Tuesday, 1 April 2014

Chapter XII: Narco Police

During the eighties and early nineties there weren’t any Portuguese gaming magazines which meant that we had to resort to foreign magazines for our gaming related reading. The three most common gaming magazines on the newsstands at the time were the British Amiga Power, the French Joystick and the Spanish Micromania. The prices of these magazines were also comparable to their quality, with Amiga Power being by far the most expensive, while Micromania was the cheapest. If I remember correctly, one issue of Micromania was the equivalent 1.5€ which was quite cheap, even for 1991 standards.

This magazine was notable for being ridiculously big and hard to handle, especially for my little ten year old hands. I honestly don’t know what was with that stupid size considering also how hard it was to shelve it. Besides that annoyance, the magazine was also prone to overhype Spanish games. I’m not going to be too harsh on them because of this, since magazines from other countries did exactly the same. The problem is, unlike British and French games, Spanish games were generally rubbish.

These are strange proportions. Each house is the size of the caldera
Yes, it was hard for younger me not to be excited for all the games reviewed in this magazine. It was my main read before I learned English and had way too much weight on my gaming choices. One of the most memorable cases of misguided enthusiasm was Narco Police. It was impossible to not be hyped for this game. It was featured on Micromania cover, and remember that this magazine cover was twice as big as any other. The game related artwork featured on that same cover was also cool as hell, as it sported a Mel Gibson lookalike cop with an awesome futuristic helmet. The screenshots of the game being showed on the magazine's pages were also incredibly promising, as they looked terrific.

MadCop or RoboMax?
I honestly don’t know what went wrong. I don’t have any hate or traumatic story related to this game. There was no litigious divorce or anything like that. I just lost interest.

It’s hard to pinpoint the moment where that enthusiasm started to fade, but I do remember the game being very hard. Still, that wasn’t a problem for games that left me so many good memories like Apydia. The graphics weren’t the culprit, as I also remember them being quite good and true to the magazine screenshots. Maybe the game just wasn’t fun. Whatever happened between me and Narco Police in the summer of 91, I’m just about to find out.

It’s a well known fact that kids like shiny things, namely good graphics. Well, at last that used to be the case when I was one. I do remember how games like Space Ace and Dragon’s Lair made me drool when I looked at magazine’s screenshots. Narco Police is a quite an impressive game from a technical point, so when I first loaded it I kind of wondered why we drifted apart. It didn’t took much time to figure out why. This game is HARD.

The game looks better in motion. Trust me
But before I get to that, let me be more specific of why the game just looks good. Even though it’s entirely sprite based and there’s hardly any scaling, it delivers an incredibly convincing 3d effect, specially for a game that was released in 91. The animations are reasonably smooth and don’t compromise the production values. Our  Narco Policemen (™), are controlled in 3rd person from behind which is kind of shame. Why bother to cast Mel Gibson as a cop when you’re only showing his back?

As for how the game plays, it kind of a Cabal (or a kind of brain damaged Gears of War, in case there are any younger readers), influenced action game with a simple squad-tactics aspect on top of it. The problem with this kind of hybrid games is that they rarely do each part as good as the games that influenced it, and that’s definitely true in this case. The tactics and equipping part of the game is very barebones and doesn’t add much to it. But that could have been a nice bonus if the core game was any fun.

This door was on the receiving of all my frustrations
Most of the time it's impossible to avoid the incoming fire from our foes, and I spent most time seeing my troops falling on their backs. Literally, because they don’t fall any other way. I had this vague memory that it was possible to make our characters roll to avoid fire, but I didn’t found any way to do it.

Well, all is explained. Narco Police could have been a good game, but it was spoiled by an inadequate difficulty level. Another thing kids like is instant gratification, and that was nowhere to be found here.

In this game, even lamps can kill you

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