Author: John Legendoffzelda
The one interesting part of Ocean’s leaden adaptation of RoboCop 3 is that their game precedes the film by an entire year. Not many licensed games have ever accidentally spoiled the entirety of their sources before people got to see the source. But then, there wasn’t any real consequence here considering what an unmitigated disaster the film was; a total distortion of the first movie, with a last line that undoes the first movie’s entire point. RoboCop 3 ranks only behind Star Wars Episode I as the 1990s movie sequel that sends the most shivers up moviegoers’ spines. The game isn’t even as interesting in its own badness, though at least in its blandness it’s a functional action title. It’s far worse to fall apart, I’d say, than to outright bore.
Taking control of Alex Murphy, the “RoboCop” of the title, the action is sluggish and unremarkable. The game isn’t even a run-and-gun because Alex doesn’t run at all: it’s more like he determinedly marches all throughout Detroit. He marches past the city’s dilapidated buildings, through its spacious sewers, and soon enough through the interiors of the massive Omni Consumer Products headquarters, all while his legs whir and clank with menial purpose. And when I say “soon enough”, I mean the game can logically be finished in half an hour – there’s nothing to it except four lengthy shooting galleries and two extra stages – and the creators counter this problem with the lazy practice of ratcheting up the difficulty all around.
What’s bothersome about this game, come to think of it, is that it does double damage to the RoboCop character; it draws from a work that inflates him to a cartoon-superhero stature and then it nullifies that stature by weakening him substantially. That impervious OCP technology keeping Alex alive is now really weak against bullets and other enemy projectiles, and darned if they don’t come from everywhere; whether they come from human mooks distinguishable mostly by their differently-colored pants or malicious robots that fly in from nowhere. Hitting these enemies is a rote process of ducking and firing Alex’s pistol, with a punch ability that’s largely useless in the long term.
Enemy arrangement pretty much forces the player to do nothing except shoot, which becomes a problem if Alex wanders too far past whatever is firing at him but it isn’t anything that punching could ever solve. It’s not the only problem to worry about when shooting either; the player also has to manage his ammunition at all times. And when trying to eliminate some picky enemies, you better believe that it’ll run out. Ammo can be conserved by toggling through the different weapons that Alex picks up, or by picking up one of the bouncing square icons scattered through the stage.
The icons also restore health and grant the extra guns, but only if Robocop can reach them first – a few too many stray bullets will destroy him, which is an absolute cheap thing to have happen. But all the danger that he has to go through will likely kill him anyway.
There’s only five gun varieties to use. And apart from Alex’s standard pistol, there’s a laser shot; a flamethrower; a rocket launcher; and an erratic three-way spread gun. The other guns do what they should, but the spread gun is supposedly meant to hit enemies that are out of normal, straight-ahead range: those three directions it fires in are too large to accommodate for that feature, and since it’s so easy for the player to misalign himself with a mook from up above, what good is it anyway? All it becomes then is stronger firepower that’s spent too quickly, like the rest of it.
This droning sequence of events makes up most of the whole game, just slowly walking from left to right and hoping that Alex can withstand enough damage to take out all the enemies in his way. The only reward for anything is bonus points, which are based on how much ammo was saved. It’s presented with not only the game’s single-most absurd message, but also a musical sting that ends like someone unplugged its microphone. On top of this, these levels include astoundingly superfluous time limits, ones that they try to justify with a few cheap moves. For instance giving one level an automated scaffolding that Alex must use and must wait for if it ascends without him; in another level forcing him to collect keys so he can get past certain doors; and in general throwing in bottomless pits and similar obstacles that test his jumping skills.
The meager hop that Alex’s robot body is capable of just barely suffices, but when crossing those pits and falling off of an elevator too high from the ground to survive, the player will really insist that he has no place in the overall scheme. The one bit of ingenuity in this game comes from reserving thirty-three percent of it for shmup stages based on the tacky jetpack that Alex gets, where he flies over the streets of Detroit shooting at big red dots and bombing tanks below with unlimited (finally!) ammunition.
The Mode-7 scaling of the world beneath Alex provides one of the only two parts of the so-so graphics worth mentioning – the other is the hypnotically rhythmic animation of Alex’s Robo-legs – but everything else is a lot of flat colors and competent character models. Sound effects are basically grunts, muffled explosions and the various noises that bullets make, and they fade into the background as much as the only two tracks in any of the stages, moody pieces of action-movie music that are as slow as the action.
While the real film deserves to inspire much more engaging critical dissection, this is all anyone really needs to know about RoboCop 3 the video game. It isn’t at the rock-bottom of the Super Nintendo’s licensed fare, not even among the myriad of titles that Ocean contributed. The company is capable of some really interesting games, but not when they spend so much time at the movies.
Two out of five stars.
HAVE AN OPINION?
You can submit reviews for games on the Submissions page.