Monday, 9 September 2013

Apocalypse (PSX)

Apocalypse PlayStation title screen
I guess the symbol for the apocalypse is the anarchy symbol with a cross on top then.

Today I'm finally getting around to another requested game: Apocalypse on the PlayStation, starring digital Bruce Willis. In fact they're so proud of their Bruce Willis model they've even shown off its wireframe mesh on the title screen.

This was the second game developed by Neversoft, made just before they hit fame and acclaim with their Tony Hawk's Pro Skater series. They actually made nine Tony Hawk games before switching over to make seven Guitar Hero games and a Band Hero. Apocalypse on the other hand got exactly zero sequels, but I'm sure that's no reflection on its quality. Probably.

The game begins with a CGI video of an interesting medical procedure involving a lot of pipes, corpses and magic lightning, narrated by this guy in the robe explaining in a monologue that:
"There was a time where science was my religion. Now religion has become my science and my sword.
Only one man, my oldest student, now my sworn enemy knows my plan and knows how I raised my horsemen from the dead."
Oh oh, I hope Bruce Willis turns out to be this guy's student, the idea of him as a trainee necromancer is amazing.
"Death. Plague. War. Beast. My four horsemen of the apocalypse, arise!"
Uh I'm hardly an expert on the subject, but shouldn't that last one be Famine? Plague is close enough to Pestilence to get a pass I suppose, but where'd Beast come from? Man, this guy sucks at summoning the apocalypse.

Meanwhile the one man on Earth who can stop him, Trey Kincaid, has just been thrown into the Paradise Island Prison Facility to await death for the crime of taking part in "The dangerous ways of the sciences in direct violation of the Twelve Recommendations of the Reverend."

Now he's stuck sharing a tiny prison cell (and its tiny bed, sink and toilet) with a not so tiny guy who greets him by saying "Boy, you're gonna have some bad dreams tonight". So unless he can magically turn the sink into an assault rifle and shoot his way out, the world (and Kincaid's ass) appear to be pretty much screwed.

Oh shit, he just magically turned his sink into an assault rifle! Well, he used nanotech, same thing.

What's really amazing is that he also fabricated ammo for the gun and there was still enough of the sink left over for it to continue to resemble a sink. Now that's why Trey Kincaid is the best rogue scientist in America.

"Welcome to Paradise" he quips as he blasts the controls to the cell forcefield (you know, the ones they put on the inside, in case a guard accidentally locks himself in or whatever). Kincaid probably could've scienced his way out, but this way looks better in cutscenes; though they couldn't quite get Bruce Willis's virtual mouth to move properly as he talks.

Alright the game is actually a twin stick shooter, with the left stick doing the running and the right stick aiming the gun. There's no rotating the camera though; I've got a little freedom to drag it from side to side as I walk, but otherwise it follows me down the level on a fixed rail.

You know, I think this particle beam and I are going to become firm friends. At least until the ammo runs out and I'm automatically switched back to my infinite-ammo machine gun. That wouldn't really be a disaster though, as my starting weapon cuts through prison guards just fine. It's totally useless at cutting through giant TV screens of prison wardens though, annoyingly.

Finding my way around this prison has been pretty simple so far. I just walk forward with one analogue stick and tilt the other in the direction of the bad people; it's about as linear and straightforward as they come.

Well that's one way to stop a prison break: third person platforming over a bottomless instant death pit when I have no depth perception. Fortunately it seems quite possible for me make it across as long as I keep an eye out for where my shadow is.

"Feel the burn, kid?" quips Trey. The guy never shuts up, in fact. He's worse than Duke Nukem. Fortunately he's actually got a fair amount of terrible one-liners to bring out during gameplay, far more dialogue than he gets during cutscenes in fact (including classics like "come get some" and "bring it on baby"), so they're not getting too obnoxious through overuse. Yet.

It's okay to make fun of people as you burn them alive as long as you're doing it to save all of humanity by the way. You know, I can't even tell if these are guards or escaped psychopaths right now as they're all too tiny to make out clearly.

That rainbow coloured bar up on the top right is my health, so you can tell how much of a struggle it's been so far. It's only four minutes into the first level though, still plenty of time for them to ramp up the challenge.


