One of my quiet gaming obsessions is the concept of missing links. We all know the mainstream history of gaming (You know – the first RTS being Dune 2). Many of us will know the critical consensus-history of gaming (You know – the first RTS being the Megadrive’s Herzog Zwei). What interests me is the stuff both of those history leaves out – you know, what they’re forgetting about in order to make a simplified neater history. In that case, I dare say you can trace the RTS further back than Herzog Zwei if you like. At the least, you need to bring – say – Populous into the consideration. Sure, it doesn’t play in a way akin to how the genre gentrified… but neither, really, does Herzog Zwei.
Not in a trainspottery High-Fidelity-records-collector way. Well… at least not MOSTLY like that. But in a interest in how gloriously tangled the rainforest floor of gaming is.
Anyway – enough set up. On with 1991’s proto-First-person shooter Robocop 3’s awesome ED-209s!
Robocop 3 – or Robocop 3D it was referred to, as… well, I honestly don’t know and couldn’t speculate why – was the work of 3D Specialists DID, and generally born under a bad sign. It featured the sort of copy protection which no-one but games journalists with pre-release games normally have to deal with (a Dongle needed to be stuck in the back of your machine, in a slot which became accessible with the just-released next model of the Amiga. Man!) and the big-name license it was based on was never actually released in the UK. This left the game as something of a curio.
Despite the radically different veneer, it’s actually completely in the line of the traditional Ocean movie-conversions, which typically divided a movie into a series of stages. You know – the driving bit, the fighting bit, the shooting bit, the wondering why you spent twenty quid on this shit bit. Except here, DID missed the wondering why you spent twenty quid on this shit bit, and actually went to town on trying to – in the Movie half of the game – using lots of cutscenes to try and connect the various bits of the game together. In fact, as you drive to a place, then cut to a first person game, it’s a mere conceptual and hardware leap away from being (say) GTA. Even now, the seriousness of approach brings you to mind nothing less than Goldeneye. Sure, not in the same league, but this is a team trying.
The first-person shooter bits are the relevant bit. Coming only before Blue Sky’s inspired John Carmack to make the conceptual leap into texture-mapped 3D worlds, DID use the polygonal figures to their advantage to create a hyperstylised look which even recalls things like console schizo-shooter Killer7. The Streets are dark. The office blocks are all cool edges. Also, using the license at its best, it tries to put you in Robocop’s enormous metal boots – the computer-styled distortion as bullets bounce off your chassis, HUD-targeting drawing concentric boxes around a target as you try to lock on and a good chunk of the story being told via text updates on your screen, in the manner of Robocop’s prime-directive boot-up. Even the weaker points of the game – like Robocop’s slow a chunky walking speed and general inability to turn – seem to make you feel like the Detroit heavy. It’s never more visible than in the first-person fight with Otomo, a Japanese corporation robotic Ninja, who generally runs around like a Half-life assassin while you try and avoid him knocking your gun clean out of your hands.
But the bit which seems most prescient now is actually missing from the PC version as – the instructions claim – the mouse-controls were only in the Amiga version. Here, you target wherever on the screen with a mouse, right mouse button to walk forward and right-and-mouse making you turn on the spot. There’s no strafe, sure, but it’s worryingly close in conception to the mouse-look. In fact, it’s until the true-introduction of the mouselook when the idea of PRECISE shooting returns to the genre (There’s a lot of Robocop 3 which involves shooting past hostages, something that’ll have ended up in a shotgun-deaded hostage if you tried it in doom). Robocop 3 is awkward, sure. The PC version, specifically, is an inferior one to the Amiga (Like many Arcade games of the period – the PC as arcade machine only really got under away post-Doom). But it’s definitely worth remembering.
There’s also a bit where DID get upset they weren’t making another flight-sim and give Robocop a Jetpack. It’s hard to begrudge them.
The PC version of the game is available on the perennial Videogame librarians and archivists of The Underdogs, though I needed to use DOXBox to get it working.