If it bleeps we can over-analyse it!

Despite it being Arnie Schwarzenegger’s forte, not all of his movies revolve around kicking and shooting the living innards out of heavily muscled, battle-scarred, steely-gazed mercenary types. Sometimes his brief is to obliterate unruly aliens with poor social integration skills. Which pretty much summarises the plot of his 1987 summer blockbuster jungle-action-sci-fi romp, Predator.

A creature from the black lagoo… I mean space invades earth, interferes with Arnie’s philanthropic aid plans and must be put down like a demented 7′ 2″ tall Bigfoot. Funny I should coincidentally use that metaphor since the Predator was played by Kevin Peter Hall who also starred in Harry and the Hendersons. A year before dying of AIDS-related pneumonia at the age of just 35 (thanks to an infected blood transfusion) he reprised his role in Predator’s sequel, and prior to that became a professional basketball player.

While Kevin played Predator’s body (having replaced Jean-Claude Van Damme who was considered too svelte to be the antagonist), Peter Cullen lent his voice to the intergalactic invader. You may not recognise the name, but if I played you a sample of Optimus Prime’s dulcet tones and said “pay attention to this, it’s relevant” you’d be able to join the dots. Those same dots would also lead you back to ‘Bigfoot and the Muscle Machines’, which proves that… that… Shall we get on with the plot?

Anna: It changed colours, like the chameleon, it uses the jungle.

Dillon: You saying that Blain and Hawkins were killed by a f**king lizard? That’s a bulls**t psyche job. There is two to three men out there at the most. F**king lizard.

US Army Major Alan ‘Dutch’ Schaefer (Arnie) and his pals have been recruited to liberate a VIP political hostage currently held by insurgents in the fictional South American banana republic, Val Verde; incidentally, the same place referenced in Die Hard 2, Commando and so on.

That’s the pretext under which they enter the scenario anyhow. In reality, it turns out that Dutch and his elite rescue team – Mac, Billy, Blain, Poncho, and Hawkins – have been fibbed to by Apollo Creed (Dillon aka Carl Weathers). Formerly a commando pal of Arnie’s he now wears a shirt and tie and takes his orders from the CIA. In this case, doing their dirty work entails manipulating the A-Team into retrieving military intelligence from government operatives captured by guerrillas. They didn’t see them coming as it was so Misty! 😉

(Dutch is talking to the General)

Dutch: So why don’t you use the regular army? What do you need us for?

Dillon: ‘Cause some damn fool accused you of being the best.

(Dutch turns around and sees Dillon sitting in a chair in another room)

Dutch: Dillon! You son of a bitch!

(They arm wrestle in mid-air during a handshake, Dillon is apparently losing the contest)

Dutch: What’s the matter? The CIA got you pushing too many pencils? Huh? Had enough?

Dillon: Make it easy on yourself, Dutch.

(Dillon begins to lose further)

Dillon: OK, OK, OK!

Dutch: You never did know when to quit, huh?

Dillon: Damned good to see ya, Dutch.

Dutch: What is this fu**ing tie business?

Dillon: Aw, come on, forget about my tie, man.

By the time Arnie realises the truth, human entrails are enjoying as much screen-time as the supporting cast and it’s too late to extricate himself from the SNAFU. Stumbling across the carcass of a crashed helicopter Arnie discovers the mutilated remains of Dillon’s CIA cohorts; the ‘cabinet minister and his aide’.

Dutch: Hey Billy, give me a way out of this hole. Aerial says we are cut off.

Billy: The only way outta here is that valley that leads to the east. But I wouldn’t risk that on a broke-dick dog. (eh?)

Dutch: Not much choice.

Before we’ve had chance to dispose of our sick bags we’re treated to more of the Predator’s delectable handiwork; three skinned Green Berets dangling haphazardly from the steaming tropical foliage like an overzealous butcher’s grotesque Christmas tree baubles.

Whilst the party debate the likelihood of the perpetrator being something other than homosapien, Bigfoot continues to stalk its befuddled, traumatised prey. Given that the working title of the movie was ‘Hunter’ I expect he felt duty-bound to instinctively pick them off one by one much like the psycho-killer star of a horror flick.

