Peyton Westlake is everyone and no one. Everywhere. Nowhere. Call him… Darkman. He’s a cult movie, a comic book character, a poseable figurine, and now a debatably playable game for your Amiga!
While not the best-loved superhero of all time, Sam Raimi’s cult, morbidly slapstick film trebled its $16m budget at the box office upon release in August 1990, and went on to spawn two straight to video sequels.
Liam Neeson takes the lead role as Peyton Westlake, an eminent scientist who is currently engineering a synthetic liquid skin solution to aid acid burn victims in their recovery. Ironically he’s dunked in an effervescing acid bath himself by a sinister mobster boss known as Robert Durant who is working on behalf of corrupt land developer, Louis Strack.
His misdemeanour? Getting involved with his fiance, attorney Julie Hastings, who has serendipitously discovered the incriminating ‘Bellasarious Memorandum’ that proves Strack has been bribing the zoning commission bigwigs for his own financial and political benefit.
Peyton’s magically regenerating dermo-substitute while groundbreaking is flawed in that it begins to disintegrate after 99 minutes. Shortly prior to Durant’s cronies bursting into his lab the lights to go out causing the pseudo-skin to remain stable beyond the critical expected point of failure leading our boffin to arrive at the breakthrough conclusion that it must be photosensitive. Can you guess where he got his name?
Pilfering the document, Durant murders Peyton’s lab technician in cold blood (gangsters never have the courtesy to microwave it first!), rigs the lab to detonate by instigating a gas leak and using a rocking bird desk toy poised above a cigarette lighter to ignite it, and scarpers. Meanwhile, Julie watches on in horror as Peyton is propelled through a shattered window by the ferocious blast, landing in the river beyond presumed dead. News flash: he isn’t, not quite.
Hideously scarred, mentally and physically, he’s taken to the local hospital where he undergoes a recklessly experimental treatment which endows him with superhuman strength and invulnerability to pain as a byproduct of adrenal overload that crucially allows him to battle his debilitating injuries. Perhaps it’s a small price to pay if the alternative is to remain bed-bound as a smouldering vegetable unable to twitch a muscle, or deliver a killer comic book cheesy one-liner even Ash Williams would be proud of.
“He’s got burns covering over 40% of his body. The hands and face are the most severe. Ten years ago, pain from the burns would have been intolerable. He would have spent his life screaming. Now we use the Rangeveritz Technique. Quite simply, we sever the nerves within the spino-thalamic tract, there… which, as you know, transmits neural impulses of pain and vibratory sense to the brain. No longer receiving impulses of pain, you stick him with a pin… and he can’t even feel it.”
“As in many radical procedures, there are serious side effects to this operation. When the body ceases to feel, when so much sensory input is lost, the mind grows hungry. Starved of its regular diet of input, it takes the only remaining stimulation it has… the emotions… and amplifies them, giving rise to alienation and loneliness. Uncontrolled rage is not uncommon. Now surges of adrenaline flow unchecked through the body and brain, giving him augmented strength. Hence, the restraints. Naturally, we give them every chance of recovery. Remain optimistic, inspire confidence, talk to him about rehabilitation potential. Personally, I give him a 9 on the buzzard scale.”
Consumed by obsessions of revenge and the desire to win back the affections of his betrothed (who he had asked to marry him right before his world was torn apart), Peyton re-establishes his lab in a dilapidated, condemned warehouse. Reconstructing his horrifically excoriated, festering face using a partially fire damaged photo he embarks on a cunning scheme to clone Durant and his goons, infiltrate their syndicate and ultimately annihilate them from the inside when they least expect it.
As if Peyton didn’t have enough on his plate already, Julia drops the ball by letting slip to Strack that he’s still alive and kicking, causing a chain reaction which culminates in her being kidnapped and a renewed plot to terminate Peyton.
“Robert Durant: He’s a cockroach; first you think you kill him and he pops right back up again!”
It’s at this point the game gets underway. You embody Peyton whose frustrated, angry world comprises 33.33% revenge, 33.33% revenge and 33.33% revenge. He’s not a happy bunny.
