Armored Head by Egor Rezenov is a beautifully efficient little game. You play as a robot dude – whose head is, I presume, armored – taking on wave after wave of enemies with an increasingly explosive arsenal. Considering Armored Head is entirely based on an easter egg in Rezenov’s previous game, Fibrillation, I’m impressed by how much effort and care clearly went into it.
Armored Head is available on Steam for $3.
GAMEPLAY – IT’S KING!
Armored Head is a single-player arcade-y arena shooter confined to a single, well, arena.
The Enemies – Time for Target Practice
Enemies are easily understood and range from tiny drones to robot rams to drop ships. Most baddies attack in close quarters and will constantly chase you around the map, which leads to them bunching up in a seemingly unstoppable ball of bad news. This has a few side effects; it’s easier to escape your attackers once they’ve been herded together, since they won’t surround you. On the other hand, this means that if you run into one of the few dead ends you’ll suddenly find yourself in an inescapable trash compactor.
The robo-horde is intimidating enough to create an excellent level of tension, but it’s also hilariously easy to dismantle with explosives once you notice how many rockets you’ve stockpiled.
Not all badnicks are mindless runners; you’ll come across more advanced enemies who will fire huge destructible projectiles and homing missiles to keep you on your toes. You’ll have to deal with a variety of flying bots, too. Just like their ground-bound brethren, they come in all shapes and sizes.
Each type fulfills a different role; the Metal Gear-looking guys are faster than your running speed, the rams will disrupt your plans by launching you with every hit; there’s also an airborne mimic that’ll come out of pick-up boxes and try to bite your face off. There’s even three very different bosses, which I honestly did not expect.
When some robots take too much damage, they turn around and head for the nearest repair station. Make sure you hunt them down, or they’ll return to the fight at full force. For a game that only costs $3, there is a genuinely impressive number of different enemies with interesting behaviors here.
All foes have a number hovering above them indicating their HP. While this does look less elegant than a traditional health bar, it’s also immediately legible; you’ll know exactly how much damage your guns do, how much more effective headshots are and, most importantly, how much firepower you need to dispatch each target. You won’t have enough ammo to stick to only your favorite guns, you’ll have to use most of them to make it through.
Guns – And lots of them
Most of the 10 weapons are what you’d expect: infinite ammo pistol, a submachine gun with low damage and a high rate of fire, revolvers, grenade launcher, minigun and so on. A selection of them have alternate firing modes, so make sure you right-click from time to time to see what else your toys can do.
There are two weapons that deserve special mention; the rocket launcher is taken straight from Half Life 2. Its projectiles follow your crosshair; all the joy of homing missiles with that extra bit of control. You can do some pretty sweet trick shots with it.
Secondly, there’s Armored Head’s version of the Super Shotgun. Despite its understated firing sound, the Howitzer makes all shotguns from all other games ever look like bubble sticks. The Howitzer fires a cluster of highly damaging projectiles which bounce off of walls and enemies. Combine that with an unfairly high firing speed and you have one of the most over the top guns I have ever seen.
Overall, Armored Head‘s gunplay is extremely arcade-y. Every shot hits with perfect accuracy and there is no recoil, so just point and click your way to victory. While this lowers the skill ceiling, it makes the moment-to-moment gameplay more accessible since you don’t have to learn how each individual weapon handles. The focus is instead on movement and strategic usage of your arsenal.
As you blast through waves you’ll build up a combo, the higher the combo, the more coins the dispenser at the center of the arena will barf out. Pick up the coins and you can use them to activate new ammo dispensers and temporary missile turrets. I found these mechanical helpers incredibly useful in the later waves, but they are by no means a necessity.
Aside from managing your ammo, you’ll also have to keep an eye on two types of energy pills. Orange pills are used for double jumps and short dashes. These can be strung together for quick escapes and speedy traversal. Blue pills will grant brief bullet time, allowing you to line up precise shots against small flying targets; it should also help dodging and weaving past enemies when in a tight spot. So long as you keep breaking crates and picking up new pills you probably won’t run out, but it is easy to get carried away, finding yourself without the means to escape faster foes. Tying advanced movement to consumables adds another level of resource management, making mobility and map awareness crucial for survival. This is a perfect fit for any arena shooter and it’s executed elegantly and efficiently in Armored Head.
You’ll have to fight your way through 30 waves of badnicks, but luckily, you don’t have to do it all in one go. Every 10th wave doubles as a checkpoint, allowing you to pick up where you left off, even after a death. There’s some interesting stuff happening at the end, so it’s definitely worth experiencing all of it.
GRAPHICS & AUDIO – METAL HITTING METAL, AND NOT MUCH ELSE
My only real criticism is a complete lack of music; something to get the blood/oil pumping. However, I found this was easily fixed by blasting the Doom OST or some of Savant’s earlier work. Enemies are uniformly gray and the arena lacks detailed textures. I liked its simplistic style quite a bit; looking at the screenshots you’ve probably already decided if its visuals appeal to you.
I spent about three hours with Armored Head and had a good deal of fun the whole way through. I’m going to come back to it to see if I can get some of the trickier achievements. There is plenty of variety in guns and enemies, moving and shooting is satisfying and surviving the arena is a constantly engaging struggle.
I have to stress again, Armored Head costs only $3 on Steam and is amazing value. Don’t dismiss it as a cheap throwaway game, it’s a small package densely packed with polished content and I strongly recommend you check it out!
Armored Head was reviewed on PC. A review copy was provided by Egor Rezenov.