Publisher: American Sammy
Genre: Action, et al
Year of Release: 1991

Date Reviewed: 7-30-98

It is difficult, in dealing with a game this blatantly derivative, to afford it the objectivity of evaluation it is due. However, American Sammy is far from a fly-by-night operation, and so one must assume they knew what they were getting into by making this game the way it is. Simultaneously, though, one tends not to recognize Sammy as the producer of many stellar (read: stellarly popular/original) games, and Vice: Project Doom (VPD) does not, on the surface, seem to be any different. The cinematic sequences -- and certain facets of the action -- are clearly rendered with Ninja Gaiden* as their paradigm (actually, “stencil” is a better word for it.) The overhead driving stages, even though they don’t number very many, bring Spy Hunter readily to mind. Also, the shooting stages resemble too many games to speak of (though The Adventures of Bayou Billy is foremost in my memory.) VPD cannot even boast being the first game to combine action, driving, and first-person shooting into a single parcel. Konami’s aforementioned Bayou Billy, released two years before VPD, was the first. Yet, a sense of enjoyability seems to permeate this game -- in places, stemming from an originality that is not at all hindered by its Xerox-copy facade.

The department from which the aforementioned originality most clearly stems is the story -- moreover, the way in which it unfolds (by this, I do not mean the fact that it is divided among between-stage cinema scenes -- that had already been done when VPD came out.) To offer a brief synopsis, the story centers around Quinn Hart, a warm but unyielding police detective -- a Mannix, but without the suit. Anyway, Hart is called upon to stop a maniacal driver, which he does if properly managed during the first of the game’s Spy Hunter-esque driving sequences. After doing away with the nuisance, Hart discovers that he has just defeated some manner of mutant. Confused by this, he has his precinct run some tests on the madman (or mad-whatever.) The results unfold a myriad of adventures for our hero, the pursuit of which makes up the game’s plot.

As the story continues, it intertwines itself brilliantly within the game’s cornucopia of settings. Moreover, it seamlessly transports Hart from clue to clue, -- encounter to encounter -- piece of evidence to piece of evidence -- without divulging any more information than is absolutely necessary, and thus providing the sense that the player is investigating with Hart. This meticulous story construction culminates in one of the most intriguing (if not THE most intriguing) plot twists in the annals of the NES, which I dare not give away to those who haven’t played the game. The only consequence of this splendid plot is that the rest of the game -- sometimes in major and sometimes in minor ways -- pales in comparison.

Take the graphics, for example. Everything is clear, and the color palette suits the game’s forebidding elements quite well. The backgrounds are, in some cases, very near perfection. They are interesting to look at, and afford the player a slight sensation that he/she truly is where the game intends for him/her to be. However, in many of these darkened scenes, Hart and certain enemies seem far too bright. The goal of a game like this (a game with very dark, ominous backgrounds), ideally, is to render the characters such that they are readily identifiable to the player, without being overly conspicuous. VPD doesn’t do that. Hart is outlined in a prominent reddish-brown color, and, against the backgrounds, one gets the impression that his clothes are made of reflective tape.

Also, the cinema scenes seem a trifle underdone. Sure, the characters are somewhat decently drawn, and the scenes satisfy their primary purpose of advancing the plot. However, excluding a few situations, they aren’t animated at all -- rather, they’re just a cavalcade of fixed images that move around periodically. The backgrounds in these scenes are also terribly choppy. That is, they just seem to jump from one object to another, even if the consecutive objects do not belong together -- brick to yellow-and-black emergency striping, for example. Also, they tend to overpower the characters, much in the manner that the characters overpower the backgrounds in the action sequences. Plus, Hart’s contemplative pose (drawn at an askew angle) looks absolutely nothing like his profile. His hair seems to change style whenever he grasps his chin, and he ages about fifteen years.

The music is the game’s greatest failure (translation: worry not, it gets a lot better than this.) Most of the songs are very uninspired, and they all seem to be of the same pace. In addition, every song (save, at most, two) features exactly the same primary instrument: a rough, grating sound which I believe is supposed to emulate the heavy metal guitar. Between those two recurrences, one never gets the impression that VPD has much of a soundtrack -- just a few slight variations of what is, in essence, the same song.

Presentational shortcomings aside, VPD is a joy to control in most capacities. In the action sequences, Hart moves very well. Plus, these sequences are structured to capitalize on Hart’s quickness. That is, they include more depth than simply running along at one level. There is a sizable quota of fast jumping involved, and, though Hart cannot jump with any particular distance, doing so is seldom demanded. Also, though Hart is forced back slightly after being hit by an enemy, his stability is recovered almost immediately. The only object of any complaint in this department is the shooting sequences, wherein the crosshairs move much too slowly to reach some of the many assailants before damage is incurred. Otherwise, swiftness is the order of the day.

However, for a game of this length, VPD’s challenge is not handled as best it could have been. A fluid learning curve is somewhat lacking. Make no mistake, this game becomes more difficult as one proceeds through it. However, Vice: Project Doom contains upwards of twenty stages, all of which are somewhat lengthy. Thus, to prevent any potential boredom, it is logical for programmers to make the levels progressively more difficult as one proceeds through the game. VPD succeeds in making the levels vary in difficulty, but progression is sorely absent. Instead, the stages seem divided into four (or perhaps five) echelons of challenge: the laughably easy, the average, the challenging, and the infuriating. But be aware, this doesn’t much inhibit the gameplay experience, because only the last few levels evoke much frustration from the player.

I suddenly realize that I have used the word “seem” with some frequency in describing those factors that detract from this game. That is the nature of Vice: Project Doom -- that most things which can be used to defame it are either abstract or entirely subjective. The only thing certain is that this game is not to be overlooked. One mustn’t assume they can do without VPD because they have played the Ninja Gaiden series. One mustn’t assume they have seen this before, because this game demands a probing of its most inborn aspects. That probing reveals that Vice: Project Doom possesses an entertaining value in many capacities. The plot will draw you in. The fun will keep you in.

* “Ninja Gaiden” was not italicized because I was referring to the entire series. Were it in italics, the assumption would be that I meant the first game.

Plot: 10
Graphics: 7
Sound: 5.5
Play Control: 9.5
Challenge: 8

Analytic Score: 8

Personal Score: 8.5

Hero that he is, Hart doesn't use his turn signals properly.

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