Data East’s RoboCop was a mech-sized hit as an arcade coin-guzzler, and only grew in popularity when converted by Ocean for the home computer formats. A tenacious fixture in the Gallup sales charts for over a year, the lucrative title sold upwards of a million copies. Little surprise then that it was only a matter of time before someone shamelessly tried to duplicate the formula and pretend BoboPop isn’t a complete rip-off.
One of the first to attempt it was SEGA’s ESWAT, skidding into the amusements, ‘blues and twos’ flashing and sirens blazing, in 1989. It’s a Frankenstein’s monster of sorts comprising Rolling Thunder, Dragon Ninja, NARC, and of course, RoboCop.
A year later, under various subtitles, it was subsequently ported by publishers, US Gold, to the popular 8-bit and 16-bit home micros, and to the Mega Drive and Master System by SEGA themselves. Tim Cannell – working for Creative Materials at the time – was the programmer assigned to converting the arcade original to the Amiga. Also on their behalf he coded Shinobi, Days of Thunder, Last Battle and The Godfather.
As the crime prevention star of the show you adopt the role of ‘Duke Oda’, a Cyber Police force officer with jurisdiction across the city of Liberty. If you can pay a ‘friend’ to join the fray, he or she presumably also plays as the same character, only wearing a different coloured shirt in case the two of you are unexpectedly asked to attend a spontaneous party.
There’s not a whole lot to the premise really – you’re tasked with patrolling the mean streets of a generic city suffocating from a scourge of criminal activity, killing or arresting the perpetrators and returning home in time to put your feet up in front of The Bill with a nice mug of steaming cocoa.
Attempting to make it unique in a shameless plagiaristy kind of way is a ‘Special’ gimmick involving your transformation from an ordinary, vulnerable, uniformed upholder of the law to an ultra high-tech ESWAT bionic mech combat soldier. Come to think of it, rather like Alex Murphy did in RoboCop having been ruthlessly gunned down in a hail of bullets by a gang of underworld thugs. A total coincidence I’m sure.
Fitted snugly in your Enhanced Special Weapons and Tactics shell suit your one-bullet-per-week pistol is instantly upgraded to a simultaneous three-bullets-per-week machine gun, installed in your wrist apparently. You’re hardly any less susceptible to expiry and churn through your limited ammo supplies three times as swiftly, so it’s hardly much of an upgrade.
To earn your stripes and rise through the ranks to claim your cyber costume you must pass an initiation test involving three end of level boss baddies. Somehow blasting these into oblivion results in their incarceration in the slammer where no doubt they’ll spend the rest of their days bopping to Jailhouse Rock and wishing they’d Walked the Line instead of terrorising the neighbourhood for no apparent reason.
These goons include a fire-breathing, somersaulting, bloated Karnov wannabe, a boomerang-chucking giant punk, and an anchor-wielding sailor. Thwart Mr Boomerang’s nefarious plans and you’re even rewarded with an appreciative, ankle-hugging hostage… if you’re standing on a crate at the time you rescue her, she’ll completely misjudge her approach you see. Not the best example of attention to detail sadly.
That’s a recurring theme in Creative Materials’ home conversions you’ll come to realise. They even spelt ‘Europe’ wrong in the title screen. How’s that possible? There were only a handful of words to proof-read after all.
Like the arcade game there are 15 stages to navigate that lead you from the urban decay of the Liberty city streets, through car yards, the Eagles’ stadium, restaurants, construction sites, and a marina. Your no-necked sprites are similarly gawky and awkward, shambling along like geriatric Parkinson’s patients, while the overall aesthetics are pale and pasty as though bleached to eliminate the arcade version’s warm hue.
You’d imagine the gibberish annotations explaining the functions of your exoskeleton were the work of the conversion crew, though you’d be wrong. You’ll also find these in the arcade original.
Ropey AI too was preserved for posterity. Goons shooting directly southwards at you from above continue to do so even after you’ve hopped up to their elevation and are standing nose to ear with them. You could de-wax their ear canals with the barrel of your pistol and they’d still be peering over the ledge scoping the ground for the cops they thought they’d spotted ten minutes ago.
Ammo reserves are depleted just as quickly, forcing you to resort to your lame Karate Kid impersonation until a top-up can be sourced. A trifle frustrating when you’ve gone to the trouble of being shoehorned into a squillion dollar robo-warrior ‘long-range supersonic powered suit’ fitted with ‘turbo-booster thrusters’ ready to kick bottom!
If you survive long enough to upgrade your puny arsenal, you might like to tinker with the grenades and blue plasma laser guns generously dropped by airborne division. You’ll be grateful for those when you face the barrel-rolling King Kong substitute, trained circus tiger, monster truck and tag-teaming cyborgs. Yes, ESWAT really does suffer from a nasty case of Randombossitus!
Surprisingly none of them are particularly challenging because the game runs at such a glacial pace and power-ups are plentiful (these are cunningly labelled ‘police’ to ensure the bad guys leave well alone). Trickiest of all, ironically, is super-jumping up to higher ground to snag ammo crates or dispatch adversaries from an easier vantage point.
This being 1990 Big Sprites ™ were still a novelty feature worth spotlighting on the back of a game’s box. Smooth, convincing animation, however, was often a secondary consideration, as it is here. Lethal force delivered with all the haste and conviction of an arthritic pensioner isn’t exactly a recipe for a thrilling action-shooter. Consequently US Gold delivered a diluted interpretation of a mediocre arcade impostor. Flipping into cybersuit mode should really ramp up the excitement. You’d think. Only the gameplay alters so little between scenarios that you barely notice the difference.
But never-mind, it incorporates some lovely digitised speech so, “Hey, let’s party!” Of course, only once we’ve taken care of the pressing business of stamping out terrorism, locking up performing animals and impersonating a police officer. Don’t forget, it’s still a school night.