Poncho: Major, you’d better take a look at this.

Dutch: Did you find Hawkins?

Poncho: I… I can’t tell.

On the Predator’s planet – wherever that may be – this passes for sport, yet ignoring all notions of fairness their race are partial to entering the arena fully equipped with cloaking and thermal-imaging surveillance technology, and a pernicious plasma weapon.

 

Poncho: She says the jungle… it just came alive and took him.

Nevertheless, Arnie proves he’s a worthy adversary by establishing the creature’s Achilles’ heel and laying primitive, makeshift traps to even up the odds.

 

 

Once Arnie’s own camouflage technology (swamp mud) has washed off, to prolong the cat and mouse game for his own amusement, the Predator abandons his plasma rifle, whips off his helmet and puts up his dukes. As Arnie notes – without his visor – the Predator is “one ugly melonfarmer”. If you ask me, he’d be unlikely to win first prize in a beauty pageant either way.

 

Dutch: What the hell are you?

The Predator: What the hell are you?

Dutch eventually gains the upper hand, pulverising the Predator under the counterweight of one of his traps. Rather than die quietly with a bit of dignity, the Predator pulls off a hysterical Krusty the Clown impersonation, melodramatically self-destructing in a toxic glow-stick-infused mushroom cloud. Arnie detects the ever so helpful detonation warning countdown of his nemesis, and heeding his own advice (“get to da chopper!”), evacuates lickety-split.

 

Contrary to popular belief Ocean didn’t win the rights to develop all the official gaming adaptations of Arnie’s movies. True Lies, The Terminator, Last Action Hero, The Running Man, Conan the Barbarian etc. all surfaced from less salty origins. Predator was destined to be another money-spinning coup owing to its pop-culture leverage, albeit not for Ocean.

Activision were, in fact, the ones to tame the unearthly beast, delegating the design work to System 3, and development duties to ‘Source the Software House’.

Accrington Stanley? Who are they?
Exactly!

Their interpretation was unleashed for the usual 8 and 16-bit culprits between 1987 and 1989, mechanics almost indistinguishable between platforms. The entire, barely-a-game effort appears to take inspiration from the first level of Ocean’s Platoon. It amounts to a bog-standard left to right scrolling platformer all set against the backdrop of a lush jungle environment teeming with wildlife.

As in the movie Activision commendably attempted to parallel, we begin by abseiling from a levitating chopper. Our troupe descend to the jungle’s ground zero, closely followed by Arnie who we’ll be taking charge of.

 

 

This is the last we’ll see of our chums since Predator is purely a one-player game. A shame since the movie features a fair few other recognisable stars aside from Arnie… Jesse Ventura, Shane Black, R. G. Armstrong, Sven-Ole Thorsen, Carl Weathers, Bill Duke, Sonny Landham, Elpidia Carrillo, and Richard Chaves etc.

 

 

Following a parody of the opening alien spaceship scene from the movie, the nicely choreographed chopper entrance intro will have you beaming from ear to ear the first time you see it. Not so much each and every time you die and respawn seeing as it amounts to about 45 seconds worth of unskippable animation. I suppose the lesson to learn is, never die! It’s not rocket science, I’m sure we’ll cope.

 

Billy: I’m scared Poncho.

Poncho: Bulls**t. You ain’t afraid of no man.

Billy: There’s something out there waiting for us, and it ain’t no man. We’re all gonna die.

We stroll casually past a ghastly assortment of mauled corpses and their mangled chopper, which is a (nice?) touch. Appropriate at least, and it shows the developers were paying attention to the movie. Other more lively characters encountered include a stoat and pig; minor cameo actors plucked straight from the silver screen, not just some random collection of ready-made sprites.

Atmospheric ambient sounds (bird calls for instance) sampled directly from the movie are another welcome example of attention to detail. Analogous to the chopper scene though they’re milked to death. Repeated ad infinitum with no in-game music to compensate the impressive effects soon eclipse slow-motion blackboard scratching on the irritation scale.

Sadly there’s no equivalent to the boing sound effect heard in the movie when Arnie pins a rebel to the wall with a chucked machete, advising him to “stick around”. That could easily have been borrowed from a Tom and Jerry cartoon… and the one-liner from Adam West’s Batman.

