Retro Review: “RoboCop Versus The Terminator” (SEGA Genesis)
Gaming in the 1990s was the historical epicenter of the battle surrounding violence in video games, complete with U.S. Senate hearings, parents forbidding their children from visiting arcades for fear that they may catch a glimpse of a “fatality,” and so on.
Yet even amongst all of that controversy, SEGA’s own Videogame Ratings Council (V.R.C.) still rated RoboCop Versus the Terminator, the game EGM named as the “Bloodiest Game of 1993,” as MA-13. Yep. Contained therein was clearly a level of violence that only the mind of an 8th grader could truly comprehend.
Not that I’m complaining. As an 8th grader myself around that time, I totally understood the nuance and social commentary that Virgin was trying to touch on. My biggest takeaway? Shooting stuff in the face can be a virtual crap-ton of fun, especially when punctuated with a gratifying shower of blood.
So yes, the game has blood. It’s violent. But how does RvT stack up? Pretty darn well, I think, though it’s not without its problems.
Serve the public trust. Protect the innocent. Kill everything that moves.
Published by Virgin for the SEGA Genesis in 1993, RoboCop Versus the Terminator draws its inspiration from Frank Miller’s classic comic series of the same name. You play as Officer Murphy, the titular “RoboCop,” and you are given ten stages and a variety of firepower to kill many, many things. Oh, and you will probably do your own fair share of dying, as well.
Before we get into the grim and gritty details of the game, everyone hit start to pause, and enter the following code which turns on the ultra-violence mode as this review will reference that version of the game:
C, B, A, B, B, A, B, B, C, B, B, C, C, B, B, C, B, C, A, C, C, A, A, A, B, B, B, A, C, A
Everyone there? Awesome. Let’s move on now.
RvT is a side-scrolling platformer at its core, though you might be shocked to learn that there is a heavy emphasis on shooting (read: sarcasm). Throughout the game you will shoot, climb, shoot, jump, shoot diagonally, dodge, and shoot some more. Needless to say, the game keeps the mechanics simple, and that is a good thing.
Controlling RoboCop feels very responsive. While you might expect a guy clad with steel and cybernetics to lumber around like a bipedal tank, Officer Murphy is remarkably nimble. He moves smoothly, climbs up and down ladders faster than gravity itself causes him to fall (no joke), and with a simple press of the jump button, he gets some serious “ups.” While Robo’s superhuman acrobatics may seem contrary to the character, making him so agile is the right decision from a gameplay standpoint, as you will need to move and react quickly to enemy gunfire and other hazards. You can also fire your weapons in multiple directions, popping off unsuspecting baddies from below or above.
The enemies range from male and female human gangbangers, your standard T-800 Terminator, the hardier red Terminators, terminator dogs, terminator tanks, terminator spider-things (Sorry, I don’t know all of the Terminator lore by heart), you get the idea.
The ten stages are split evenly between two time periods, the first half of the game taking place in RoboCop’s time and the second half in the not-so-distant “War of the Machines” future. You’ll traverse through Detroit’s back alleys, industrial areas, OCP headquarters, underground tunnels, and the SkyNet central hub. Each of the stages has semi-destructible environments where you can shoot out windows and lights, destroy fire hydrants (which will assist you if you ever find yourself set on fire), in addition to climb ladders, jump onto rooftops, and use overhead pipes to climb across chasms and environmental hazards.
Each stage presents you with a different “Prime Directive,” which includes missions such as “Take out the security cameras” or “Rescue the hostages.” Funny thing, though, is that you can progress through the stage without completing them, making them more like suggestions or tasks you could complete if you feel like it more than a directive… Except for a later stage which instructs you to “Just stay alive!” Yeah, not much getting around that one.
The remarkable, over-the-top violence is pretty much reserved for the first half of the game where you encounter the human enemies, who, after a few quick shots from RoboCop’s sidearm, collapse in a spectacular avalanche of blood and gore. It’s quite cathartic.
Once the game fast-forwards in time to the bleak, Skynet-controlled future around stage 6, however, the violent spectacle pretty much ends. While the enemy Terminators still explode quite nicely and are well animated when they do so, the fun is still largely over for those with a bloodlust. At least you can still watch RoboCop flail and twitch in his death throes every time you die.
