I don’t pick sides on the console vs. PC battlefield; In recent years I’ve circled-twice and come to settle as a PC gamer through pursuing an interest in specific titles rather than any deeply held beliefs about a ‘one true path’. The arguments for the dominance of one side over the other are becoming less and less relevant as the two converge; Steam machines bringing the PC to the lounge and consoles with ever growing additional features have set each on a collision path with the other. There are some aspects that I miss about console gaming however; not having to worry about compatibility or drivers, no waiting for installation (on the older consoles at least) and the weird world of peripherals.
‘Light Guns’ are something that I’ve had lots of fun with over the years, and despite never quite delivering on the promise of bringing the arcade to your living room (or whatever similar slogan they wore), there was certainly a fascination with these clicking, rattling, temperamental pieces of plastic. Video games have always Harrison Ford-ed their way towards the Holy Grail of immersion; light-guns do this by creating a physical movement similar to the precision marksmanship that the player is carrying out on screen. Waving a piece of plastic around must have realised at least some of this immersion because light-guns have been a favourite ingredient in a console’s line-up for generations. Technology has moved on in recent console generations, so the idea of a dedicated light-gun has been superseded by the more generic motion controller (largely due to the success of the Wii), but rewinding firmly back to retro territory I’m going to ramble about three of my favourite home light-gun experiences.
Terminator 2: The Arcade Game & The Menacer
The 16-bit era was not the finest hour for home light-guns. Nintendo’s cumbersome Nintendoscope was marginally more popular than Sega’s Menacer but both were bizarre designs considering that the previous generation had churned out such an iconic zapper. I suspect that this design weirdness was largely dictated by technology as both used an infrared receiver placed on the TV with the gun itself being a transmitter (actually making it a true ‘light-gun’ compared to most technologies where it is actually a ‘light-receiver’); this tech necessitated the need for a wide barrel which would have looked odd shoehorned into a traditional design. Whatever the reason, these were both weird things, consumed a monumental amount of batteries, and were generally difficult to get working correctly.
To add to the list of Menacer woes, I only recall it having two games; the lacklustre 6 game cartridge bundled with it, and the T2: Arcade Game. T2 was an arcade classic; The opening level featuring a gently panning futuristic post-judgement-day battlefield will be familiar to anyone gracing a bowling alley in the 90’s. The home version was a poor reproduction; all the features were present, but the game lacked the visual flair of the cabinet largely due to the low-detail sprites. Nevertheless, as a young teenager it passed the test of transporting me into the movie and, in addition to the creative addition of many of the post-judgement-day scenes, wins some extra credit for covering key bits from the movie including destroying the Cyberdyne offices and the final battle against our liquid metal friend. As a light-gun game it also passed the test of being fun (without that weird binocular sight… thing); shoot the enemies, pick up powerups and oh! an endoskeleton has just popped up in front of you – nothing fancy, just blast the stuff.
Just to be clear, I’m not saying it was amazing – far from it, I can’t count the amount of times I quit that nightmarish ‘protect the truck third stage’ and I never managed to destroy all the equipment in Cyberdyne too see the ‘good’ ending. It’s tricky to write much more about it because there wasn’t much more to it, it probably holds the dubious crown of being the only thing that the Menacer was good for…
Die Hard Trilogy
Moving into the Playstation era the outlook for light guns improved; the PS1 was not short of good shooter titles, mostly from NAMCO who sold the G-Con45 which became the definitive Playstation light-gun. Being the savvy teenager however, I invested in a third party gun called the Scorpion (It came highly recommended by a magazine, but I’ll never know why) which was Walter PPK styled and came shipped with a foot pedal for ‘Time Crisis’. The foot pedal broke almost immediately so I drifted away from ‘Time Crisis’ and spent most of my PS1 light-gunning in ‘Die Hard Trilogy’.
