I've never watched any of the RoboCop films. I'm not sure why. I'm sure they're great films, but they're not something I've ever felt like making the effort to view. Maybe if I was flicking through the channels looking for something to watch and one of them happened to be on, I'd give it a go. But it's not something that has happened yet - perhaps it will one day. I get the general idea that the films feature a robot who also happens to be a cop, or a cop that is actually a robot. And I guess the robot copper goes around doing his policeman duties to uphold the law and protect civilians, such things like arresting criminals, catching roadhogs, giving directions to folk who happen to be lost, taking statements and doing paperwork.
When RoboCop was first released, I would have been nine or ten. Too young to legally watch the film, although as it was the first film to be scrambled on Sky Movies, and as we had Sky but didn't initially subscribe to Sky Movies, I was fascinated to see how the film would appear scrambled. So I watched the first few minutes of a scrambled RoboCop, until I realised that I was being a bit weird. Back then, RoboCop was cool. Kids at school had RoboCop flasks and sandwich boxes. I had a Mr T flask and a Garfield sandwich box. They wore T-shirts featuring RoboCop and spoke his famous sayings, saying things like “You're move, creep,” and, um, that's it. They also said things like “Hasta la vista, baby!” but that wasn't from RoboCop so it's kind of irrelevant. I suppose what I'm trying to get across is that, once upon a time, RoboCop was a hugely influential franchise, and even those who couldn't or didn't see the film, were aware of its presence. So when I came upon the RoboCop arcade machine in some place, I had to have a go of it. Oh yes, even I knew that RoboCop was cool. And I'd be cool too if I pretended to be RoboCop for a moment or two, policing the streets of Detroit and doing whatever it is that a RoboCop does.
One thing I remember about playing RoboCop as a kid was that it I didn't last very long. I enjoyed it, but my 10p go was over within a short space of time. I'd sometimes splash out and slip another 10p coin into the machine to get a little further, but I think I realised that I was never really going to get very far into the game without needing a lot more money. But, in these modern days of freeloading and playing what you want as much as you want, I decided to revisit RoboCop. Armed with a virtual pile of 10p coins, ready to be inserted whenever I died, I powered up RoboCop, the arcade game, and readied myself for some cyborg crime fighting fun.
RoboCop is a side-scrolling run and gun game with beat em up elements. According to Wikipedia, the computer game rights to RoboCop were held by Ocean, so Data East had to license the game from Ocean to produce the arcade game. This meant that an arcade game publisher had to acquire rights from a computer game publisher to make the game. Usually it was the other way round. Oooooh!
The action in RoboCop takes place over seven levels, interspersed with a couple of bonus levels. The game remains pretty much the same throughout. RoboCop wanders through the levels shooting just about anybody who gets in his way, bar a few hostages who he can free by shooting their captors. He can fire in eight directions: up, down, left, right and diagonally. When up close with an enemy, he can give them a smack with his metal-clad arm. RoboCop's standard gun has unlimited ammo, but he can pick up collectables to enhance his weapon. These do things like fire laser-like bullets, multi-directional ammo and the usual kind of stuff. However, these usually come with limited ammunition. There's always a downside to your fun, isn't there? RoboCop can also pick up other guns with more explosive and devastating firepower. Enemies fire at you from all directions and different enemies have different attacks. You'll get used to the attacks quickly, but things also become relentless quite quickly with numerous enemies positioning themselves everywhere. They aren't difficult to defeat, but it's clearing them all off the screen that's the issue. Even so, with a bit of skilful firing, ducking and diving, you can put paid to their hostilities in quite a satisfying way. A boss battle awaits you at the end of each level. Again, once you've learned the patterns and their weak points, defeating most of them isn't difficult, although some of the later ones really do hammer your power bar. During the boss battles, you can also see your enemy's power bar, so you know how close your are to defeating it. This is the earliest game that I have seen with this feature. Or maybe Castlevania was earlier?
A bonus level features twice in the game. This is a chance to earn some extra points, get some target practice and increase your power capacity. The bonus level takes the form of a shooting gallery with you simply having to fire a targets within a set time limit. It's nothing too challenging, or that exciting to be honest.
Most of the early levels scroll left to right, with the last couple of levels going upwards as you make use of lifts to get higher in a building. These are probably the game's worst levels. After a fast-paced action-packed build up, the final two levels are a bit of a letdown. You clear a floor of enemies and what appear to be armed security cameras. Then you take a lift to the next floor up to repeat the process. And you do this over and over again. Ignoring the tedium of the last couple of levels and their never-ending lifts, the game is pure and simple arcade gaming with little to divert your attention from just getting on with firing in all directions and ridding the levels of enemies.
Presentation and graphics are great. Each level captures its scene well, and quick intermissions tell the story. Characters are all well animated and are also quite big and bold. There is a bit of slowdown when the action gets too intense, but this is quite rare. Although dark and moody, the graphics also have a fair amount of colour in them to give vibrancy to each of the levels. The soundtrack is also fantastic, with music and sound effects that really suit the style of game. There is also a good amount of sampled speech in the game, with RoboCop saying his famous sayings and generally being quite a chatty robot cop thing. Oh yes, this is a game that showcased some of what the technology at the time could do. It was nothing extra spectacular, but was very good.
RoboCop plays well. Controls are simple and responsive, with shooting, jumping and firing working as it needs to. Being made of metal, RoboCop isn't able to jump that high and isn't the quickest of movers, which can get a bit frustrating when you want him to get out of the way of enemy fire. A slight frustration is that the direction he's aiming in sticks sometimes, so you have to re-aim to hit your required target. Another problem with the game is that, especially later on, you can lose your life within seconds of continuing. Although this was obviously so people getting towards the end of the game would spend more money and continue, it does sometimes feel a bit unfair. It's as if you're not given the chance to use skill to battle yourself out of a situation, instead you're paying your way out of it. Keep hitting continue and you'll slowly but surely get through. That said, the game isn't impossible and you can get quite far on one life if you try, something I just couldn't do when I was younger. RoboCop is definitely a quality arcade game, better at the beginning than towards the end. It's completely mindless and lacking in depth, but it offers a good fix of running and gunning action if that's your thing.