FIVE MINUTES LATER.


I can't believe how long this level is dragging on for. Don't get me wrong, I'm enjoying it way more than I expected it to, but I've got limited lives here and it'd be nice if they'll let me take a break at a save point.

This side path is actually taking me in the opposite direction to the exit, but I saw some bonus pick-ups in the background earlier, maybe even a 1up, and this seems to be the way to get them. Missing a single jump will kick me all the way back to the last checkpoint, but all I have to do is keep an eye on my shadow and I'll be fine... hey, where the fuck did my shadow go?


THREE MINUTE LATER.


Crap, I think I've made a fatal tactical error here, well two of them actually. Firstly I got impatient and rushed ahead, ignoring enemies along the way and leaving myself in a position where I could be attacked from behind the camera and overwhelmed.

Secondly, I just walked off the edge of this column. Two lives lost now.

There he is by the way, rogue scientist Trey Kincaid, as close to the camera as I'm ever likely to get him. He's got actually fairly detailed model comparable to contemporaneous PlayStation heroes like Solid Snake, which is surprising considering how tiny he usually is on screen.

Doesn't much look like Willis though in my opinion. 

And after a quarter of an hour of gameplay I have finally reached what I presume to be the end level boss! I'm almost glad to see the guy as it means I'll probably get a chance to save soon. Well, you know, if I ever manage to blow him up.

He's a pretty useless enemy as all I have to do is stay mobile and keep my distance from the flamethrower and he can't touch me, but man he can soak up a lot of damage. I'm going to pretend the warden's in there to give me that extra jolt of motivation I need to get this over with.

Yes, the tank is finally down and I'm presented with a save option and a cutscene as compensation for my trouble.

Trey decided to steal a hoverbike parked on the side of the boss fight arena to escape, which seems like a reasonable enough plan. I'll just imagine that it's the warden's bike and he rode it over from his office to the tank, then left it parked nearby with the keys in the ignition because.... well who's going to steal their boss's bike when he's driving around next to it in a tank? It all makes perfect sense in my imagination.

Anyway as Trey was making his escape he suddenly had the bright idea to fly his borrowed bike down into a tiny sewer pipe, possibly because he's entirely insane. Even if the bike was small enough to fit (it wasn't) there's only one place that's going to take him.

So here I am in a sewer level, a long time favourite of video game designers. Who can really say why game developers have such a fascination with sewage pipes and such a driving need to recreate them, simulate them, and allow players to experience them for themselves.

All I know is it can't be wise for me to wave my flamethrower around like this around so much methane gas. Still, you think these levels are annoying now, imagine what they'll be like when we're all playing games with our Oculus Rift 3.0 headsets, featuring John Carmack's revolutionary stench simulation technology.

And then suddenly rocks fall and I instantly lose a life. Seems a bit harsh in my opinion, though at least I know now to walk around slowly, paranoid that any one of these rock pillars could be an instant death trap.

Hang on, where am anyway? Is this a cave? What happened to the sewers?

Whoa, look at this place. I can't believe Apocalypse of all games, a futuristic cyberpunk shooter, has this much imagination put into its caves. Also it's becoming far more of a platformer than I would've expected at first, with most of the enemies throwing grenades at me from ledges up on the side walls.

The fuck? I'm climbing down into molten lava now? And I was worried about using my flamethrower earlier...

I've gone from the sewers to the crystal caves to the inside of a volcano and the level's showing no signs of ending any time soon. I'm just glad it's not stingy with the checkpoints or else I'd be a nervous wreck right now. One slip and it'd all be over.

Yeah, I was a bit premature dismissing this as a basic twin stick shooter at first, when it's definitely as much about jumping on rock columns and leaping over fire jets on a wild sewage ride as it is about mindless slaughter.

Then after some more jumping and a little bit of hassle with some oversized rats and a giant mutant alligator boss, I finally find a ladder leading up into the city.

Trey was hoping he'd end up in the streets nearby his lab, but a ladies shower room is close enough for him. He definitely doesn't seem too bothered by the fact he just scared the shit out a roomful of naked women (seen only from the knees down I should point out), even making a quip about them having "nice polygons", which is the first time I've ever heard them called that.

