Codemasters' Heatseeker is a game that strongly emphasises the bipolar Jekyll and Hyde attributes of many Wii titles. At its most basic level, it's an Ace Combat-style arcade flying game that boasts a fun, innovative control system that makes the most of the Wiimote motion sensors. However, as is the case with many Wii titles it looks like an absolute dog's dinner - with excessively basic graphics the PS2 would be embarrassed in rendering.
As is usual with the Ace Combat formula, gameplay boils down to blowing things up in the air, bombing things at ground (or sea) level and defending things against a combination of the things you'd otherwise be shooting down or bombing anyway. Helping to add some degree of variety to the proceedings is the range of aircraft at your disposal; the gamut of modern fighter aircraft are at your disposal as you progress through the game, including F-15s, F-16s, MiGs, Blackhawks and F/A-18s. Each aircraft feels like a different beast when you're behind the stick and takes a little time to master, helping to add an element of challenge to each of the 18 levels.
Heatseeker is kind of a damning indictment of Western games development. In reviewing it you've got to draw a comparison to the Japanese arcade jet fighting Ace Combat series because, well, Heatseeker is something of an 'homage' to it, and the differences between the two are clear. Ace Combat is an enormously polished license that tries to wrap you up in a beautiful frontend and an atmosphere of desperate comms chatter, highly vulnerable planes and a story that's rich with personal belief and tough decisions. Heatseeker on the other hand is being sold on its 'Impact Cam'. The Impact Cam is a camera that follows your missiles right up to the point of impact then shows you the explosion up close and in slow motion. Imagining the project lead meetings side by side is pretty depressing. Immaculately dressed Japanese men discussing how to best convey the horror of war next to twenty-something execs in t-shirts unanimously deciding the player needs to see the explosions closer and slower.
Depending on how much you like explosions or hate stuff that isn't exploding, you might even find the Impact Cam to be a negative thing. For one you always seem to accidentally activate it when you're in the middle of some evasive manoeuvres you absolutely do not want to be dragged away from. This isn't like Max Payne's ultra-fast sniper rifle, either. Missiles take time to reach their target. So you're left, invulnerable and going in a straight line, for the entire duration of its flight.
What's most irritating is it only ever activates when your ordnance is going to hit and destroy your target, which is normally a tense and unsure thing. With the Impact Cam you just sit back and watch your shot inevitably find its mark. It also means Heatseeker in some way decides whether your shot hits before you've pulled the trigger, and it's not down to fancy AI flying or flare dropping. Annoying.
Codemasters is joining forces with Australian developer IR Gurus on a new aerial combat title called Heatseeker, due out on PS2, PSP and Wii in Q1 2007.