Grab a seat. Enjoy the show. This is history.

Predator is a cult favourite among fans of testosterone-fuelled action blockbusters largely because it stars a variety of charismatic muscle men bonded by believable chemistry, compassion and respect for one another. Even the unashamedly cheesy one-liners and beautiful, jungle-centred cinematography trump the significance of the eponymous antagonist. That’s not to say the Predator as a supernatural villain isn’t iconic in the pantheon of horror-sci-fi movies, just that all the ancillary elements would amount to an enjoyable ride in its absence.

Which is precisely why Arnie and crew not returning for the sequel was such a disaster for the franchise. Mostly this was unavoidable owing to the majority of the original cast being dead, although Arnie’s regrettable no-show could easily have been avoided by paying him the extra $250k he felt he was worth. The difference in box office takings due to his presence alone would have dwarfed this additional expense.

In any case, Schwarzenegger had enough on his plate; in the run-up to Predator 2’s 1990 unveiling, he would have been preoccupied filming Total Recall and Kindergarten Cop. In this context the official reason given for not sealing the deal – ‘contractual obligations’ – made perfect sense. We also now know that Arnie didn’t approve of the new set’s locale, script or the part he was expected to play (that of the FBI shill). Oh, there were lots of reasons. Pick one yourselves.

Peter Keyes: Ten years ago one of his kind stalked and eliminated an elite special forces crew in central America. There were two survivors. They indicated that when trapped, the creature activated a self-destruct device that destroyed enough rainforest to cover 300 city blocks. Remarkable weaponry. That’s right lieutenant. Other-world life-forms.

Only a fleeting acknowledgement is paid to Arnie’s absence in the movie since it’s set in a divergent time and place so isn’t especially relevant to the plot. Nevertheless, his fate is elucidated in the novelisation of Predator 2 for continuity’s sake.

Arnie’s character – Major Alan ‘Dutch’ Schaefer – was admitted to hospital suffering from radiation sickness following the toxic detonation of the Predator at the end of the first movie. Soon after he absconds – to swerve CIA tests/interrogation I imagine – and is never heard from again.

So instead, Predator 2 starred Danny Glover in the leading hero role, while the action was shifted to the more urban setting of a then futuristic, dystopian LA (1997). As entertaining and talented as Murtaugh is, he’s certainly no machismo-charged, muscle-rippled mercenary for hire, and downtown LA is no substitute for the mystical, glistening tropical rain-forests of Val Verde.

What transpired from this risky new direction is closer to RoboCop Vs Alien than Commando meets …What the Hell is That Thing? Without the mystery and sense of discovery, we’re left with a bolted-on subplot revolving around drug wars, and a barrage of shooting, shouting and fury signifying not very much at all.

Joining Danny ‘I’m too old for this s**t’ Glover were Ruben Blades, Gary Busey, Maria Conchita Alonso (the only survivor other than Arnie from the first movie), Bill Paxton, and Kevin Peter Hall (the Predator who self-destructed creating an unholy mushroom cloud when he couldn’t get his own way).

Kevin doesn’t quite reprise his role; he mostly plays a different, younger Predator, but also one of the ancestral elders towards the end of the movie. An irrelevant distinction when you’re buried head to toe in prosthetics I suppose; one of the main reasons Jean-Claude Van Damme had second thoughts about persevering with the role three years earlier.

We learn from the folklore tales Anna shares in the first movie that Predators (they’re a race, not an individual bogey-alien) are attracted by extreme heat and violence. Unfortunately for anyone living in LA in summer 1997, the current unprecedentedly balmy climate and out of control crime-wave have fostered the perfect conditions for an invasion of (seven-foot-tall) Little Green Men from… we still have no idea.

Tony Pope: Tony Pope, live with Hard Core. On the scene and in your face, it’s like Dante’s Hell down here. Smoke, fire, oppressive heat. As Colombian and Jamaican drug fiends once again transform the streets of L.A. into a slaughterhouse! Who the hell’s in charge down here? The cops? Uh-uh! They’re out-manned, outgunned, and incompetent! Mr Mayor, on vacation at your home in Lake Tahoe: Get off your butt, get down here, and declare martial law!

