Simon Phoenix, the most evil and ruthless criminal in Los Angeles, has broken out of cryostasis to wreak havoc upon a peaceful utopian society of the 21st century. Taking Stallone’s role from the flick, you play as the old-fashioned cop John Spartan. You sent Phoenix to the cryo-pen back in 1996, and you’ve been thawed out from serving your own sentence to catch him again.
Demolition Man parallels the film of the same name as you track Phoenix through multiple levels based on the film. Starting with a brief “prologue” level taking place in 1996, you are then brought into the future and following the movie’s plot. There are also a few additional levels taking place in the futuristic city of San Angeles tossed in that are not in the film, and do little more than increase the length of the game. Most of these are standard side-scrolling fare, but two are near-overhead (3/4 perspective) levels that offer a slightly new style of gameplay.
What sets the game apart from the pack of other action scrollers is its frenetic pace. Everything seems to run faster than most other games, from your own movements to the rapid-fire of your weapons. You can expect to run from one end of a level to the other, never letting off the trigger as you leap from platform to platform and drop enemies in one to two shots. The overdriven feeling of the game is twice as apparent in the overhead levels as you rip into hordes of enemies with a machine gun and speed around at an insane pace. Demolition Man looks fast and feels fast. It’s certainly not a bad thing, and if you’re looking for this kind of frenzied action then this game comes highly recommended.
Another part of the game worth mentioning is the stellar handling of Simon Phoenix himself. You will certainly slay thousands of faceless, unmemorable henchmen, but Phoenix becomes a character and integrates with the plot and the levels. So few games truly have a villain, but Phoenix successfully makes the leap from simple boss to arch-nemesis. He makes an appearance in every movie-based level, and often multiple times just to laugh at you, taunt you, or impede your progress with a few well-placed shots. In the movie levels he also usually serves as the end boss, giving you a chance to settle the score for all the trouble he’s caused up until that point. It’s just so much more interesting to have the villain play an active role throughout the game. You just KNOW when the music softens and his laughter echoes that his bad blonde self is somewhere nearby and something serious is guaranteed to go down. It helps to make you want to defeat him all the more.
The graphics aren’t too shabby. If you’re a fan of the film then you will see the similarities to the sets, but even if you’re not you can still appreciate the levels’ looks. The L.A. and Underground levels are appropriately dark and dirty, lending to their gritty and violent atmosphere. On the other side, the future levels are metallic and antiseptic, fitting in with the utopian society mood and helping a man firing a gun look properly out of place. There are destructible elements as well, though not as many as one might like. Still, glass shatters and neon lights explode when shot. The levels are also deformable in places, such as the car park crane smashing a ladder to stop your ascent, or Phoenix blowing out a bridge before you can cross it.
My only complaints are that there are very few “future” levels before you’re back in underground areas that lack the same visual appeal. You might as well have stayed in 1996. Most levels are also quite dark but never so much so that you can’t see where you’re meant to head to next. The only major complaint is that enemies will sometimes blend in with these dark backgrounds.
The sounds in the game fit in reasonably well, with a few movie quotes thrown in for good measure. These audio clips sound excellent, but some of the more general effects suffer from an annoying digital reverb. The music is appropriate, but it seems that notes are taken out for compression that make the music sound incomplete.
Control is a noticeably weaker point of the game. You can pull off some impressive rolls and fire in any direction, but in order to do so you must hold the trigger down and aim your gun. Otherwise you will run and fire, and in the heat of battle these often get confused. It’s not uncommon to try and shoot a bad guy above you and end up running off a ledge instead.
The overhead levels are twice as difficult to control and the only time when the game’s frantic speed works to your disadvantage. A button to shoot instantly behind you is included in these levels, which lacks sense as you can press down to turn around and THEN fire. If you aren’t used to this button you’ll end up shooting in the direction you were originally facing when you mean to turn and fire behind you. The sheer numbers of enemies in these levels also work to overwhelm you, but button combinations allow you to strafe while firing and to stand in one place and aim. Without these abilities the overhead levels would be unplayable.
If you’re looking for faster action than most games offer, then Demolition Man is your bag. It’s definitely worth a look if you’re interested and is worth playing through until the bitter end, if just to finally silence Phoenix’s smug laugh.
Frenzied pace, strong mood and intensity, Simon Phoenix.
Slippery controls, few powerups.