As in Jaws, accentuating the tension, the menace waiting in the wings to attack, is used sparingly. Rather, the main opposition presents in the form of the South American guerrillas who randomly pepper us with lead-spray, sometimes from off-screen, sometimes from behind fortified barricades. It’s pot luck whether Arnie succumbs to the stray shrapnel since the collision detection is so shoddy. We can be hit when we weren’t, and survive unscathed when we were.

 

Our other worry is flocks of vultures, approximations of the ones seen in the movie pecking away at all the skinned corpses.

They can be shot or avoided, though it’s advisable to conserve your ammo since it’s in very limited supply. Initially armed with an M16 Armalite, a variety of guns can be scavenged from fallen commandos to boost our supplies, and we’re additionally accoutred with three grenades, their range modified with the shift key.

Even the 7.62mm M134 Minigun – typically mounted on helicopters due to their extraordinary heft and recoil – is an option, although distinguishing between the weapons on offer beyond their appearance is hard work.

Blain: Payback time.

Mac: Time to let Ol’ Painless’ out of the bag.

 

 

 

Every so often the screen turns blue and a triangular gun-sight appears, tracking your movements extremely slowly. It’s supposed to give the impression that the Predator is on our tail and we need to keep moving to avoid being zapped with his plasma gun. Nevertheless, unless we stop dead in our tracks and wait to be fried there’s no need to get our pink jumpsuit in a knot.

Pack-In-Video’s 1988 movie adaptation for the NES

 

When we’re eventually rewarded with the pleasure of tangoing with the bohemian bogeyman for real, the experience is a monumental anti-climax. Quite a contrast to the movie in which the dramatic, special effects-laden finale battle sequence appears to consume a quarter of the run-time.

We punch and kick the overgrown alien – guns being ineffective – until he gets bored and slopes off, probably to titivate his meticulously cultivated dreadlocks. His punches can be blocked easily enough, although kicks must be evaded.

Fleshy Arnie doesn’t exactly discard his weapons because mano-a-mano combat is the only way the Predator can be harmed, it’s just the way it works out. Plus we don’t want to waste all the time and effort Stan Winston sunk into creating the Predator’s gruesome, hulking costume by not giving the camera crew the opportunity for some close-ups.

One of the many things the movie fails to explain is under what circumstances the Predator sustains injury. We know that “if it bleeds, we can kill it”, but not where, when and to what it is vulnerable. Don’t expect to find a Haynes manual on the subject in the games either.

Mac: I know one thing, Major, I drew down and fired straight at it. Capped off two hundred rounds in the minigun, full pack. Nothing… Nothing on Earth could’ve lived. Not at that range.

In the Amiga equivalent of the final rendezvous, we’d expect to knock the final nail in the Predator’s coffin by dropping a colossal tree trunk on his bonce, as in the movie and 8-bit games. Alas, in the 16-bit version he just wanders off again and our crusade abruptly ends. Game over. Clearly he “ain’t got time to bleed”.

 

There’s no way to kill the impatient lummox so we technically win by riding it out, twiddling our thumbs waiting for the closing credits. Which aren’t quite as minimalist as I first thought.

As disappointing as this is, the controls and poor scrolling do more to sabotage the game. Arnie trudges along as though he’s wading through quicksand, yet the scrolling still struggles to keep up. Another shot in the foot; it’s impossible to backtrack to pick up previously ignored power-ups since the screen only scrolls one way.

Diagonal joystick pushes result in Arnie moving in and out of the screen to lend an illusion of depth, whilst firing has to be activated beforehand, which makes no sense for an action game that hinges on quick reflexes. Once in aiming mode, the joystick controls our targeting system rather than the protagonist’s motion – by the time we’re in a position to defend ourselves we’re already six feet under, having lost our backbone and skull to the Predator’s trophy cabinet.

 

Arnie himself was so disgusted he dusted himself down, and after many months spent in intensive care, stormed off the set, vowing not to return for the sequel. Him demanding more money to reprise the role than producer, Joel Silver, was prepared to offer may also have had a bearing. 😉

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