Ocean’s in-house interpretation of the movie resulted in a scrolling beat ’em up interspersed with Operation Wolf style photoshoot segments controlled with either the mouse or joystick. In the latter, your goal is to snap your opponents with a view to fabricating various disguises to be deployed on the subsequent levels to help you blend seamlessly into the criminal underworld and thereby evade detection.
Buy a Nikon camera – they’re really rather spiffy. Promise you won’t be disappointed. Honestly, truthfully with cherries on top.
You can take a maximum of 20 pictures per sub-game against a strict time limit; dawdle too long and Durant’s henchmen cotton on, putting the kibosh on your wily ruse by staging a shoot of their own… using bangy hurty guns rather than cameras!
There’s a physiognomic data threshold target of 70% you’re required to meet in order to whip up any given disguise, though the more accurate your shots, the clearer the pictures fed into the computer, and the longer your mask lasts in the following level. When you begin the next platforming stage, assuming you’ve reached your goal, you’ll look identical to the thug from the preceding ‘sting’ operation – and in theory at least – their fellow goons will be hoodwinked into leaving you alone to go about your typical workaday thuggery. In reality, sometimes they ignore you, sometimes you’re attacked regardless.
In a generous mood you could chalk this up to programmer Mick West (of Parasol Stars fame) attempting to emulate the movie wherein Peyton’s subterfuge isn’t always 100% convincing; occasionally Durant’s posse or associates smell a rat because he’s behaving erratically, or too much time in the daylight has elapsed causing the camouflage to begin to slide south. Either way, the metamorphosis doesn’t last long and you return to playing as the mackintoshed, bandaged-up, trilby-sporting Darkman who lurks in the shadows for fear of the normals recoiling with repugnance at the atrocious deformities that have ravaged his once handsome features.
Deliberate or otherwise, cloning becomes a core theme in the game aside from aiming to duplicate the movie’s storyline in that so many of your opponents are generic cut and paste creations delineated only by basic palette switches. You’d be forgiven for assuming Durant has a face Xeroxer of his own and he’s been using it to churn out an army of pliable oafs, though if that’s the case, it was written into the script specifically for the Ocean gamer’s cut!
Level 1 blends together two disparate scenes from the movie; one that takes place in Chinatown, New York (the backdrop in the game) where Chinese gangster, Hung Fat, is coerced by a phoney Durant into handing over some IOU-ed cash, and another featuring Durant’s lackey, Paulie (technically Peyton channelling him), who meets another ne’er-do-well in a restaurant to collect a briefcase on behalf of his puppetmaster whip-cracker.
In the pixelated adaptation, all you’re required to do is intercept the briefcase filled with mucky money – no doubt the spoils from an illicit drugs deal – that is now in Durant’s possession. Giving Durant a good kicking as he wanders the mean streets of Chinatown will cause him to drop his briefcase presenting you with the perfect opportunity to steal it. Who’d have thought mugging a notorious mob boss could be this easy? In later levels, if you’re struggling to reach the finish line without perishing you will find the odd ‘E’ power-up pill dotted around the scenery to replenish your energy bar.
Had your first disguise lasted more than a few seconds you might have found yourself attacking Durant as Durant, which would have been a bit kooky, though not exactly out of alignment with the premise of the movie; Larry Drake does in fact share screen time with himself so we can’t nitpick at Ocean for that.
Elsewhere in the game wads of notes can be shaken loose from the pockets of Durant’s stooges, yet these only serve to boost your bonus accumulator by 1000 points a throw; they aren’t mission-critical in any way. With enough loot in your possession to allow you to advance your vengeance machinations to the next plateau, it’s time to escape to your makeshift hideout.
Each of the platforming segments is extremely reminiscent of Double Dragon in terms of environmental staging, your basic punch and kick manoeuvres, and also in that crates can be hoisted above your head to be lobbed as projectile weapons and infinitely recycled. Much like the toughest classic beat ’em ups of yesteryear, whenever you die you must restart the level from square one; it’s old school coin-op all the way. A mixed blessing perhaps.
