The original RoboCop is one of my favorite examples of 80s sci-fi action, and an enjoyable film all around. If you’re not familiar, Officer Alex Murphy is an honest cop; killed in the line of duty and resurrected as the cyborg officer Robocop by the immoral corporation OCP. It’s remembered for being darkly satirical and ultra-violent, but it had a heart the later sequels lacked. And oh, were there sequels – and video games, and two low-budget TV shows, action figures, and maybe even an animated series in there somewhere. The original film’s themes of death and resurrection have been compared to a modern slant on the story of Christ, and just like Jesus, Robocop has had all sorts of awful things done in his name.
Most of Robo’s games are based around the original side-scrolling Data East arcade game, and accomplish this with varying success. This game, however, marks the only attempt at a first-person-shooter. An FPS based on the cyborg constable seems like such a great idea. Maybe it still is. That could explain why Titus’ attempt, even with all the black marks against it, isn’t a complete failure. It’s unpolished, it’s low-budget, it’s pretty slow and plodding. The plot is worse than RoboCop 3’s. The voice acting is embarrassing. The translation is flawed (let’s see the activity on that patient’s “brainiagram” again). Yet still, through all this, it’s still just a little bit fun to play as Robocop.
Taking place sometime after the first movie, the game follows the proliferation of a new street drug called “Brain Drain.” Robo finds himself shooting through gang members and hostage situations in his attempt to apprehend crime lord William Nexx, who appears to be behind the drug. Naturally, it goes much deeper than that, and the drug appears connected somehow to an OCP-backed candidate challenging the incumbent mayor of Detroit. Nine levels later, you’ll have found the truth… well, such as it is.
If the game does one thing exceptionally well, it’s nailing the feeling of playing as Robocop – obviously a good start. His green digital HUD is both authentic and helpful; automatically pointing out enemy locations, hidden items, and objectives to interact with. A limited-range thermal view lets you spot enemies through walls. You have two levels of zoom with any weapon, and pinpoint accuracy with most of them, allowing you to take out distant targets, or shoot hostage takers without harming the hostage. Robo’s armor also handily absorbs small-arms fire, letting you feel like the titanium super-cop you’re supposed to be, while balancing this well with the need to seek out repair kits. There are even extra little details, like the HUD going into “Arrest Mode” when targeting a disarmed enemy, or triggering Robo to spin his pistol if you press “reload” on a full clip.
The flip side of this is an authentic character speed. Robo’s a tank, not a typical FPS sprinter, so you’ll be stomping around at one single, slow pace for the entire game. Add the constant whirring of servos as you move, and you see the obvious potential for grating nerves. Robo also features an optional targeting system (with quite a few buttons dedicated to it) that lets you mark up to four targets and auto-aim at them by pressing the fire key. However, it’s useless in almost all situations; usually electing to target enemies’ thighs and refusing to move to the next target until the first is killed. You’ll auto-fire between their legs for no damage, burning ammo until you manually disengage. Neat idea, but you’ll definitely be better off just aiming yourself.
The game also makes reference to Robo’s role as a police enforcer. The player takes damage for shooting hostages, and repeated violations (tracked by a bar on the HUD) result in shutdown. Similarly, you can’t shoot criminals that have surrendered, and must instead walk over and hit the “use” key to arrest them. Keep your focus elsewhere for too long, and they’ll run off. Each level has an arrest quota (usually ten perps), and you’re able to shoot guns out of criminals’ hands (with varying reliability) to trigger them to surrender. Meeting the arrest quota rewards you with absolutely nothing – no cheats, no concept art, nada – but you’re allowed to replay levels to achieve a perfect objective score, if you so personally desire.
The first few levels are a strong start, as Robo patrols the streets of Detroit and puts the kibosh on gang wars and drug runners. However, after the novelty of playing as Robo wears off, the game turns into something of an endurance run. Robo’s signature automatic pistol is always a joy to use, but the beefier weapons needed to take down armored enemies – namely the short-range grenade launcher and the arm-mounted lighting cannon – lack punch or visual interest. A.I. is weak, occasionally popping out from scripted cover, but usually just running around and right into gunfire. Goliath bots like the ED-209 make occasional appearances as mini-bosses, but these tend to be simple slugfests. The vast majority of your foes are humans with identical, predictable behavior. Robo’s slow speed and lack of variety does lead to boredom as the game drags on.
Two things keep boredom from leading to complacency – no checkpoints, and unbelievably damaging explosions. The first seems a relic from the game’s console origins. You’re only able to save after each level – no checkpoints, no quicksaves. These are some pretty mammoth levels (divided into smaller sections separated by load screens; again another console consolation), so you’ll have an annoying amount of ground to re-tread when you die.
As for the explosions, they’ll melt away life and armor as long as you’re in their radius. Even with full armor and health, you’ll die in a little less than one second. This makes rocket or energy-blasting foes somewhere between “a very serious threat” and “complete bullshit.” Explosions also have the ability to damage you through walls, making blasts even more dangerous, which is the only consistent example of an actual technical bug. This, more than anything, will ruin casual interest. If you’re already frustrated with the lackluster presentation, a couple of insta-kills forcing you to start the level all the way over again will likely encourage some rage-quitting.
Graphically, there’s nothing too amazing, nor is their anything too flawed. Effects are limited, but bullets do leave holes and explosions feature some primitive particle effects. The oil rig and some of the underground labs have some complex architecture, and would be the only real showcase pieces. Everything else features a blocky design with decent texture work (such as downtown, or in OCP’s tower) that makes the game passable. The worst areas are bland, single-texture corridors reminiscent of the original Half-Life, but these are far from the entire game.
Sound falls into a similar camp. The only movie-accurate effect is ED-209’s voice, which may explain why it’s rather quiet compared the rest (perhaps recorded off a DVD of the movie). Robo’s automatic pistol doesn’t sound exact to its movie counterpart, but close enough. Music is entirely generic, and doesn’t seem to make much attempt at fitting the tone. The worst work by far is with the dialogue. Enemy taunts are cheesily voiced and oft-repeated. Mission briefings are lifelessly recited, and feature unstable volume levels.
Finally, Robocop’s own modulated voice is passable, but his lines are not – ranging from pointlessly announcing “Ammunition!” every time he collects some, to excitedly shouting “Oh yeah!” when he scores a headshot. Robo’s newfound lust for murder doesn’t end there. Killing an enemy who drops precious ammunition triggers the ill-timed quote “Citizens like you make my job worthwhile!” Every so often, a long kill streak will cause him to quip “Deadly force! What a rush!” It’s amusing that they got the mechanics of the character so right, and the character himself so wrong.
On the one hand, it does exactly what it says on the tin – you play as Robocop, and that’s made reasonably fun. On the other, everything else around that is weak. The story is disjointed and far from compelling. The gameplay is generic, and shows a lack of variety traditional for low-budget games. Obviously, only RoboCop fans need apply, as they’re the only ones that will put up with the shortcomings and might actually have a good time. Everyone else will be just one frustration away from shutting off a below-average shooter.
Pretty faithful recreation of playing as Robocop. Not terribly buggy.
Low-budget shooting at its most bland.