Hey wait a minute, does this mean that Trey knows he's in a video game? He's breaking my fourth wall!

Damn, the TV screens in the future all have terrible picture quality; I can barely make out what I'm seeing here. Hey, that's me up there kicking a switch, I remember that doing that at the start of level 1! Man I really slammed my boot into that thing, good times.

It turns out though that this is in fact a news report telling the whole country to be on the look out for escaped renegade scientist Trey Kincaid, who is in fact me. The police will be out searching for me now in force so I need to keep moving and stay out of sight until I reach Trey's lab.

Ooops. Well they've spotted me so I guess all I can do now is get the flamethrower out again for a bit of self-defence.

Somehow it's not a great surprise to me to learn that the city in this is a very late 90s style towering oppressive futuristic gritty neon-lit helltropolis, though I can't say that I predicted that lava filled chasms would be breaking up the streets.

I'm two levels down now so I suppose I could turn the game off now, but there were four Horsemen of the Apocalypse created in the intro and I haven't even killed one of them yet! Besides, I want to see what they're going to do this time to top the sewer level.

That's awesome; they've got a bloody music video playing on the big screen in the background! A bit of research tells me it's 'Stoopid' by Snot and it's... not bad; the guitar sounds a little bit 'Rage Against the Machine', which suits this shoot out just fine. But that just makes it worse that there's only a handful of enemies here and the track cuts off after about a minute. Wasted opportunity in my opinion.

I like how the game mixes up the camera angles like this; it keeps things feeling fresh even if I am just spinning around with my flamethrower like I always do. Plus I can actually see things that are behind me for once.


SOON.


Oh hey, look who's back. It's the prison boss tank and his friend 'even bigger tank'. It's not the first time I've had to fight one of these tedious bullet sponge boss enemies in regular combat, but it's definitely the first time I've done quite so badly in the fight. Unlike the other tanks I've fought, this actually started driving up to me and I just didn't know what to do about that.

As soon as he lit me up I tried rolling forwards to put out the flame, putting me in the situation where the smaller tank was behind the camera and impossible to see. Plus rolling didn't even put out the flames! I got them both on the next life though, through early and decisive application of every bit of ammo inside every gun that I was carrying.

Fifth Element floating taxis! Damn, that movie got a PlayStation game too didn't it? I suppose that's another one for the endless list of games I have to investigate. I wonder why this city has started flooding with lava anyway; I hope it's nothing to do with my misadventures in the sewers. It probably has more to do with Volcano and Dante's Peak hitting cinemas the year before now that I think about it.

Besides, the most important and baffling mystery here is why the taxis all have chessboards on their roof. I don't just mean they've got a checker board pattern on them, they actually have exactly 8 squares across in each direction so you really could play a game of chess on these things. High octane high stakes hover taxi lava chess.

Damn, the level's turned into a side view platformer now and yet it keeps going! The controls always work fine no matter what the camera does by the way. In this case all I have to do is pull right on the first stick to walk and pull right on the second stick to shoot. It's always absolutely intuitive.

Well... fuck. There goes all my floor.

Still, it could always be worse I guess. I could've been standing a couple of meters to the right. I'm not sure whether I should be cautious here and carefully make my way foward or just make a run for it until I reach a section of the ground that seems more inclined to stay put.


SOON.


MORE tanks? I must have fought at least seven of these by now. This has to be the end of the level now though, surely. I don't see no boss health bar, but this architecture screams 'epic boss arena'. For this particular fight I intend to use the strategy of pretty much standing right here and pointing my gun at things until I see a missile coming my way or I get bored. Otherwise I don't see the point in getting closer to the tanks and putting myself at more risk. A guy can only be set on fire so much before it starts getting old.


A NON-TRIVIAL AMOUNT OF SHOOTING LATER.


Finally the tanks did the decent thing and exploded and I was rewarded with another CGI interlude, this time of Trey shooting at goons trying to get him as he enters the elevator to his lab.

It's hilarious though as they're all doing 80s style gunplay: basically standing right in the open and waving their machine guns back and forth. Yeah I know that's how I've been playing it for the last half an hour or whatever, but at least I had the sense to side-step occasionally.