Level 2 lands you squarely back in the derelict, former factory you now call home. Durant has supplied power to the abandoned heavy-duty, rickety machinery, bringing it grinding perilously back to life, leaving yours hanging in the balance. Evacuation is your only salvation if you are to avoid becoming human mincemeat. While in the movie you are hounded mercilessly within the confines of your lair, Durant never attended electrician’s school. Hmm, a bit of artistic license on Ocean’s part methinks.
You flee to the rooftop for level 3, which ironically is no safer because Durant lies – no rather – flies in wait in his helicopter hurling grenades at you. Your challenge here is to traverse the length of the ramshackle building, sidestepping his aerial assaults to reach your squatter’s lab.
At which point level 4 commences. Your lab is now too exposed for further research, nevertheless, as a goon honeytrap, it still has potential. Wire the place with explosives, blast it to kingdom come with them inside, remembering to make a sharp exit yourself before lighting the blue touchpaper, well, rocking bird and cigarette lighter technically.
As in the movie, latching onto Durant’s chopper via a dangling cable you’re swept clear of the volatile inferno just in the nick of time. In level 5 he attempts to shake you loose into the path of hurtling oncoming freeway traffic, as much for sport as to save his own neck. While he continues to bombard you with grenades you can earn 1000 points per truck or car dodged – the main prize however being averting death! It’s interesting to note that in the 8-bit adaptations, this level is played from a top-down perspective to take into account the system’s less capable hardware. Eventually, you reach the back of an oil tanker, at which point a lightbulb brain-wave illuminates the shadowy inner workings of your tortured mind. You scramble aboard via the conveniently placed ladder and in an automatically animated cutscene connect the rope to the HGV.
If you’ve seen the movie (or have an amoeba-level understanding of physics) you’ll know that should the tanker now pass under a bridge, the chopper is going to run into difficulties, and that’s how Durant meets his maker. On the silver screen it’s a tad more dramatic; the bridge actually being a bridge rather than a couple of telegraph poles connected by a horizontal bar at the top. Note the type of vehicle was switched for the game adaptation too.
Again taking inspiration from the movie as we draw to a close, the 6th and final level takes place on the site of a construction yard where one of Strack’s skyscrapers is being built. Strack seems to have watched King Kong once too often. Why else would we find him ascending to the apex of his new baby with Julie in tow as his terrified hostage in desperate need of a Mario in shining dungarees to rescue her?
Dutifully you track him down disguised as a lummox who appears to be the false-legged Skip from the movie judging by his only discernible feature – his ginger hair. Dumbfounding Strack’s henchmen on the way up you teeter on the brink of fragile existence. Forging ahead towards the peak of his new Meccano toy you confront Strack, who strangely enough appears to be your doppelganger (at least in the game).
“Louis Strack Jr.: I’m glad you survived, Robert. I’d hate to see your kids deprived of a role model.
Robert Durant: They do look up to me.
Louis Strack Jr.: When I was young, my father made me work high steel. Just me and the indians, no-one else crazy enough to run around up here against the wind. $4.50 an hour. Call me crazy, sometimes I miss it! Life on the edge! Five inches wide, six-hundred-fifty feet down! High Steel! Oh, by the way, you don’t have any kids, Robert.
(Strack pulls off a mask on Durant’s face to reveal it is Darkman posing as Durant. Julie screams)
Louis Strack Jr.: Ha ha ha ha. You truly are one ugly son of a bitch. What do you think, Julie? Who’s the real monster here? I destroy, to build something better! Whereas you? You’re a man who destroys for revenge! Look! Look about you! It’s all mine! Because I built it! I built it all!”
Following a brief high-rise tussle – bordering on leisurely in the absence of the noxious rivet gun weapon from the movie – you emerge the victor, flirting Strack (or whoever) over the edge of a dicely narrow girder to be impaled onto a set of spikes that are only too happy to accommodate his doomed descent.
As we switch to the final cutscene his hair colour reverts from ginger to black, as it is in the movie. I suspect there was some confusion here as to who the nemesis pulling the strings was, or at least how he was supposed to look. Darkman also loses his trilby as we transition between different graphical styles, proving that he needs to use stronger glue whenever free-running. Being prepared for every eventuality is the key! Every boy (and girl) scout knows that.
