Heavy Metal: F.A.K.K. 2 & Between Heaven And Hell Review

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The original Heavy Metal is an interesting film. It’s an animated film based on the Heavy Metal magazine and just like the magazine, it’s an adolescent boy’s dream. It’s got violence, science fiction, fantasy, and boobs. It also has a notable voice cast with performances by John Candy, Eugene Levy, Harold Ramis, and Joe Flaherty, among others. And the soundtrack is kickass. The follow-up, Heavy Metal 2000, was released in 2000 and contains a story based on the graphic novel The Melting Pot. And, yes, it’s another sci-fi fantasy story with animated boobs and plenty of violence. The film features the voice work of Michael Ironside, Billy Idol, and actress Julie Strain who also lends her likeness to the main character. Now the soundtrack is different than what we heard in the first film and that’s all I’m going to say about that. I prefer the tone and atmosphere of the first film but I think the story in Heavy Metal 2000 is more coherent. The video game, Heavy Metal F.A.K.K. 2, is a sequel to Heavy Metal 2000 and I’ve wanted to play this for a while now. Developed by Ritual Entertainment and published by Gathering of Developers, Heavy Metal: F.A.K.K. 2 was released for PC in August, 2000. I ended up ordering a copy off of eBay for a decent price and then I watched the films for the first time so I could be properly prepared. This review will also cover the unofficial expansion pack, Between Heaven And Hell. It was designed by a former Ritual Entertainment level designer and contains three large maps with custom music. Apparently, more maps were planned but are not available.

The story takes place years after the events of Heavy Metal 2000 and you take on the role of Julie. F.A.K.K. 2 stands for “Federation-Assigned Ketogenic Killzone to the second level” which is not only her alias but also the name of her homeworld. After Julie killed Lord Tyler in the film, she and her remaining people moved to a planet called Eden and they discovered that the waters grant immortality to those who drink it. In the game, the planet is attacked by an enemy force known as the GITH, forcing Julie to fight them off. That’s really all there is to it. You’ll interact with different characters, most of which appear in the early parts of the game, but none of them are very interesting. Unfortunately, the story is quite short and ends with a cliffhanger. If you’ve seen the film, you should recognize some characters but the voice work here isn’t on the same level as what we heard in the film. Actress Julie Strain returns to lend her voice and likeness to the protagonist, Julie, and does a decent enough job for the dialogue she has to work with but the rest of the performances are below average.

Heavy Metal is a third-person action game and it runs on the id Tech 3 engine. As you progress through the story, Julie will acquire new outfits and armor pieces which I’ve read unlocks different melee attacks. Although, I didn’t really notice, myself. She can walk, run, jump, crouch, push and pull objects, climb things, hug walls, swing on ropes, and hang on ledges. When Julie takes damage she loses health. Health can be replenished by fruits and mushrooms found in the environments and you can store Health Vials in your inventory for use at any time. Water acts as armor and also powers some of your weapons. You can stand in Eden Water or acquire Water Ampoule’s to raise your water level. When your water level reaches close to its maximum amount, you can run faster and jump farther. You can acquire Circle of Protection potions which will protect Julie from all attacks except projectiles. Some might call Heavy Metal a platformer because you’ll be jumping from platform to platform often in addition to all the climbing. I would say controlling Julie can sometimes be a bit clunky. On the one hand, the combat is fast and fluid but general navigation and platforming can feel stiff at times. To perform some actions, you need to wait for Julie to come to a complete stop first which can mess with your momentum and even cause you to die.

One of the cooler aspects of the game is the variety of weapons. Julie can dual wield weapons and perform combos to deal heavy damage. You can wield a crossbow or shield in one hand and a sword in the other. Heavy weapons require the use of both hands and some weapons can only be equipped in certain hands. The Fire and Electrical swords were my go-to melee weapons and the uzi became my go-to firearm. This is one of those games where you’ll want to play with every weapon you acquire just to see what works best for you and which weapon combinations you prefer. You’ll get to equip a pistol, an over and under plasma shotgun, you can dual wield uzis, or you can spill the blood of enemies with a chainsaw sword, or maybe chop them up with an axe. The rocket launcher is a great weapon against tougher enemy types and detonators placed near volatile objects will cause explosions. The sling is a basic weapon and comes with unlimited rock ammo but you can acquire explosive and gas ammo as well. You can use the sling to attack or distract enemies or even hurl rocks at buttons. You can burn enemies with the flame thrower, decimate them with the XP-80 which is like a chaingun, or suck the life out of them with the Soul-Sucker. Projectile-based weapons do require ammo which can be found throughout the environments or are dropped by fallen enemies and several weapons do have alternate fire modes. The plasma shotgun can fire grenades, the XP-80 doubles as a plama cannon, the chainsaw sword can be pointed straight ahead and do massive damage while also consuming gas, and the Soul-Sucker can shoot water. If you acquire the Horn of Conjuring, you can use it to create a Vymish which will distract and attack enemies. The arsenal is actually quite impressive and the combat can be a lot of fun. The game employs an auto-aim system so Julie will automatically lock onto enemies when equipped with firearms. It kind of feels badass shooting at enemies with dual uzis, as you strafe and jump around to dodge their attacks. Switching between weapons can take some getting used to. You will want to switch weapons frequently to combat the different threats and, sadly, it’s not an seamless task. Each weapon is part of a category and by default the number keys on your keyboard are assigned to a category and you’ll have to press a button to bring up the category and then decide on which weapon you want. Once you have that down, it’s not really a problem but in the early goings, trying to switch weapons during combat can be a real pain in the ass. Even later on, you can easily fumble through the inventory and press the wrong buttons. It doesn’t help that some weapons can only be equipped in certain hands forcing you to press the correct buttons to equip them. The entire process is convoluted.