 

Lieutenant Michael R. Harrigan is the unlikely one-man-army on which the planet’s survival depends. He’s permanently irascible, stubborn, disobedient and determined to kick gnarly alien bottom, but will it be enough?

Lieutenant Mike Harrigan: We’re fighting for our lives down there, and you’re downtown pushin’ pencils and kissing ass! I don’t roll over for anybody, especially for the feds, without a goddamn good explanation!

Between unplugging a seismic bloodbath run by feuding cartel drug-lords, thwarting a technologically advanced Predator assault, and juggling the conflicting, bureaucratic interests of the various factions of law enforcement, Mike won’t have much time to eat doughnuts! Clearly he’s been working out lately so they’re probably off the menu anyway.

As much a thorn in his shoe as the visitors from space, Special Agent Peter Keyes (Gary Busey) is authorised to lead the charge against LA’s erupting drugs war. Much to his chagrin, this makes Mike his less than cooperative subordinate.

When it emerges that Keyes has actually been drafted in to capitalise on the Predators’ state-of-the-art technology with a view to advancing the military’s own capabilities it dawns on Mike that the aliens’ little field trip isn’t as unexpected as he first assumed.

It’s the double-dealing parallel to the CIA subterfuge of the first movie, only this time the lead is cut out of the equation rather than manipulated into heading the operation. What the ‘Powers That Be’ fail to realise is that everyone would be better off if Harrigan was brought into the fold from the outset. Did they not watch any of the Lethal Weapon movies? Still, you can’t have a cop movie without a dash of internal friction. It’s the law!

Lieutenant Mike Harrigan: Captain, Danny and I came up together. Fifteen years on the f**king street! Whoever killed him’s gonna pay. I’m gonna finish it.

Soon after losing his partner, Detective Danny Archuleta, Harrigan is assigned to work with Detective Jerry Lambert, an enthusiastic fast talker who’s eager to please. Therefore the ideal gopher to delegate the dirty work to while Mike works through his lone wolf phase. As his colleagues are picked off one by one horror-stalker style, the experience will no doubt stand him in good stead for his trickiest bust yet.

Preying Arnie’s lasting legacy would be enough to carry the movie to box office riches, Mirrorsoft snagged the rights to produce the accompanying game. In 1991 it was published on schedule in conjunction with the movie’s VHS release, Arc Developments taking charge of the stuff that’s kind of alluded to in their name.

It’s not to be confused with the SEGA Mega Drive game of the same name published by Arena Entertainment the following year. That’s an overhead isometric action game developed by Perfect 10 Productions, focused primarily on rescuing hostages.

The wonderful Hall of Light Amiga game database has a ‘quick-match’ category that can be used to find games that are mechanically-speaking virtually identical to classic, instantly recognisable titles. Predator 2 appears listed under Operation Wolf, which should immediately tell you almost everything you need to know.

Even so, since the Dynamite Duke coin-op served as Arc’s blueprint our protagonist (Harrigan) is seen on-screen from behind (an over the shoulder perspective if you prefer). Bizarrely Duke is semi-opaque with a gaping transparent hole in his back permitting an obscured view of the terrain and enemy directly in front of him. He’s equally disfigured in the Mega Drive port, yet entirely wholesome in the Master System edition.

Arc took the concept a step further by designing Harrigan as a transparent wire-frame sprite. An approach similarly adopted for FabTek’s 1988 Dead Angle arcade game (also released for the SEGA Master System).

Harrigan responds to our instructions, twisting and aiming at the perpetrators to provide visual feedback. You know, in exactly the same way the cross-hair does without introducing any unnecessary distractions or obstacles. Being just an outline (and a white one at that) our hero looks nothing like Danny Glover, and so does nothing to invoke memories of the movie.

Predator 2 scrolls from right to left with the cross-hair operated via joystick or mouse. Extra ammo and power-ups such as flak jackets and smart bombs (in the form of M-203 grenade rocket launchers) can be collected – counter-intuitively – by shooting them. We begin with the standard-issue automatic Magnum .45 blessed with unlimited ammo, though can upgrade to an extensive armoury of faster, more potent weaponry as we progress… the MK2 shotgun, MK1 assault shotgun, MK3 rifle etc.

