Mostly Harmless? — Hands-on with Firing Range 2
If you’ve played first-person shooters for any period of time, you’ve probably run across ‘that guy’ when playing online. He’s the one who’s running in the middle of the streets, right out in the open where anyone can pick him off. He’s the guy who’ll follow you around for five minutes, desperately spamming the knife until you notice him and kill him. He’s the one who fires a dozen rounds around you, shooting as if he’s trying to miss. Is he even paying attention? Does he play games at all?
Well, he’s me, and his problems are multi-faceted. The Xbox Live Indie Game, Firing Range 2, is looking to solve one of FPS gaming’s worst problems: quick aiming. In today’s console shooters, if you can’t move those crosshairs over your intended target in less than a second, you won’t be making any friends on your team. You’re going to need quick reflexes with great accuracy, and that’s where this game comes in.
Firing Range 2 skews more toward being a training tool than an actual game. You’re given two guns which vary depending on whether you choose short or long range practice, and then you’re given increasingly gruelling scores to achieve each round. If you manage to score enough hits, you move onto the next round. It’s pretty standard, but the game makes up for it by refusing to hold your hand whatsoever. The first two or three stages are easy, but then the game does its best to break your spirit.
Shifting from encouraging parent to drill sergeant without saying a single word, the game soon starts making ridiculous demands of you to pass its vicious stages. It was all I could do a lot of the time to get anywhere near the score I needed to get to the next area. Level 5 still breaks me over its knee on both range types, and that’s out of fifteen stages.
The game is only destroying me due to my own lack of skill, though. My first instinct was to think the score requirements escalated unfairly in a hurry, but that’s because I didn’t quite understand the system yet. It plays like a straight target-shooting game, but it borrows a little something from Guitar Hero with its Heat Meter. As you hit targets, you build toward a multiplier that will help you hit those necessary scores. On top of that, a high Heat Meter also releases more challenging targets, which are also worth more points. Letting a target sneak off without being hit will result in your Heat dropping, which is an absolute disaster since it takes a lot of targets to raise a lost Heat level. It’s appropriate, since ignoring a target entirely in any online shooter is going to get you killed. You might not be able to pull a bullseye with every shot, but if you always hit every enemy on-screen, you’re doing better than a lot of people.
There’s some interesting variety in the targets as well. You have large and small ones, of course, but you also have targets that can only be dispatched with your sidearm. It necessitates a quick switch, but becomes second nature in no time. There are also hardened targets you have to hit a lot to break down, as well as guys who can only be damaged on the head or body. It helps you practice hitting a moving target or pulling off precise shots, which are both handy. Finally, there’s the target that pops-up and obscures your screen, requiring a melee attack. It helps with that twitch reaction, encouraging me to be ready for moves that didn’t require my trigger finger.
There are some nice bonuses to earn while the player slowly improves. For every target you break, you get some in-game cash that allows you to unlock new guns to play with. You start off with a handgun, machine gun, assault rifle, and sniper rifle, but can buy variants on them that have different ranges, reload times, and rates of fire. I never found that any one gun was better than the other, but it was nice to have something I was working toward even when I was failing the levels. You can also buy skins for your guns if you’re into that sort of thing, but I decided to pass on the zebra-print pistol; achromatic rainbow was more my speed.
Altering your gun’s skin is the closest thing you’re going to get to visual variety, though, since you won’t be seeing any change in locales in this game. You’re given one desert range to shoot from, either during the day or with night vision goggles at night. It looks gorgeous, with lots of detail on some nearby vehicles and a bit of vegetation kicking around, but it’s the only place you’re ever going to go. The visuals are fantastic for an indie game, but again, don’t expect to see anything new beyond the first level. It’s pretty much just you and the targets.
The multiplayer offerings in the game are slim as well. You’re put into a two minute match where the person who scores the most points wins. It’s pretty basic, and I felt like there could have been some more intricate match types thrown in to make things more interesting, like targets you shouldn’t shoot or only gaining points for hitting certain colored targets. As it stands, you don’t have any interaction with the other player other than a score appearing on top of your screen telling you how far ahead or behind you are. It’s kind of fun, but it really doesn’t offer much more than you’d gain from the single player.
There is one large, glaring problem with this game, although it’s with its mission more than its execution. It’s trying to teach you to get better at playing online shooters, but I would argue that the best way to do that would be to actually play the shooter you want to get good at. Being able to shoot a lot of targets in a row is going to give you useful basics, and I get that they want to help people who are having trouble online, but eventually, you’re just going to have to dive into your game of choice.
Each game is going to have its guns, aiming, and accuracy handle differently. This game lets you tweak some aspects of it, but its guns may not handle exactly like the guns in the game you’re trying to get good at. You could spend hours praticing with this game, only to find that some of your skills won’t transfer over. Likewise, you take all of your shots from a stationary position, something that rarely happens in an online shooter. Almost all of your shots are going to be taken while moving around in any online game, and this game just doesn’t provide for that. It may be a lot to ask of a $1 game, but it’s still a glaring omission in a game that’s trying to improve your shooting.
All that being said, I still had a pretty good time with Firing Range 2. As you begin to understand its systems and levels, you start to have fun with them. The rewards will help keep you playing when the game seems to be going out of its way to frustrate you, and no matter what, you are still building up a lot of the basic skills that will help you become a better player the next time you’re online. It’s fun, looks good, plays smooth, and will improve your aim. Can’t ask for much more for that $1.