Along the way, you will pick up power-ups like extra energy, invincibility shields, extra lives, and several different weapons, each with their own distinct advantages. You can keep two weapons in your inventory at any given time, but when you die, you lose whichever weapon you have equipped. Pro tip: you can quickly swap weapons during your death animation, so if you’re quick enough, you can keep the best weapons as long as you have the extra lives to back it up.
You’re going to need the extra firepower too, because RvT gets to be pretty darn tough by the end. Fortunately, there are plenty of hidden areas scattered throughout the game that will help you keep your extra life count up and your death count low. Finding these areas is key to succeeding in the game, because if you haven’t racked up a pretty good stock of extra lives early on, then by the end, well, you’re going to have a bad time.
If you are still having trouble finding sufficient hidden areas, then worry not! The programmers have you covered. In addition to the ultra-violence code listed above, there are several other cheats that can assist you through the game if it gets too intense. No Game Genie required!
I’d buy that for a dollar!
Graphically, RvT is a slick, shiny chrome package. The sprites are larger than your average run-and-gun action game, and much like many other Virgin titles released on the Genesis such as Cool Spot and Aladdin, RvT has some very detailed character designs, which animate quite well. RoboCop himself and the T-800 Terminators look especially smooth as they march across the screen, and I would be remiss if I didn’t again mention the excessive death animations. The stages themselves are dark, for the most part, but look pretty good for 16-bit fare.
While not overly impressive, the sound effects of your gunfire and its resulting destruction is adequate. The RvT’s real audio standout is the digitized voices, though. Officer Murphy sounds great when he picks up a 1-Up and says “Excellent,” or takes down a T-800 and mockingly taunts him with a “You’re terminated” just before he explodes. Wicked burn, officer! Add to that the menacing growl of the ED-209, and a creepily sexy voice whispering “Terminator” as part of the first stage’s BGM, and you’ve got a healthy mix of voice work that adds a bit of flare to the game.
Now it’s time to erase that mistake
As much as there is to like in RvT, there are still a few significant flaws. The largest of which may be the soundtrack. While it is easy to lament the lack of any music pulled from the movies of the two namesake franchises, what we actually got was a blend of industrial electronica, a mishmash that never quite succeeds at conquering the Genesis sound chip. Some of the snares and cymbals in the percussion lines sound great in a couple of tracks, but overall, the music is muddled, grindy, and forgettable.
You also take damage simply by coming into contact with enemies, and you are given zero, I mean absolutely no recovery time between hits. So that means that if you fall from a pipe and land on an enemy, you’re very likely going to lose a significant chunk of life. You do have the ability to similarly inflict damage on enemies by getting up close to them and punching them, although the animation for this attack consists of RoboCop holding his fist out in the air until the enemy either moves or dies, so a little bit more elaborate of an animation for this attack would have been nice.
Speaking of enemies moving, many of them don’t. At all. They stand in a fixed position and fire away at you, acting essentially as static targets that barf out bullets here and there. This is more noticeable in the earlier stages, which are of course supposed to be less difficult, but it’s still awkward.
While I’ve already mentioned that the stages graphically look solid, some of the scenery gets a bit repetitive. Everyone in Detroit apparently owns the same yellow colored curtains, the caves of the future are brown and drab, and the lobby of the OCP building has to be one of the largest ones ever built.
Another issue rears its ugly head in the boss battles. You’ll face off against the RoboCop 2 android, an Arnold Schwarzenegger look-alike T-800, and the ED-209 (whose arm can actually be picked up and used as a weapon!), so there is some decent fan service inserted into these fights. However, this flow of fan-service starts to run dry pretty quickly, as once you spend more than 15 seconds in each battle you realize that the bosses movements and patterns are extremely basic, and laying waste to each one takes far too long.
Adding to the monotony of the boss fights is the fact that the music completely stops in these sequences, leaving just you, the boss, and the repetitive sound of his weapons being fired at the exact same intervals. Several of the bosses also seem like they are just bullet-sponge versions of regular enemies. In an era that included Shinobi III and Gunstar Heroes as contemporaries, RvT’s bosses are adequate, but underwhelming.