DHT is a unique title; rather than shovelling something vaguely ‘Die Hard-ish’ into a single game, DHT is three games in one. The original Die Hard is a top down shooter where ol’ John McLain must run-n-gun his way through the floors of the Nakatomi Plaza; Die Hard with a Vengeance is a quite shockingly violent driving game (just switch to the in-car view and watch as the windscreen wipers clear the pedestrian’s blood away); and the weakest film, Die Hard 2: Die Harder, is a classic on-rails light-gun shooter.
This light-gun segment of DHT took its cues from that definitive arcade shooter ‘Virtua Cop’; the various weapon pickups, the crosshairs indicating the threat level and even that frustratingly slow camera pan toward the next enemy all had echoes of a game that really set the standard for this kind of polygon-filled onrails romp. Visually these very angular games havn’t aged as gracefully as the sprite based ones and firing it up again recently was an eye opening reminder of this. At the time it was fun (until the trigger on the Scorpion broke) although I seem to remember that most of my fascination stemmed from not shooting the enemies, but seeing what in-game objects would blow-up, fall down or shatter when I shot them. As with T2, the game managed to follow some of the key scenes from the film, although exactly how they link together with no form of cutscene is a mystery unless you recall the particulars of that disappointing 90 mins with Bruce Willis. Hey, remember that scene where Bruce Willis uses the ejector seat to escape all the grenades in the cockpit?… no?.. well the game just shows you a boatload of grenades piling in through the window and then cuts to the next stage.
Resident Evil: Dead Aim
I have been scraping the ‘Resident Evil’ barrel pretty hard recently in my blog posts, but Dead Aim was a little different and received little press coverage at the time of release. It could have been called ‘Resident Evil: Gun Survivor 3’ although given the low quality of the first two ‘Gun Survivor’ titles I think ‘Dead Aim’ was selected to distance itself from that sub-series. The first two gun survivor titles were bad; but the get a small handful of credit for trying to do something new. Light Gun titles were generally first person on-rails affairs, but the ‘Gun Survivor’ series wanted to put you in control of where you went whilst maintaining the light-gun aspect. The result of this experiment was the first ‘Gun Survivor’ game, set in the Resident Evil universe, pitching the player against the classic enemies and viewed through a first-person perspective whilst allowing you to just aim and fire. It looked terrible and played worse; mainly because you had to pull the trigger (off-screen) to walk, then use the A and B buttons on the side of the gun to turn… awkward doesn’t even cover it… especially as the Scorpion had both A & B on the same side of the gun.
RE:DA was released for PS2 and learned from the mistakes of the first 2 games; it also had the advantage of the G-con 2 which was the pinnacle of light guns featuring a handy d-pad on the back of the gun for you thumb to easily access. Not only this, but it had a ‘C’ button located on the butt of the gun giving you an authentic ‘hammering home the next clip’ feel to reloading. Moving around was in traditional RE 3rd person using the d-pad; pulling the trigger caused the camera swooped into 1st person, allowing you to blast away at the zombies. The d-pad allowed you to turn or back away from the enemies in 1st person, but you weren’t then constrained by this restrictive view for the exploration.
RE:DA was let down by a sub-par plot, lack of variety, and the ultimate crime in a light-gun game of having no destructible environmental elements. It had the feel of a tech demo, a proof-of-concept by Capcom to show that they could successfully blend a light-gun shooter with the slow, deliberate pace of a Resident Evil game. In that respect of pretty much succeed; the mechanics of the game were solid and although I only competed it once, I used to fire it up from time to time in order to just blast some zombies.
It’s strange that although these three (admittedly obscure) titles stand out in my mind as the ones I spent the most time light-gunning in. It’s also telling that I can’t say any of them are great games. They were enjoyable distractions that I’d like to go back and revisit (but can’t largely due to the changes in TV technology) and I think my mind drifted this way because of the perpetual imminence of the VR age; the next set of weird peripherals that are likely to be fiddly to get right. It’ll be interesting to see if the new VR titles become classics, or just a fun deviation from traditional gaming.
Feel free to jump in to the comments with your memories of these titles… Or any other light-gun classics… Or pretty much with anything else!