The melee combat can be quite satisfying thanks to all the gore effects. You can chop off enemy heads and limbs and watch their blood come gushing out. I should mention that Heavy Metal is a bit on the easy side. There are no difficulty modes to select from and most of the melee combat boils down to slashing away at enemies repeatedly. I never felt forced or even encouraged to perform combos, even though they can be helpful against tougher enemy types. Don’t get me wrong, I did die a few times, but once you have enemy attack patterns down, they’re very easy to overcome. Outside of some bosses, there’s only a few unique enemy types that allow you to really explore the melee combat mechanics. But you can always use firearms and bigger guns which are usually more effective most of the time. The Grawlix is a large brute that will rush you, swipe at you, and sometimes channel electrical charges. The Ghost Grawlix is the same but can turn invisible. Fleshbinder’s are just weird-looking enemies that are best engaged from a distanced. Using melee weapons against them is ill-advised. They’re equipped with a chaingun, plasma shotgun, and flame thrower, and they’ll fire grenades and rockets at you so it’s just wise to keep your distance. Dark Creeper’s look like large reptiles that will utilize melee attacks and spit acid and they can take a few hits before going down. There’s a couple of bosses that appear as standard enemies after first encountered. The Soul Harvester is one of them and is probably the deadliest standard enemy in the game. I don’t know what the hell it’s supposed to be but it’s humanoid in appearance with a beak of some kind, it can teleport around areas, and is armed with a double-bladed hatchet and Soul-Sucker. This is one enemy type that encourages you to use melee combat. Once you master strafing or dodging and blocking, these guys can be easy to defeat, and combos seem to be very effective against them. The flame thrower is also very effective against them. Lympthorn’s are plants with what look like boobs and they fire acidic thorns at you. Now The rest of the enemies in the roster can be killed with little effort.

Vymish Mosquitoes are small flying enemies that swarm you and are just annoying. You’ll encounter these things almost everywhere you go and later in the game you’ll have to contend with Fire ones that can set you on fire. Birds and Firebirds will circle over your head before diving straight at you. Firebirds can explode on impact or when killed. If they miss you, there’s a good chance their beak will get stuck in the environment leaving them vulnerable to attack although it is easier to shoot them out of the sky. The Birds always appear above you and they usually make a sound but it’s very easy to not notice them until they attack. You’ll always encounter more than one and they always seem to appear when you’re on a small platform so you don’t have a lot of room to maneuver and that’s what makes these encounters more challenging than anything. Recruiters spread GITH propaganda and they can release Swarmers. Swarmers always appear in numbers and just rush you but they go down very easily. Shgliek’s are small harmless creatures that can turn into Evil Shgliek’s from water or asteroids. Most of the time, they can be avoided. Then there’s the Ghosts which are normally invisible and fly through the air. They become visible to attack you which is the only time they’re vulnerable to attack and they, too, are easy to kill.

Certain enemies more or less act as environmental hazards. You’ll encounter giant Claws that usually come bursting out of a cliffside and you just need to avoid them. You’ll have to watch out for Gasyerass plants which contain puff balls that explode releasing toxic gas. Then there’s Gasyerass vines, some of which can grab and consume Julie. Finally, there’s the Sucknblow plant. It’s like a Venus Fly Trap that can kill you instantly. If you dip yourself in green liquid first, the plant will spit you out which is also how you gain access to certain areas of an environment. There are several boss battles peppered throughout the game and in addition to the Soul Harvester appearing as a standard enemy after the first encounter, the Vymish Mama also appears as a standard enemy but in a smaller form. And unlike the boss form, it can be dispatched very easily. The final boss is easily the most challenging and memorable but I can’t say any of the bosses were really hard to take down. They all come down to pattern memorization.

