alive.
In terms of aesthetics, Heavy Bullets has an interesting style. The walls and objects in the game have a neon look to it, but it’s not overly distracting. It acts as a nice contrast to the black ground with its translucent tufts of grass. It’s easy to tell enemies apart from the environment, with the exception of the dreaded snake enemy – though, given that it waits around until you wander into its same-colored grass, it’s entirely intentional. Electronic beats accompany your gun fights which quiets down when things are safe, leaving only ambient noise and the sounds of leftover coins and bullets bouncing around. It all makes for a nice simple style, whilst maintaining the atmosphere of a mysterious hostile environment.
I… have not properly beaten Heavy Bullets yet, though. I’m still not great at first-person shooters; to be honest, I’m astonished that I got through High Hell. However, is Heavy Bullets enjoyable? Yeah! While it’s the slowest out of this batch of games, play sessions have been short enough to keep my attention
Post Void is a fast paced shooter by YCJY Games. You carry a severed head as an idol, and you must deliver it to the end of a void world of hostile weirdos to create new life. Or rather… you must bring it… Post Void. The story bits of this doesn’t really matter that much, but also, it does a good job at setting the unhinged tone of this game.
Start a new game and you’re thrown into the harsh and unrelenting void of procedurally generated halls. Your idol drips its fluid over time and whenever you get hit, and you obviously lose when it’s all out of that juice. Thankfully, you can fill it back up through the life blood of your enemies. Shoot up an enemy and the screen gets caked in that fluid while they splatter proper red on your surroundings. While you can take quick glances at your idol to see where your health is at, you’ll know you’re low when a countdown appears on screen to announce the pre-death mercy period.
To get through the game, you must be fast and aggressive. Sliding is an important mechanic in the game, in that besides letting you go down sloped hallways faster, it also lets you dodge bullets since they all seem to be projectiles. If you aren’t constantly sliding around, you aren’t doing this right. You also have a jump, which is important when the levels start adding mild platformer elements, turning into big 3D mazes as opposed to the initial straightforward hallways; suddenly, that upgrade that points toward the end of a level seems much more tempting.
Speaking of which, when you get to the end of a level you can choose some kinda upgrade. Notably you can choose different weapons for upgrades. For the sake of OptimizationTM, the Uzi is one of the best weapons. While it’s inaccurate, a single headshot can kill an enemy, so having something with a big clip and good aiming skills will take you far.
The tone of the game feels like a fever dream running on adrenaline, which is enhanced by a strong sense of game feel. The visuals makes the action feel loud, and the vivid colors and weird enemy designs communicates the game’s overall surreal feel. Upon death, the game flashes through quick imagery to punctuate your demise – however, the creators are aware that it’s not exactly friendly to the photosensitive, so you can actually turn that off.
Post Void notably only has one music track, but it’s a damn good one that perfectly captures the rush of speeding through these levels. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
Post Void is one of those games that’s quick to get through… if you can master it. Until then, you’ll die over and over, each try bringing in that same rush. It’s a game that just feels good to play, and sometimes, a quick bite of something good is all you need.
But what if you wanted a quicker bite of action? And so, let’s end things off with Devil Daggers.
I’ve had Devil Daggers since 2016, but I hadn’t played it for more than 5 minutes because I just had a weak laptop back then. However, with quick shooter games on my mind, I finally decided to check it out properly. So, this game is made by the studio Sorath and for now seems to be the sole game they developed. However, the developers surprised everyone with a sudden 5-year anniversary quality of life update earlier this year, providing some small fixes and changes.
You start the game up and you are in a dark arena. There’s a dagger in the center. You pick it up. Welcome to Hell. Unlike the other games in this post, there’s no concrete goal to reach. All you can do is survive for as long as you can. The closest thing to a goal I see is the game’s sole achievement… which only an absurd 0.2% of players have, so uh, good luck with that.
Having picked up the eponymous Devil Daggers, you gain the energy to shoot energized daggers out of your hands. Tapping the left-mouse button unleashes a shotgun burst of daggers, while holding it down fires a machine gun stream of them. It comes in handy for the demons that start fading into existence around you. It starts out with idols that spew out homing skulls, and will keep doing it until you destroy their convenient red weak point – at least, that’s the obvious way of going about things. However, as more enemy generators and different monsters spawn in, the game grows more tense as you have their tiny swarms coming at you from all directions. Out of all these short term shooter games, this one tests awareness of your surroundings the most, especially since you eat shit and die with one hit.
However, unlike the likes of the other two games here, Devil Daggers actually has a fixed progression system, with new enemy waves spawning in at certain times. With that in mind, you can get some serious practice in to get ahead in the game. With repeated plays, you’ll probably come to learn how to surpass each new wave. It’s like how some shmup players get through games through memorizing bullet patterns, so I guess you can think of Devil Daggers as one big 3D bullet hell.
It isn’t immediately apparent, but the red gems that enemies drop also upgrades your strength. In fact, in looking up some tips on the game, I saw that there’s surprisingly a bunch of hidden mechanics that you’ll have to pick up on (or you know, look up) to have a better chance of succeeding. On the surface, Devil Daggers is pretty simple – if brutally hard – but it hides a layer of depth that players more accustomed to this kinda game would enjoy. I was definitely late on the bandwagon with this game, but I think it’s really great.
So, what have I learned in playing shooters? As it turns out, shooters might be good, actually. In fact, I might want to pick up that Quake remaster and get a taste of this classic that I missed. And of course, there’s a lot of other, much bigger indie FPSes to take a look at, like DUSK and ULTRAKILL. I may be utterly failing at my New Year’s resolution of clearing through my backlog, but I’m at least succeeding at my resolution of getting into new things, so who can say what’s good and bad?