Project Heera: Diamond Heist is, appropriately quipped, a hidden gem. Indie games can be a real mixed bag of experiences, but every now and then, you come across one that just clicks in all the right ways. For me and my E3 adventures, Project Heera was that game.
[heading]Diamonds Are a Gamer’s Best Friend[/heading]Found in the oft too ignored Indiecade, Project Heera was a game that I was almost ready to pass up. Its booth, devoid of any signs displaying a game title or information, did little to distinguish itself from the sea of other indie developers in the area and was easy to overlook. To my good fortune, I was greeted and pulled into the mystery booth by none other than the game director, Tanmay Chinchkar. From him I learned all about the game: everything from how the game was originally designed during a 72 hour game jam to how they aspire for it to be a part of eSports competitions in the future.
To elevator speech Project Heera, it all boils down to a two-team, asymmetric game in which one team, the thieves, must navigate a play space in an attempt to steal up to four diamonds. The other team, the cops, patrol the area, laying down proximity signals and traps to stop the thieves from making away with the treasures. Minimalistic visuals provide a clean, simple aesthetic which serve to limit distractions as you navigate from a top down perspective.
Perhaps Project Heera’s most defining gameplay mechanic stems from your limited visibility of other ships. Though the top down perspective provides a full view of your surrounding environment, your visibility of opposing players is limited to a narrow cone of vision spanning the front of your ship. It’s a feature that removes any sense of security, as at any given point, your enemy could be lurking directly behind you.
While a limited view can easily play to your disadvantage, it is also key to the game’s alarmingly deep strategy. Knowing the limitation of your opponent’s visibility allows you to utilize the environment (vision does not pass through walls or wrap around corners) and abilities to a very calculated and effective degree. For example, should you come across an opponent who gives chase, you can round the nearest corner and once again disappear from their sight, leaving them scrambling to recover you position.
Of course, neither cops nor thieves are left without their bag of tricks. Each side and specific class comes equipped with an array of special abilities and tools to aid them in their conquests. (As inferred, multiple classes will be available for both teams come launch, but for the purposes of the demo, we only sampled one class on each side.) My thief class came equipped with a few abilities for evading pursuers such as complete invisibility for a brief period of time (during which you become immobile), a vision obscuring cloud of smoke and a decoy to lead the enemy down a false trail. All these abilities are useful in their own right, but when sequenced correctly can make for a highly effective escape combo.
Where thieves must be masters of escape, it’s essential that their counterparts, the cops, excel in tracking and trapping. Early detection is key to a successful round so the tools you’re given help you to do just that. In particular, the class that I used came equipped with a sensor that could be laid down to signal a thief’s location if they unknowingly passed over it.
[heading]A Game of Cat and Mouse[/heading]In the mode that I demoed, Kirk and I played three rounds as the thieves, attempting to steal up to four diamonds, followed by a swap to the cops for three rounds where it was our responsibility to stop the opposing team from topping our total gem count. Given our low experience level, each round lasted no longer than a minute, bringing the total game time to less than 10 minutes.
I learned very quickly that while the game is very straight forward and easy to understand in theory, in practice, the depth to strategy involved in a successful run is staggering. Much like with the MOBAs that are dominating the current market, careful planning and cooperation are essential to out-performing your competition. Given our extremely limited time, Kirk and I quickly tried to establish roles and a general plan of execution. But without any real experience or decent communication between the two of us, everything abruptly fell apart.
For the first two rounds as thieves our approach was to assign specific diamonds to each of us. I would take the two on the right side of the map, Kirk would handle the left. In both cases I managed to collect the first unnoticed, but by the time I reached the second, the cops were well aware of my presence and were ready and waiting. I made attempts to escape using my abilities but poor utilization caused me to get shot down each time — thereby forfeiting the diamonds I’d collected. Fortunately, with the cops focused on me, Kirk was able to sneak out with one and two diamonds per respective round.
Going into the final round, it was time for a new approach. We decided that I would play the part of distraction, freeing Kirk to openly take all the diamonds he could. Entering the arena, I was quick to find and attract both cops, but with two bullet hell bogies on my tail and a poor understanding of my abilities, my diversion was short lived. I was downed in a matter of moments. Out of pure necessity to add more points to our total, I urgently pressured Kirk to leave the arena with just the one diamond he had collected. All said and done, we ended our three rounds with a total of just four.
Switching to the patrol side, we knew we had our work cut out for us. All the opposing team had to do was collect five diamonds before the end of their third round to be crowned the victors. As each round started I strategically placed proximity sensors in various locations around the diamonds. I figured that if, by good chance, they slip past my keen eye, they’d cruise over one of those bad boys giving me a chance to pursue and destroy…. not so much.
I’ll chalk it up to it being my first time playing, but my biggest flaw as a cop was not knowing where to focus my attention. With a limited field of vision, I spent much of my time spinning in circles, constantly paranoid that they might be sneaking up from behind. Before I knew it, multiple trip sensors were going off from two separate locations. Ideally the proximity sensors are meant to help, but inadvertently it caused some serious sensory overload and I was left a hot clueless mess. Even in the second round when I did manage to track down a target, his effective use of abilities had me chasing a decoy within seconds. It was by no surprise then that by the end of the second round, they had scored five diamonds, securing them the victory. It was a quick defeat but I couldn’t even be mad; they legitimately played better. I envied their skill which left me yearning for more time with the game.
[heading]It’s Not Whether You Win or Lose[/heading]Despite the hard loss, I walked away from Project Heera feeling extremely satisfied with the experience offered. Playing as either team in the asymmetric game, there are countless factors and intricaci
es to account for. The limited field of vision constantly keeps you on your toes, as you’re forced to balance an aggressive approach with cautious awareness. It was almost too much to process for my first time in the game, but I had so much fun experimenting that I’m eager to get back in game to hone my skills and master the abilities of each team.
Project Heera: Diamond Heist is unique, exciting and showed a depth well beyond that of its simple premise. It was the surprise of the show at E3 2014 and we can’t wait for gamers to try it for themselves. We here at MMO ATK will continue to keep an eye on the game as development continues and will post updates with any impressions or beta news we can get a hold of.
Make note of this one, it’s worth keeping an eye on.