Retro Game Review – Robocop

 

Factfile
Developed by: Ocean
Released: 1988
Format played: Spectrum 128k

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Your move, creep

What could be better for an impressionable 10 year old mind than a game based on an ultra violent 18-rated certificate film?

With material ripe for a videogame, Robocop was released in the arcade and across the various home formats. Published by Ocean, it broadly followed the plot of the film (minus the gruesome deaths, acid mutilations and copious swearing, natch).

The 16 bit and arcade versions were technically more impressive but it is the humble Spectrum version we will revisit here.

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Dead or alive, you’re coming with me

After being greeted by a nicely drawn loading screen, it is a bit of a jolt when the game starts and you are faced with a monochrome, crudely drawn landscape to work through. But once you become accustomed to it (it reminds me in some ways of Madworld on the Wii), the graphics actually have a nice little bit of detail, Robo looking the part, including a nice representation of his iconic stance as he whips out his pistol to off a bad guy hanging out of a window.

The detail level remains constant throughout, variety coming by way of a change in colour scheme, the black and white of level 1 is replaced by a yellow and blue in later levels. Whilst you become used to the minimalist sprites, there are some jolting moments. The ED-209, such a dynamic force in the film, is reduced to a static toy, almost no bigger than Robocop himself, whilst the RPG used towards the end of the game, presumably intended as a powerful flourish with which to finish, instead looks like you are firing giant footballs.

In terms of looks this is pretty similar to Batman or The Untouchables, not a great surprise given the limitations of the system and the fact that all of the games were published by Ocean. And in a sense that leads to its biggest criticism; take out the lead character and you could be playing anything. Where Batman and The Untouchables had sequences that were unique and very identifiable to the film (driving the Batmobile say or the shoot out down the alley), this is a more straightforward platform romp, linked to the source material more by the between mission mini-games than by the game itself.

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Come quietly or there will be…trouble

Dumped onto the mean streets of Detroit, you are soon channeling your inner cyborg, fending off thugs and bikers with a range of weapons, or resorting to punching them in the mouth if you run out of bullets.

There are five basic stages to plough through, plus four bonus sections, as you make your way to OCP headquarters to confront Dick Jones and his pet ED-209. The levels are effectively a variation on a theme; walk right or left, shooting people as you go. Later levels introduce stairs and lifts whilst the weapons offer a nice variety, from the standard pistol, to a single-shot kill blaster, a 3 pronged bullet and finally the giant football gun noted above.

In between, you are treated to a couple of bonus levels, mimicking the ‘perp holding a hostage’ situation and Police computer search from the movie.

It’s short but tough, made harder by the way Robo freezes in place when hit, meaning that you can become powerless to fight back as enemies attack from all sides. There are also instances where you know an attack is coming, say from three strategically placed windows above you, and you have to move forward to trigger their appearance. But in so doing, all three appear at once and even if you blast one straight away, it is near impossible to dodge all three bullet sprays, which can be incredibly frustrating.

But generally once you know the attack patterns, you can start to predict where to fire next, cracking off a shot on the move before the target has even appeared.

What is here remains a fun little diversion but it is a shame there is not more, the main levels all pretty much the same. This is perhaps just a weakness of the license; whilst the central character and vibe of the film lends itself perfectly to videogames, the plot itself arguably somewhat less so.  Key moments though could have been explored; the warehouse shootout in an Operation Wolf style first person view or the end of movie pursuit through the steel mill in a driving section perhaps to break things up.

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He’s a cop killer!

After being greeted by a strange, Aisan flavoured little ditty, which accompanies your time with the main game, I was then treated to the pleasant surprise of some speech.

After loudly informing me that I was playing ‘ROBOCOP’ and reciting the well known prime directives, it crops up again when you accidentally shoot a hostage as Robo solemnly reminds you to ‘protect the innocent’.

In-game sounds are limited but functional, your pistol sounding a little like a slightly aggressive pea shooter.

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Bottom Line

Nice look, great sound, tough but fun challenge. I’d buy that for a dollar.

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