Dead or alive, you’re coming with me
In retrospect, RvT does miss a few opportunities that could have been really great additions to the game. For example, the Terminator half of the license isn’t as fully realized as the RoboCop half. The addition of some digitized Arnie quotes would have mixed well with RoboCop’s quips, and why not allow you to play as a Terminator? You could move through the stages in a different order as the T-800, similar to playing as the Velociraptor in Jurassic Park? At least drop in a player vs. player battle mode that was so popular with games back then, one player controlling RoboCop and the other a Terminator.
Another non-gameplay addition that would have rounded out the package well would have been to stronger ties to the story of the comic series. The opening cinematic pretty much scrolls a through an overview of the plot, which is never again referred to throughout the game. The story reason for why RoboCop travels into the future is pretty interesting,but for a player not familiar with the comic, you’re just thrust ahead a few decades, surrounded by Terminators, and you pretty much just have to “deal with it.” Even something as simple as three or four lines of text explaining the plot between levels could have gone a long way in fixing this, but as it stands, it’s an oversight that at least doesn’t affect the core gameplay. Although if you want to get really technical (fanboy levels of technical) RoboCop’s character model should also look a little different when he arrives in the future, too.
It’s easy to imagine how much better this game might have turned out had there been a SEGA CD version of it. Sure, most Genesis games converted to the CD format were given little more than an audio upgrade and some more elaborate cutscenes, but really, that would correct most of what this game lacks. I suppose we would pay the price of a 10-second load time between stages, but that price seems to be a fair one to pay. The only Virgin game that comes to mind that did get this kind of port on CD was Earthworm Jim, and a plan to convert Cool Spot to CD was abandoned at some point or another, so there is no way of knowing if anyone at Virgin ever seriously considered RvT for the same treatment. Still, the potential advantages are clearly there, and it’s a shame that the option was passed by.
Hasta la vista, Mario!
I suppose there is no getting around the question of how well does the Genesis version stack up against the SNES version. Well, it’s been a long time since I played that version, but I will start by giving credit where credit is due and say that the SNES version of the soundtrack, while based on the same compositions, sounds a bit better. There are also some comic-style cutscenes inserted throughout to help advance the story.
Unfortunately for SNES owners, though, you were still left with the chore of actually playing through RvT on your system. The game straight up looks better on the Genesis, hands down. It’s sharper and the character models are more realistically defined, so I guess “More colors! More colors!” don’t always work to a game’s advantage.
The SNES version also had an extra, awkward, Mode-7 powered 3D stage that was ham-fistedly inserted into the game and most likely intended to capitalize on the Doom craze at the time, but it comes off more like a hollow tech demo than a worthwhile addition to the game. There was only one stage like this if I remember correctly, but even so, it’s unnecessary, it’s unimpressive, and the game would have been better off without it.
Oh, and there is also no blood in the SNES version. None. No secret codes, no clever Game Genie cheat that turns sweat reddish, nada. So if you’re an 8th grader looking to write a paper on how violence affects, oh, I don’t know, let’s say gender issues in a post-apocalyptic setting and you want to get Virgin’s nuanced take on the matter, yet all you have is a Super Nintendo, well my friend, you’re simply out of luck. Why? Because clearly 90s-era Nintendo was for babies, that’s why. Come at me, Nintendorks!
Oh, and there is one final, exclusive feature of the SNES version of the game that we should concede as being noticeably absent from the Genesis version, and that would be frequent, crippling, rage-inducing slowdown. Well, at least the plastic shell wrapped around the SNES box was pretty neat, right?
Can you fly, Bobby?
Despite its flaws, RoboCop Versus the Terminator is a good game, and could conservatively be considered as the best RoboCop game ever made (though that original arcade game was pretty sweet). Action game fans and fans of either film series would probably do well to check it out, and cartridge-only copies can easily be snagged off of eBay for less than $20.
A few unimaginative boss fights and some sound issues prevent it from reaching stellar levels, but it’s a good romp for about 60-90 minutes. Just make sure you’re 13 years old before you play, or get your parents’ permission first.