One thing that you should probably know about me before we start this review is that I work in the entertainment industry, specifically film. Therefore, I have been known to talk about a lot of useless shit that impresses me, but doesn’t matter to normal people, especially on the subject of the screen. Sewer Shark is an interactive movie made before interactive movies had much of a reputation (did they ever?), so there’s a whole badass element to this game because it is directed and overseen by John Dykstra. John is the special effects supervisor for the recent Spider-Man movie, Battlestar Galactica, and a little movie you might have heard of called Star Wars. This is not some project of a cheaply-bought, pissant little indie film peckerwood, this is a game made by John freakin’ Dykstra.
Now that may not mean a hell of a lot to you, especially considering that this is the very game they gave you for free with your second-gen Sega CD. Fair enough. But now that I got it out of the way, we can focus on the review.
Sewer Shark takes place in the underground tunnels of a major and unnamed city of the future. The tunnels are so expansive, and filled with such toxic nastiness, that mutant sewer vermin are crawling around en masse, and causing major trouble for waste disposal. That is why municipal workers are hired to pilot flying weapon pods known as Sewer Sharks through the tunnels and eliminate the creatures. These workers are a little too proud, considering they’re just glorified janitors, and the frequency of accidents, (i.e. smashing into the walls) as well as payment by the number of pounds of sewer meat killed, make them an overly competitive bunch. You play as a new recruit coming down to earn fame and mad coin.
I’ll be the first to admit that this concept sounds amazingly stupid. However, the game pulls it off, because it doesn’t take itself too seriously. Many of the video segments are actually funny, and there are some quote-worthy lines from the game. Huh? Wha? An interactive game with clever dialogue? I don’t believe it!
There are two great characters in this title. One is your backseat pilot “Ghost”, played by David Underwood. He’s a lesser-known actor, but he’s clearly smart, because he knows exactly what to do with the character he’s been given. Sewer Shark borrows a whole lot from Top Gun, so Underwood plays Ghost like the kind of smartass hotshot pilot you’d find in that film. When you first meet him, he gives you the callsign “Dogmeat”, points out the “not all strictly legal” modifications on his Shark with maniacal glee, and then gives you a rallying tour of your job/briefing, complete with projector and pointer. Ghost is WAY over the top, and Underwood seems to be enjoying every minute of it. About the time that he instructs you to test the weapons by shooting open a docking hatch, then grins into the camera and gleefully growls “Ya just took the door out, ace!” you realize that this guy is all right. He’s supposed to be your best and only friend in the game, so it’s a good sign that he comes off as somebody you’d like to hang out and have a few drinks with.
The other memorable character is Commissioner Stenchler, your arch-nemesis. He’s played by Robert Costanza, who is that guy who looks like Danny DiVito but actually isn’t. He was in Total Recall, played Dennis Franz’s brother in Die Hard 2, and appeared in NYPD Blue for a season. Stenchler serves to taunt you on from the tropical beaches of Solar City, where you are promised a vacation if you slay a million pounds of vermin. He’s always eating, and his office is right on the beach. He has a bimbo assistant who always finishes his lines for him. At one point, he’ll call you from a jet-ski with a large wave cheesily chroma-keyed in the background. Like Ghost, you have to see his performance on the screen to truly appreciate the character and the game’s brand of humor. But they both help make the plot aspect of Sewer Shark lighthearted and genuinely enjoyable.
The game aspect is something of a different story. You view the game through the cockpit of the Shark, watching Dykstra’s sewers (all built in actual-factual miniature) race by. The ship drives itself, while the D-Pad moves a gunsight around the screen. Your task is to shoot things. This lasts about a minute or two, then you are given a set of three vocal coordinates based on a clockface, such as “three, niner, six”. You’ll pass by different path changes, and you must hold down the B button and press the correct direction when the path is available. So in this case, after you’ve turned right, left, and down, you shoot more creatures for another two minutes. Then you’re treated to a cutscene and a new set of coordinates. Repeat.
That’s the entire game. Aside from a few minor plot-related changes, such as different creatures to shoot, this is all you do. It’s entertaining for a while, and you must make precise turns or you’ll end up dead, but it all gets pretty predictable fairly quickly. Creatures will only appear on certain areas of the screen, and sections of the sewer are constantly rehashed, so you’ll recognize and learn where creatures will appear for each section and have your guns ready. It’s not a bad thing, especially if you’re used to rail shooters. But really, seeing the next funny cutscene, and not the gameplay, is what will drive you to keep playing. Basically, it’s a great short film, but a mostly average game.
Technically, the game is sound. The graphics still show the usual pixelation and blurriness rampant in Sega CD games, but it seems a little more manageable here, as they are shown in small windows and aren’t stretched to fill the full screen. Dykstra’s sewers look fantastic in motion, especially considering this is one of the first full-motion video (FMV) games. Controls work great, and the effects and music are just fine.
However, the game itself isn’t a particularly difficult or enjoyable shooter. The designers seem to know that their video is the strong point, so they want to get you to the next cutscene as fast and easily as possible. This will not set well if you’re looking for a challenge, but does invite you to lay back and enjoy the game. It’s worth playing through once for the story and the characters, but there’s not much here worth returning for. If you can’t find this game, you’re missing some legitimate laughs, but nothing else.
Great characters and chuckle-worthy moments; if it were a full film I’d watch it.
Otherwise a pretty average game built on some quality video clips.