Revenge by any definition, sweet it’s not. Peyton knows he’s not the man he once was, inside or out. He can never love in the same way again, or expect anyone to adapt to his flawed temperament. For Julie’s sake, he slinks away into the anonymous hustle and bustle of human traffic, relinquishing her from the burden of responsibility to begin afresh, while steeling himself for a future life of superhero crime-fighting. Momentarily he turns back revealing himself to have morphed into ‘everyman’ Bruce Campbell who was at one time expected to play the part of the lead actor before the notion was quashed by Universal’s producers who deemed him unsuitable for the role.
Critical appraisal at the time of release was universally negative amongst the Amiga press community; a consensus of ‘seen it all before’ captures the vibe…
“Basically it’s just another progressive beat ’em up with a few good arcade sequences thrown in for good measure. Technically the game looks and moves quite well. Unfortunately, the action isn’t too complicated and most of the enemies are fairly easy to dispose of using just a single move. In the short term, Darkman is quite enjoyable, but after a few hours play my interest began to fade.”
77% – Amiga Action (October 1991)
“If it hadn’t been for the distinctive Darkman sprite, this could have been any of an assortment of games – Navy Seals, Narc or one of about a billion different budget games. ‘Every soul has a dark side – this time it walks like a man’, claims the box. How about, ‘Every soul has a dark side – this time it writes games for Ocean?’ Come on, Ocean, you can do better than this!”
65% – Zero (November 1991)
“Good graphics, bad sound, and terminally ugly gameplay – it’s Another Duff Movie Game, I’m afraid, based on another of Ocean’s fairly duff choice of movies. (Oh, and the documentation is a disgrace, too). One more great reason to look forward to Christmas”.
59% – Amiga Power (October 1991)
A similar vibe infused appraisals of the 8-bit interpretations where basic gameplay was usually approached with a more lenient attitude, though Darkman was still met with a favourable response by some critics…
“Darkman is familiar Ocean fare carried off with slick graphics, satisfactory sound effects and balanced gameplay. No groundbreaking moments take your breath away but what is there is good. My only reservation is that more accomplished joystick jockeys will crack it with far less effort than I applied. Handle with care.”
71% – Commodore Format (October 1991)
Being cognisant of the movie the game you are reviewing is based upon wasn’t deemed a prerequisite for Speccy journalists, and ours didn’t appear remotely interested. A bit of a running theme it seems. That wouldn’t have altered the mechanics of the game of course, though context is everything where licensed games are concerned. James seemed to enjoy it regardless.
“The graphics are well spiffy and change with every level, but the basic idea remains the same. You don’t get any super-weapons to use (pity), and you can easily get overwhelmed by dozens of baddies. It didn’t spoil the game drastically but it did chew the joystick to pieces once or twice in my frustration (and you know those Konix Navigators – they taste revolting!). Now I’m off to wrap loads of toilet-roll around my head, put on the shades and see if I can scare people on the streets of Bath. Who says computer games don’t have any effect on you?”
85 degress – Sinclair User (October 1991)
Again after confessing to not watching the film or having the foggiest clue what to do in the photoshoot levels, our reviewer, Adam, concludes…
“Unfortunately it’s so hard, and so darned tedious, you’ll probably give up without getting past Level One, become a monk (or nun) and spend the rest of your life writing a book about Joan of Arc. Oh well, at least there’s no daddie long-legses in it (In the distance, a flapping sound and sinister insect laugh. Another hurried exit…)”
57% – Amstrad Action (July 1990)
Uggh, it all feels so ‘colouring by numbers’ and rushed. Released a few years earlier and with a smidgen more attention to detail – a pink elephant or two even! – Darkman might have posed as a passable montage license game.
This late in the day and so slapdash, I’d be very surprised if it’s anyone’s personal favourite movie license game, or even favourite Ocean game. It does however… it is nonetheless… erm…
…once upon a fading yesterself my OCD would have rendered me incapable of wrapping up a review failing to draw the curtain on a positive note, or at least some vague semblance of closure. You know me, I wouldn’t be able to live with it.
Times change. People change. “I’m learning to live with a lot of things.”