It’s been a long time since Alex Murphy, loving father and husband, has experienced anything resembling “a good day”. After being dismembered by shotgun-wielding psychopaths, Murphy woke up inside a hulking, bulletproof exoskeleton. Stripped of his free will, he now walks the streets of Old Detroit as RoboCop, gunning down criminals and delivering justice one semi-automatic pistol barrage at a time. Haunted by memories of his former life, but expressly forbidden from acting on those memories by the corporation who owns him, Murphy carries out his duties like a well-programmed cyborg. He’s a good guy doing an impossible job, but that’s no reason why fate should resist screwing him over yet again. Sometime in the future, Cyberdyne Systems uses technology gleaned from OCP’s RoboCop project to complete SkyNet’s neural net processor. In response, SkyNet declares war on humanity. Smart enough to realize RoboCop could be brought online to defeat it in the future, SkyNet uses its time displacement equipment to send Terminators back to Old Detroit. Do you think Alex Murphy is going to just sit around while all hell breaks loose in his city? Hell to the no! The resulting battle could be described as “RoboCop versus the Terminators,” an idea that leads to the sort of cyborg-on-cyborg smackdown Virgin Interactive imaginatively titled RoboCop Versus The Terminator on the Sega Genesis back in 1994. Admit it: you’d buy that for a dollar.
OK, the story’s little more than a high school-level wet dream fanfic. But like Aliens vs. Predator (the Dark Horse comic, not the film), the concept works on a visceral level. We don’t have to read a single word of a plot synopsis to know the idea itself kicks ass. Plotted mathematically, the storyline would look like “RoboCop 2 – drugs + more violence than should be possible for a 16-bit game system.” On the off-chance that wasn’t enough violence for you, the programmers included a cheat code to make the game more brutal, because Paul Verhoeven would have wanted it that way. Even without the code human enemies die in spectacularly splatterful ways, but if you need fountains of gore and severed limbs…you should probably play Mortal Kombat or something? I’ve beaten the water temple from Ocarina of Time with fewer button presses than what it takes to enter in the blood code.
Players take on the persona of RoboCop, spend the first few levels cleaning up the streets of Michigan by bathing them in blood, then flash forward into the future where humanity’s last hope is the first successful integration of man and machine which made SkyNet possible in the first place. Our only regret is that the Terminators probably aren’t programmed with a way to appreciate Murphy’s pithy one-liners and artful gun twirling abilities, which is why he has to blow them all to scrap.
RoboCop Versus the Terminator uses the familiar side-scrolling, 2D platform mechanic we’ve seen in every action game since Contra, and uses it to its fullest potential. The levels are all suitably dark and dingy, even before RoboCop starts turning them into entrail-splattered, broken-windowed wastelands, and the game does a great job of making you feel like the unstoppable cyborg you are in the first few stages. Non-boss human opponents are dispatched with a single shot of any weapon, and RoboCop has a ludicrous potential arsenal, everything from his signature Auto-9 handgun to heat-seeking rockets, machine guns, and even the Terminator’s own favorite, the a Phased Plasma Rifle (in the 40-watt range, in case you were wondering).
Then you meet your first Terminator and everything changes: now you’re fighting something built to eat bullets and shit out agony. You knock it down, it gets right back up again like a drunken frat boy on a Chumbawamba bender, and you realize later levels are full of nothing but these bad boys. RoboCop Versus the Terminator‘s difficulty doesn’t so much creep up as it does spike you right in the neck, then it stands back, mocking you as you bleed to death all over the floor. Murphy might need a fourth directive for this outing, since his other three only talk about upholding the law and protecting the innocent, not bringing a change of underwear.
Controls, once you get used to them, are good. RoboCop moves more like a tank than a swivel-hip halfback except when climbing ladders which give him a speed boost for some reason, so take your time getting used to this in the early stages where the threats aren’t so severe. You’ll especially want to figure out the range of your jump, because while Murphy can catch a little air with those leg hydraulics, he also weighs eight hundred pounds which means gravity loves him slightly more than your mom (just kidding, Mom–happy Mother’s Day!).
It all sounds fantastic so far until we get to sound. The Genesis required some special handling when it came to music and sound programming, and unfortunately RoboCop Versus the Terminator didn’t get the memo. Sound effects are functional at best, but the real crime against humanity is the music which should be cut off after you’ve let the it loop once. Failing to listen all the way through means you’ll miss the hilariously out-of-place woman who breathe-moans the word “Terminator” for reasons I can’t possibly speculate upon. Yes, this is actually part of the soundtrack. The world’s gone to hell, Detroit’s ravaged by crime, and the future’s conspiring to wipe out the past. But don’t fret ladies! A Cyberdyne Systems Model-101 is coming to love you up in ways you didn’t even know up with which you could be loved. Trust me, mute the sound unless you want to die from laughter instead of a hail of shrapnel.
RoboCop Versus the Terminator otherwise takes care of business very well. A game with a title like that should have a difficulty curve which separates the Alex Murphys from the Clarence Boddickers of the world. With ten levels split between the present and the future, it doesn’t overstay its welcome. And while the story may be absurd, at least it’s not the Interplay-developed Super Nintendo version, which is best described as: ‘part game, part comic, all crap.’
So celebrate, all you visitors reading this in 2015 or beyond. RoboCop is the reason you can play ultimate frisbee with something besides your own clavicle. Without those time-travelling nuts at Virgin Interactive, the future would be mighty dark indeed.
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