Retro Rated: Narc

Factfile
Developed by: Williams Electronics
Published by: WMS Industries
Released: 1988
Format played: Arcade

Ruminations

Back in the heyday of arcade gaming, there were any number of techniques to draw potential punters into parting with their hard earned pocket shrapnel. The likes of Off Road and Super Sprint utilised a multi-steering wheel approach; Paperboy had a funky set of bicycle handlebars; Powerdrift used hydraulics whilst Star Wars used a closed top cabinet to maximise sound.

Narc however drew me in for a slightly different reason. Sitting opposite Bart vs The Space Mutants and Wrestle War in one of the smaller seafront arcades in Hastings, it didn’t, at first glance, offer anything beyond the norm. It sat in a bog standard cabinet. It had no funky controllers. But then it happened. Out of the corner my eye I saw it. I couldn’t be sure the first time. I had to wait until the game completed it’s attract cycle to see it again. But there it was. A mesage. So simple. So powerful.

‘Winners don’t do drugs.’

Ah yes. Of course this ridiculous message would adorn a number of arcade games of the era but this is the first time I remember seeing it and there could be no more suitable game with which to be emblazoned. Narc is, ostensibly, a side scrolling beat ’em up, loosely in the vein of Final Fight et al. Instead of fighting with your limbs though, you go at it with machine guns and a rocket launcher, taking on the dregs of society under the guise of a drug enforcement agency.

Narc would become something of a ‘videogame nasty’ due to its excessive violence, attracting attention from parent groups. Like most arcade cabinets of the day, it would see conversions to the Amiga, Spectrum and C64 by Ocean and a NES port courtesy of Rare.

Gameplay

Each level starts with a run down of the key suspect to be pursued in the next area, akin to Nancy’s briefing in Chase HQ. Dropped into the level by helicopter or car, you leap onto the streets ready to dish out justice. Scrolling left to right, Narc is an ongoing procession of violence as goons come at you from all sides.

Pow! A goon falls to the right. Blam! A goon falls to the left. Dakka Dakka! A street full of homeless bums go flying. It’s a relentless orgy of violence. Forget any sort of tactics, moveset or upgrades. From start to finish, you carry your trusty machine guns and just unleash lead at every opportunity. There is no subtelty involved in the waves of attacks, identikit bad guys just walking into shot, sometimes individually and sometimes in packs, queing up like they do in the cheesiest of Kung Fu films to take their medicine one at a time.

Now I’ve played some grim videogames down the years. I’ve experienced the worst Mortal Kombat can throw up, the excesses of GTA and the head shots of any number of FPS games. But this really is an orgy of violence. As the wonderfully named Max Force, your job is ostensibly to ‘bust’ the bad guys, gathering up dropped loot and drug hauls along the way. But good grief, this is next level police brutality. No quarter is given, bullets riipping into flesh from the first level to the last. There are no warrants served, no rights read. This is very much shoot first and ask questions never. Occassionally one of the villains escapses your first volley, surviving long enough to raise his hands and call out, ‘I give up.’ Their reward? A bullet to the face of course.

On one of the later levels you are tasked with taking out a Joker wannabe who has kidnapped girls off the street. But as the level starts, you are so in the zone of just shooting everything that moves that before you know it, one of the girls, innocently wandering the streets, has a bullet shaped hole in the centre of her back, your callous disregard for life barely raising an eyebrow.

The game is just nasty. This isn’t any sort of police work. There is no moral compass guiding your actions. Should you get tired of pumping bullets into people, you also have the option of firing off an RPG, bodies literally exploding in a ball of fiery death, charred limbs falling from the sky like a grim April shower. The only enemies that get even a hint of positive treatment are the dogs that come snapping at your heels, a shot over their haunches sending them not to doggy heaven but, bizarrely, sending them back to puppy form.

Just when you thnk you’ve had a gutful, the game resuces some points of redemption. At points you get to jump into a sporty red car, reverting to just running enemies over rather than wasting good bullets on them. Plus some of the incidental background details add a touch of humour. But in between is just some unrelenting, remorseless violence, capped off by a bizarre final boss enouncter involving a giant head that shoots fire from its eyes and spits deadly tongues at you before shedding its skin and attacking you as a particularly violent skull.

Not only is it hyper violent, it’s also ridiculously difficulty. Enemies spawn relentlessly, dogs snap at your heels meaning that you need to kneel to shoot them, giant spiders bound at you that you need to jump on and ninjas fling some sort of deadly freezing dart at you, often all at the same time. Often times you can’t move due to the sheer number of goons surrounding you, your lives trickling down the plughole faster the gathered up stash of ill-gotten gains. It all adds up to a game that is thoroughly unpleasant to play at every turn.

Graphics & Sound

Flying limbs, mobile heads and sporty cars aside, graphically this is pretty limited. Villains are identical within each stage with no subtely to their attack patterns. There is some basic variation in stages but it is entirely superficial with no impact on gameplay.

In-game music is suitably monotnous, pepped up with some dodgy speech here and there.

Bottom Line

Just a nasty, ultra violent, repetitive arcade scroller that deserves to be left permanently in lock up.

The drugs don’t work, they just make you dead. Kids, just say no.

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