The developer of the Between Heaven And Hell maps has stated that the maps are designed to be more challenging and that’s certainly true. I don’t mind a challenge but not providing the appropriate weapons or enough ammo to deal with the threats is not only challenging but also feels a bit unfair. For example, in the first map, you’ll encounter several Fleshbinders and as far as I can tell there’s not enough ammo to deal with all of them, forcing you to use melee weapons or restart and figure out how to conserve ammo. Engaging them in melee combat is basically a death sentence. Not too far into the map, you’ll encounter a Soul Harvester and unless I missed the locations of certain weapons, you’re forced to take it down with your standard sword or chainsaw sword which may take you a while if you don’t have any gas. And this is all in just the first map. As I said, I don’t mind a challenge, and if I missed weapons hidden somewhere or if I’m not using the appropriate strategies then that’s on me, but it sometimes it feels more frustrating than challenging. I played through just the beginning area of the map quite a few times just to get down what weapons I should and shouldn’t use so I can save the best weapons for the tougher enemy types. And this style of difficulty carries over into the other two maps so you’ll need to make sure you’ve mastered the melee mechanics and remember to conserve ammo.

The environments in Heavy Metal are pretty linear overall with areas connected by loading points. Some areas allow you to go off the beaten path a little where you’re usually rewarded with items. There’s a few areas where you need to locate Tiki Runes which act like keys and place them in the correct spots. You’ll traverse through a town, caves, swamps, and temples. You’ll push buttons, turn cranks, and have to solve a few puzzles which aren’t that difficult to figure out but most of the time you’ll be running, jumping, and climbing. Some areas contain wind that will send you flying through the air, you’ll have to avoid dangerous liquids, be careful not to plummet to your death, watch out for falling rocks, and thankfully you can quick save at any time. The early areas of the game have you primarily navigating underground caves and then cliffsides. The swamp areas are shrouded in fog and the temples are easily the most visually interesting areas in the game. Now the Between Heaven And Hell maps are much more focused on puzzles and they’ve got this whole fire and brimstone thing going on which I love. They are really well designed and if you thought the vanilla game’s puzzles were too easy and wanted something more challenging, the maps in Between Heaven And Hell should scratch that itch. However, some puzzles may have you scratching your head, especially in the second map. I couldn’t figure out how to get out of the first room and on the map pack’s moddb page, it actually recommends you use the “noclip” cheat to get out of the room because something may be missing. The maps like to throw numerous tougher enemy types at you once, trap you in rooms with enemies, and that’s in addition to all the hazards like spinning blades, spikes, and the maps are really just unforgiving.

To get Heavy Metal: F.A.K.K. 2 running on modern systems, I would suggest you consult the game’s PCGamingWiki page. The game has definitely aged in terms of visuals but it’s filled with plenty of color and the environments are fairly well detailed given the age of the title. I would say the swamp contains the most bland-looking areas but each major area does vary in theme and appearance which does help to keep the game visually interesting. It’s only a shame the campaign is so short because I would have loved to see more crazy sci-fi fantasy-inspired environments including the rest of the Between Heaven And Hell maps. Accompanying the action are decent sound effects but forgettable music. I didn’t even notice the music most of the time except for one area where I think I heard some guitars and I think the battle music is a form of metal. I am happy to report the game ran smoothly throughout my entire experience. The frame rate was solid and the only bug I encountered was missing skyboxes which can be resolved by unchecking the “Use Vertex Lighting” option in the advanced options menu.

I actually had a lot of fun with Heavy Metal but there’s no denying it has issues. The actual combat is fun and feels badass thanks to fast and fluid movement and satisfying attacks and combos. It’s just unfortunate that there’s only a few enemy types that let you explore the full potential of the melee combat. Some of Julie’s basic actions can be a bit on the stiff side making navigation and platforming more difficult than it needs to be but it never becomes overly frustrating. If anything is truly frustrating it’s the actual act of navigating through your inventory to switch weapons. But I can get past all of these issues and I think some of them are just due to the game’s age. However, I would say the game’s biggest issue is its short length. You can probably complete the story mode in about four hours and there is no multiplayer mode. The game does show potential and there’s a solid foundation here and just when I had everything down and was starting to really get into it, it was all over. More environments and more enemy types could have done the game wonders. After I beat it, I started playing through some maps again with cheats just because I really enjoyed the combat and wanted to keep playing. Thankfully, you can increase your time with the game with the Between Heaven And Hell maps but you really have to enjoy puzzles. The difficulty increase in these maps is drastic and even though some aspects of them are frustrating, they are well designed and do fit in with the whole theme of the game.

Like the movies, I could see this game having a cult following and ultimately, I did enjoy it. There is fun to be had here but when it really starts to get good, it all comes to an end. I don’t know if the game was rushed or what, but I definitely feel like there’s more the developers could have done with this. And I really wish this game had a bigger modding community. If you enjoy the idea of playing as a B-movie actress wearing provocative outfits and dual wielding melee weapons and firearms to combat aliens, cyborgs, or whatever they are, then Heavy Metal: F.A.K.K. 2 sounds like the game for you. The game retains the same sci-fi fantasy themes seen in the film but with less eroticism. I would recommend it to fans of the Heavy Metal 2000 film or action games. There are better action games out there but I think this was a good foundation for a Heavy Metal game series that never happened. I would love to see a more polished sequel or spiritual successor someday. If you think this looks like fun, it is, and I would say check it out but just know the experience won’t last long.

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