Civilians are to be avoided at all costs, not only because it’s rude to kill bystanders, but also because Paul Walker would have spent ages designing the sprites using Deluxe Paint Enhanced on his PC. Right, that’s that trivia subtly crow-barred into proceedings at a vaguely relevant moment. Tick!

Oh, I knew there was another reason for not mowing down civvies; doing so erodes the LAPD badge displayed in the HUD and leads to us getting a jolly good ticking off from Captain B. Pilgrim.

Ironically, tempting catastrophe they hang around in the midst of bullet-hell gang massacres, often to be interviewed by the same roving reporters who harass Mike. It’s not just a gaming trope, this is how the scene plays out in the movie, so full marks to the developers for that correlation.

 

 

Four separate – albeit structurally identical – shoot ’em up stages comprise the game, each based on key scenes from the movie. Blast anyone who looks a bit suspicious, then repeat the process against the wallpaper of a fresh backdrop. That’s the crux of it. It’s really no better or worse than all the analogous on-rails target shooters that had gone before. It’s a simple genre with few nuances to distinguish competing titles beyond the addition of a physical gun controller. Die Hard 2 also ably demonstrated that tying such fayre to a movie license doesn’t guarantee sales, plaudits or untold riches.

At the end of each stage, rapid-fire mayhem gives way to even more intense rapid-fire mayhem as baddies pool their resources, pouring out of doorways to storm our defences. Whilst the gunfire accelerates, kickback overlapping into an aural blur, it never interferes with the music… because you can’t enable both simultaneously. It’s not a tough decision. Justin Scharvona’s judiciously suspenseful soundtrack wins every time. It’s one of the game’s few saving graces.

Even with muted sound effects, it could be worse; owners of single-sided Atari ST drives missed out on the minimalist yet impressive animated intro, and had to request a third disk by mail order to experience the final stage of the game!

The Predator can (just about) be seen from time to time parading his ‘active camouflage’ suit as he snipes at the druggies and Mike using missiles, frisbees and nets just for the helluvit (‘sport’ I believe it’s called).

We can’t kill him at this stage so must concentrate on neutralising his projectiles before they strike us. It’s not until the final stage that he becomes visible and therefore vulnerable to attack.

Initially 20th Century Fox – the production company behind the movie – insisted that there be no fatalities in the game, forgetting that the body count in the source material is off the scale! You can’t have kids seeing any of those death-related shenanigans… erm, while playing a game based on an 18 certificate movie.

Tony Pope: Watch as we continue our report. Yes, the word is out; L.A is up for grabs. The spoils of our once fine city is going to the ruthless scum who can spread the most carnage and blood in our streets. Our latest update on the scoreboard; Five assorted trash and one good cop. One of the best on our force. Who’s next you say? Where’s the mayor? He’s not even in the city!

Fox eventually conceded after debating the principles of basic game design with Mirrorsoft, reaching the conclusion that some way to win was essential. Thus the baddies were permitted to fall over backwards and disappear having been shot the requisite number of times. At the very least this would be necessary to maintain a smooth rate of scrolling, which in fact still grinds to a crawl regardless when there’s a lot happening on-screen simultaneously.

It was also later decreed to be OK for the Predator to kill the thugs since they deserve it, and he’s an intergalactic scumbag with no moral scruples. Oh, except when it comes to not killing pregnant women or kids with toy guns.

Won’t someone please think of the children! Good point Maude.

Seeing as the developers had the script, trailer and slides to work with, it stands to reason that the game has a fair stab at following the movie’s plot. This is relayed courtesy of an atmospheric, stylish, exceptionally well-drawn animated intro, plus various text-based interstitial title screens that try to make sense of all the mindless gunfire.

 

As in the movie, our adventure begins on the streets of LA with our uniformed colleagues currently embroiled in a deadly shootout with the Colombian drug lord’s gang. Not quite what the two motorbike cops bargained for while out on a routine patrol. Maybe someone should have kept them in the loop so they wouldn’t have accidentally stumbled into a drugs raid.

