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Predator (Classic Game)
Member Name: cheffrey
Predator (Classic Game)
Date: 27/02/13, updated on 27/02/13 (38 review reads)
Advantages: It's got an 8-bit chimpan-Arnie in it
Disadvantages: It's really terrible
'Predator' was quite rightly one of Arnie's most successful films - big, macho, daft, over the top and quite well-made, with atmospheric direction and a very memorable villain inflicting horrible deaths on a group of beefed-up soldiers. It's a bit of an oddity in Reagan-era action flick, merging all the classic 80s action cliches with a bit of a creepy sci-fi/horror twist, and is all very enjoyable. Of course Arnie is Arnie, pumped up and good at killing things nonchalantly, but the premise of the movie is one that would make quite a cool video game even in the 8-bit era.
Except that this is one of the most rushed and awkward games of that era. Despite its sloppy programming and almost unplayable design, it sold lots of units and is fondly remembered by nostalgic video game afficionados as something of a classic. It isn't. It's dire, and here's why.
The version I played was on the BBC Micro, which was a fairly limited platform having only 32K of RAM, but skilled programmers could coax out all sorts of wonders from such limited space. Not that Predator wasn't programmed by a skilful designer - it was put together by one of Superior Software's main men, Peter Scott, who was behind numerous great titles. This was released for the Christmas market in 1988/9 (I think), and was so quickly rushed out one can almost smell the festive beers and hangovers lurking in the game code.
First off, it's a fairly ugly affair - the loadout screen is all garish, blocky reds and blaring yellows crashing together in a psychedlic, neon car accident. It's also tried to replicate Arnie's uber-macho pose from the cover of the film, but it looks a bit wrong, like he's been spliced with a selection of different apes by Dr. Moreau. The game controls looked fairly simple in the manual, with directional movements, jumping and, of course, the ability to fire guns, chuck grenades and punch things. All of which one would expect.
The game proper starts up, and you take the role of a very clunky-looking Arnie, who is stood gormlessly next to what I think is a helicopter. And since the screen scrolls in only ONE direction, that's pretty much your only course of action. That's right, Arnie don't retreat. Arnie don't go left, that's for those dirty jungle commies. If you try to, he'll just flail helplessly against the dead space at the left of the screen; curse you, invisible force-field of doom! You better get used to running in a straight line as well, because the control system is completely horrible. In theory, you can move up and down diagonally, but since movement in these directions is so painfully slow, and the strip between the endless, poorly rendered trees is so slim there's hardly any point.
This is supposed to be an action game, so therefore there's stuff to shoot at. This mostly consists of what look like guerrilla soldiers running at you or popping out of foxholes (read "blinking on and off screen randomly"), and also FLOCKS OF KILLER CHICKENS. I don't remember them being in the film at all. Maybe they're in the Director's Cut, or maybe the games designers though Alfred Hitchcock had directed the film and wanted to emulate the fear that Tippie Hedrun had once experienced. Or it's just stupid.
Anyway, you can aim your gun in three different directions, which means that most of the time you have to wait for these sprinting soldier-things to get close enough to you to hit them, by which time Arnie's already been peppered with bullets because he's such an unmanoeuvrable sack of meat it's almost impossible to dodge incoming fire. And birds of course. Lots of those. You get three lives (of course, this is a game from the 80s) but they're all snuffed out very quickly. Arnie can take less punishment than PaperBoy, and getting past the first level required a Herculean effort and the patience of a saint or two. He does however have quite an amusing death sequence, being flung to the left like a puppet on a fishing wire, only to explode in a haze of primary colour marmalade.
There are also three grenades at Arnie's disposal, not that they're much use as he has the throwing arm of a dyspraxic jellyfish and they invariably miss what you want them to hit. Guns also run out of ammo very, very quickly, and new ones can be found dotted around the jungle. They are however, really badly placed, as you can only carry one at a time and they all come close together, meaning that when you really need one there isn't one for ages. Which means you have to resort to hand-to-hand combat, or more accurately, "running full tilt at a pixellated group of enemies and hoping for the best". The controls are so clunky there's very little hope of getting your punches to connect with anything, so it's basically game over when your ammo runs dry.
And then there's the titular Predator. I thought I'd save the best for last, as if you've managed to put up with the above for more than five mintues, then you're in for a treat when crab-features turns up. Every now and again, the screen will turn blue and indigo (like the Predator's night-vision mode) and a crosshair will show up on the screen, and home in on Arnie. You can't return fire, so you just have to run for it. This interval will last about 3 seconds, and if it draws a bead on you, you will die insantly. I say 'if', it's really a matter of 'when' because the Predator aims so fast and Arnie, as we know, is about as slick as a sack of mashed potatoes, it will immediately zap you nine times out of ten. And you can't save your game. And there are no passwords to skip levels.
Except on the BBC Micro emulator on which I played this, which allows you to save at any point. And even with that option, I wanted to hurl my monitor out of the window in ten minutes. I'm not too sure the nostalgia rush was worth it. Shall I perservere and see if I can defeat it... Sod it, crab-face can have the jungle and Arnie's skull as a trophy. Maybe the C64 version played better, but this port of the game was so rubbish it had me cheering the Predator on in subsequent viewings of the film.
Summary: A lousy cash-in on the movie