Ocean Software were undoubtedly one of the finest games publishers of the 1980s and even the early 1990s, and Robocop is certainly one of the crowning glories in video game history. The Sinclair Spectrum version (not that there seemed to be much difference between other platforms) became one of the biggest sellers of all time – it remained in the charts for a year!
I played the game on a green screen Amstrad CPC 464. Others enjoyed it on the Commodore 64, NES and other machines of the time. Apart from the arcade version all home versions appeared to be largely similar.
The game certainly earned its license as it ties in beautifully with the 1987 sci-fi action movie of the same name. For a tenner on release (it was an expensive boxed cassette back then) you certainly got your money’s worth.
The premise of the game is that you play Robocop (duh) only to discover that you are brutally murdered police officer Alex J. Murphy resurrected as a law enforcement machine. Being pissed off—as you would—you work your way through the game to bring to justice those who killed you. The game turns key scenes of the film into levels.
Before each level begins you are briefed with a short sentence of text that mirrors Robocop’s digital point of view. You start off on the beat seemingly unaware of your past, discover one of those responsible for your death on the third level, and then on the fourth puzzle-like level try to match a photo fit in order to obtain info on the man and his associates who you realise killed you. These scenes actually happen in the film.
The second level is a grin inducing recreation of the famous bullet-through-the-skirt scene, in which you have to align the horizontal and vertical elements of your target system to injure the criminal and free the female hostage. In the game though you lose for trying to shoot through the skirt so you have to make do with shooting an arm.
Following this you do another round of shooting in a drugs bust in a warehouse. Though all of the side-scrolling shooting levels seem very similar—walk forwards and backwards, up and down lifts and stairs, aim your gun correctly—you rarely get bored as the scenarios are pretty detailed for this era, and new enemies, and even weapons (for you and the baddies) get introduced on successive levels. Feeling a little low on energy? Top up on baby food by walking over it!
Then comes a level where Directive 4 (it’s in the film!) causes Robo to malfunction on attempts to arrest a senior OCP employee – the dastardly Dick Jones who is in cahoots with the the very same thugs who killed him. Armed with nothing but your fist to punch, you have to make your way past the clanking bulldog ED-209. In the film the scene was quite a robotic fight! Here all you need to do is duck when the largely immobile ED fires and when close enough just keep punching. I know to not expect too much for the technology of the time but this level was still quite poor. In fact even the photo-fit level is somewhat patronizing, though subtle details can make you lose… and rewind the tape to the previous level!
After dealing with more thugs in the junkyard—some with bazookas now—and a another hello to ED-209 there’s a final level that pretty much echoes the first female hostage scenario again. Except this time it’s Dick Jones with the chairman of OCP hostage upon submission of evidence against him; he shoots at you, too. The nerve.
Line up your targeting system correctly and you’ve won the game. Once you’ve conquered it you’ll find you can beat the game in subsequent one hour sittings. Longevity may be limited but it’s still a hoot to play it a number of times and the whole thing moves brilliantly. The game can be played via the keyboard or a joystick with no real difference in satisfaction between either.
Developer Mark Lamb invoked real video game chemistry in using Dawn Drake’s graphic talents (a feast for the eyes from the loading screen) alongside Jonathan Dunn’s original musical score, which doesn’t borrow anything from the original film but still fits the mood. If I’m not mistaken the game’s title music later appeared in an Ariston ad.
Robocop, his guns and the villains (even ones on bikes) look amazing for the technology of the day, is tremendously immersive. I played an emulation of this not too long ago and it’s still strangely enjoyable.