Okay so I've reached Kincaid's lab at least. Now we can finally... actually I have no idea why we're here. Trey usually announces his intentions with a single line of dialogue during the cutscene and if you miss that you'll have no idea what is going on.

I think I'm going to break with tradition here and flick through the manual for a moment.

It is clear to me now that I had no idea just how batshit insane this game's story really is.

So Kincaid was about to come out with a breakthrough in nano-technology and the Reverend (his old teacher according to the intro) decided to use the public's fear of this and other advancements to banish science ENTIRELY, because he's friends with the President of the United States and can do this. It's all part of his cunning scheme to murder billions to bring along his own Apocalypse because... he's bored of waiting for Judgment Day basically.

Okay now they're just taking the piss.

Wait, someone stole and resurrected her corpse huh? I sure hope no one secretly turned her into one of those Horsemen of the Apocalypse.

Oh shit, it seems another Horseman was hanging out in my lab the whole time, created from my deceased assistant Larry (still waiting on the horse to make an appearance though).

This is a serious proper boss fight this time, counting as a separate level in its own right, so I've got to play this carefully. Actually no I don't, as it's only been around 10 seconds since my last save and I'm not even that bothered if I beat this guy or not. My current strategy is to just stand here and shoot the zombies he summons as they shamble over to me and it seems to be working out okay so far. The Horseman himself seems content enough to stay where he is for now and I've already chipped away half his health like this, so barring any massive surprises... OH SHIT THE FLOOR'S COLLAPSING, NEW PLAN: PANIC!


SOME PANICKING LATER.


Well the good news is that I won the fight. It was a close call at the end, but I got him. The bad news is that the Horseman engaged the self destruct before he died and Trey had to jump out of the window to escape the blast.

Why did Trey have his lab rigged to explode at the push of a button, you might be wondering? Because he's an outlaw scientist who lives each day on the edge, obviously.

Oh dear, it seems that jumping out the window possibly wasn't best plan this high up in a Blade Runner-esque metropolis. Still, I'm sure he probably survived (he doesn't take much falling damage).


Okay then, so what is my initial opinion on Bruce Willis's Pro Shooter? It feels like a fake game you'd see someone playing in a TV show, created by people who only have a vague idea of what a video game is like from stories they've heard from their kids and a fuzzy memories of an arcade cabinet they played on twice in the late 80s (it even has lives!) The story is insane enough for me to wonder if it's actually a parody, Bruce Willis's contribution is mainly to yell clichés at people with remarkable enthusiasm, and the gameplay is one long drawn out senseless massacre.

It'd be fair to say that it's definitely not the best renegade scientist action shooter ever made (or even the best from 1998, seeing as Gordon Freeman made his début three weeks later), but it's far better than I was expecting. I thought it was going to be charmless barely-controllable frustrating repetitive crap, built around the idea that anything they rushed out would sell if they put Bruce Willis's name on the box, when it's actually much the opposite. Well okay it does get a little repetitive, but Neversoft really did try to add variety to the levels and mix up the gameplay a little. I reckon it would've helped if the levels had been split up into smaller stages, to tempt the player into playing for just another five minutes longer each time, rather than forced them to endure a seemingly endless 10-15 minute level AND beat the boss fight before they can save and quit.

I'm not sure whether I'd recommend it, but I'd have no problem with playing it a little further myself, so it easily earns one of my shiny gold stars:

If you have anything you'd like to tell the world about Apocalypse starring Bruce Willis, my article, the site, etc. then please dump your comments into the comments bin below, and as if by magic they should appear on the page.

1 comment:

  1. > I thought it was going to be charmless
    > barely-controllable frustrating repetitive
    > crap, built around the idea that anything
    > they rushed out would sell if they put Bruce
    > Willis's name on the box

    Actually I think that was pretty much what happened with Apocalypse. The version that got released was the second incarnation of the project, since the original one was cancelled. But with Bruce Willis already been payed for the voice and face, Activision gave the project to Neversoft to make something out of the old assets.

    You can read about it here and even check the earlier version that had Bruce Willis as *gasp* your sidekick: http://www.unseen64.net/2008/05/03/apocalypse-psx-beta/

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