 

 

 

 

Danny Archuleta: What have we got? Five low life Scorpions make it into the building, the next minute they’re all shish kebab, not one bullet wound.

Our task is to ransack the Colombian head honcho’s HQ and ask him nicely to stop selling illicit substances to troubled addicts. Or, failing that, to put a bullet through his grey matter, allowing us to regain control of the city and rescue the injured officers.

Reporter: As drought-ridden Los Angeles swelters in agonising heat, drug lords wage bloody warfare in the streets. Yet another open conflict… Oh, f**k this, get me out of here!

Level 2 sees us storming the East LA palatial penthouse of Colombian drug lord, Ramon Vega, where the skirmish against the Jamaicans is already underway. To establish who is behind the recent gangland slaughters he must be apprehended and interrogated before being mauled to death by the Predator or slain by the Jamaicans.

 

 

 

In the movie the Jamaicans get to him first, rape his mistress, and string him up from the ceiling intending to cut out his heart once dead. Charming!

 

Yet before the situation can descend any further into macabre voodoo ritual the Predator makes an entrance to slaughter the Jamaicans. Leaving no evidence, all skinned bodies are taken back to his lair to have their skulls and spines extracted as keepsakes (placed alongside his foreshadowing Xenomorph specimen!). Ugh! Was this really suitable material for a computer game conversion?

 

Tony Pope: This is Tony Pope, live from L.A., the city of fear, where the psycho vigilante killer continues his daily diet for murder. Bodies strung out. Bodies with the skins ripped off. The hearts torn from the cadavers. And just recently, King Willie, the drug lord, the vicious drug lord, found in an alley just around the corner with his head cut off, and his spinal column torn from the body. A fitting demise to the Prince of Powder.

LA’s subway tunnels constitute level 3. Confined to the claustrophobic underground we must contend with more vicious punks, graffiti-strewn hurtling trains, and obscuring our vision, flickering overhead lighting.

 

Filtering out the distractions our main aim is to stalk the predator, tracking him back to his lair to seek retribution for the deaths of our colleagues, Leona and Jerry.

Peter Keyes: It’s taken us over two weeks to learn his patterns. He comes here every two days to feed. Seems he has a taste for beef.

Lieutenant Mike Harrigan: I didn’t think he was a vegetarian.

Delightfully the slaughterhouse – believed to be home to the Predator – is the setting for the final showdown. Awaiting a visit from the (thermally insulated) FBI he’s one step ahead of their misguided scheme to cryogenically freeze him to allow the commencement of their experiments. Protecting the FBI and ending the Predator’s reign of terror is at the top of the agenda.

 

 

 

Shoot fire alarm call points and the sprinklers kick in. Let’s hope there are no Gremlins down here!

 

In the movie, the Predators’ ship is nestled conveniently beneath an apartment block accessed via a lift shaft. Arc’s interpretation, however, locates it as an adjunct to the slaughterhouse allowing us to quickly make the transition to the finale.

 

 

 

 

If we can defeat the City Hunter (as he’s known in the novel) we’ll earn the respect of the Predator clan and they’ll allow us to escape the ship unharmed before evacuating the planet, destined for… somewhere. ‘Yautja Prime’ in the expanded Predator universe. Not that this helps at all.

Harrigan is even awarded an antique Flintlock pistol as a trophy and souvenir to remind him of the fun times they spent together. At least that’s the way the movie ends.

Garber: Harrigan! What the f**k happened in there? Huh? Goddamn it. We came so close!

Lieutenant Mike Harrigan: Don’t worry, asshole. You’ll get another chance.

In the game, we just obliterate the whole uncouth rabble and miraculously an escape hatch opens for us to escape through prior to the ship departing. We’re taken to the Trinity hospital in an ambulance to patch up our wounds and told we’re likely to survive the ordeal.

A couple of static images with a text narrative don’t equate to the most exciting conclusion ever so it helps to flesh out the drama if we’ve seen the movie.

With zero replayability-potential the Predators really are going home this time. They visited earth to star in two Amiga games and failed on both counts to create one worth playing. Somehow I don’t think this is their forte. Perhaps they’ll have better luck if they find a new, less human opponent to pit their wits against. A race worthy of a versus series. Aliens maybe?

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