In a world where arcade machines are slowly starting to die out in favour of online experiences, it can be fairly easy to forget about the kinds of games that made a trip to the arcade mall exciting.
There were games such as Time Crisis, the immersive light gun game that brought the action movie into the interactive scene. Players moved between certain scenes, taking cover from enemy bullets to return fire. The game would later become known as one of the most popular light gun arcade games, if not one of the most hungry coin-eaters, if this writer’s memory serves correctly.
But there was another light-gun game the predated Time Crisis. A game that has been largely forgotten in the face of the many games it has influenced.
Over twenty years ago, Virtua Cop splashed onto a scene when the concept of three-dimensional graphics was just beginning to crawl out of its cradle. Until then, most light gun games had still frames as the background, with cheap 2D sprites popping out to shoot at you (or laugh at you in the case of that annoying Duck Hunt dog).
Developed by Yu Suzuki’s AM2, Virtua not only brought 3D graphics to light gun games, bringing more immersion, it introduced other aspects that revolutionised the genre, such as a warning reticule, letting the player know when he/she was about to get shot.
There were also the little details, such as the inclusion of civilians, challenging the player to control his/her trigger finger, the ability to pick up and use other weapons, a non-static environment, such as the ability to shoot through glass and blow up explosive barrels.
Virtua Cop 2 went even further, creating more complex levels with branching paths. When the players were chasing the bank robbers from the first level, would they drive downtown, or try and stop them on the seaside drive? When chasing them in the subway system, would they prefer to go down Arcade Line or Saturn Way?
Of course, there is only so much variation that an on-rail light gun shooter can offer, but with most games at the time offering the same levels with the same exact spawn points for enemies, and the same exact path, the addition of different paths greatly added to the replay value. It is a feature that is still yet to be seen in many other on-rails gun games.
The game would be a runaway success on arcades, leading to a port on the Sega Saturn and, later, the PlayStation 2. But the two games would have a profound effect, not just the on-rails genre but the gaming industry in general.
The arrival of other 3D light gun games, such as Time Crisis, Ghost Squad, and House of the Dead could easily be seen as following Virtua Cop’s lead. But there was another influential game whose influence from Virtua Cop is not so obvious.
Rare’s Martin Hollis at GDC Europe 2012 admitted that, while developing GoldenEye 007 for the Nintendo 64, a lot of inspiration was taken from Virtua Cop. The premise would be that the game would mimic Virtua Cop‘s on-rails engine, taking place in Bond’s perspective, with a weapon and an ammo count for a heads-up display. There would be different enemies with different animations and actions, such as rolling, ducking, and jumping.
Of course, as most gamers know, the game went a different direction, deciding to literally go off the rails and let the player go wherever he/she pleased. But the influence still remained, as when the player held down the R button, he would freeze his frame and enter an on-rails mode where he can aim and shoot incoming enemies.
Not many people know about the influence of this great game. To those people, this writer encourages them to give this twenty year old game a go.