It’s not often that a developer takes on a crowded genre such as twin stick shooters and adds unique gameplay elements that set it apart. I was so excited to review Action News Heroes, a game by Krewe Studios of Los Angeles, that supports up to two players locally. The game seemingly had everything going for it, five cool looking characters, over the top humor and silliness, crazy bosses and detailed cel shaded graphics. When I finally played the game I couldn’t have been more disappointed and frankly angry at some of the design choices. It’s very hard to recommend Action News Heroes to everyone, but will it appeal to you?
The story is convoluted and hard to explain but in a nutshell you play as group of mercenaries tasked with destroying Sabre, a contract army who stole some secret technology. As the Action News Heroes your destruction is broadcasted on live television. Your goal is to put on a good show and get your television ratings as high as possible. This all sounds pretty cool on paper but the way the ratings meter affects gameplay completely ruined the experience for me.
When you start the first level your ratings meter stands at about 75%, why it doesn’t start at 100% is beyond me. From the moment you move the meter goes down, and it goes down every time you get shot, run away from enemies or stand still. You can increase this rating meter by destroying props such as explosive barrels, wooden boxes or electrical generators. The decreasing meter naturally made me want to move quickly through the level, but doing this caused me to leave behind enemies I couldn’t see and the ratings would go to zero percent. When this happens it is game over; you don’t save any money you pick up or earn any experience. You can make it all the way to the final boss, die and it’s basically for naught. When I realized that going fast wasn’t working I became meticulous, killing every enemy and making sure not to rush, but the slower pace just meant I ran out of ratings meter later rather than sooner. There’s no quick restart button and every time I died I had to re-choose my character, skip the story sequence and objective page along with a loading screen.
The ratings system could have been easily fixed by not making 0% an instant game over, or even just adding checkpoints. How about grades for each level based on ratings? An easier difficulty option? Or simply just making the meter descend slower? I’m really hoping that Krewe Studios patches the game to make the meter a little more forgiving. Lob a grenade into 4 enemies and you get little ratings increase, but shoot three boxes and the meter increases much more, what sense does that make? You have a limited number of lives but I never ran out because the ratings meter would always kill me first. There is a mini-map on screen but it doesn’t point you in the direction you need to go, I found myself wandering aimlessly and hoping I’d stumble upon my objective.
Action News Heroes is generous with its loot drops and you will often pick up millions of dollars at a time. If you are skilled enough to complete a level, you can use this money to buy new guns and super attacks and there are a lot to choose from. There are eight levels to complete and each one ends with a boss fight. The graphics look really nice for a top-down game, with impressive smoke, explosion and shadow effects. The music and sound effects do a good job but they aren’t anything incredibly memorable. The game has some sick humor that really appealed to me and it was a shame I couldn’t see more because of the overwhelming difficulty.
I will never agree with games being difficult just for the sake of being difficult. Action News Heroes is a game that stands out among recent shooters like Neon Chrome or Spareware.
But unless it’s patched I really cannot recommend it solely because of the ratings meter. The game is just not fun to play when you lose progress every single time you die. It’s not rewarding to finally beat a level, it’s a chore, and that is not what gaming is about for me. If you are still considering a purchase, I would look up some video previews online and get as much informed feedback as possible. Maybe I’m just bad at the game? But with nearly 30 years of gaming experience I would think I could get a little further than I did. If the game is updated in the future I will gladly replay it and revise this review, but until then I have to rate it in its current state. This game doesn’t deserve to be cancelled, but I’d say a gameplay reboot is in order.
Review updates following first patch:
Krewe Studios has heard everyone’s feedback and has released a patch for the game that makes the ratings meter drop much slower, adds arrows to the minimap and adjusts the power of some weapons. These changes make the game far more enjoyable and even better I was finally able to unlock achievements. I’m looking forward to the insane bosses, spilling more blood and unlocking more weapons. I have adjusted the original review score and added 3.5 points. This concludes our broadcast day!
3/10 …. 6.5/10
+ Silly, over-the-top humor and themes
+ Impressive cel shaded graphics
Ratings meter makes the game unnecessarily difficult
– No quick restart button or checkpoints