ESWAT: City Under Siege
Review by Will Smith
"The only similarity between the Mega Drive version and the original Arcade game is the title."
ESWAT Cyber Police: City Under Siege is an action game for the Mega Drive that was released on 7/14/1990. This review is based on the Japanese version.
Sega's wonderful Mega Drive console was the first console that I have ever owned, and one that I have fond memories of. However due to the expense of the console and software, whatever games my parents bought for me had to last a LONG time. And my parents passionately hated video games so they weren't too enthusiastic about spending $85.00 per cartridge for their 9 year old son. Needless to say I played Altered Beast everyday for about a year and some months, it being the only cartridge that I owned. At the time it was pure bliss. After that time had passed my parents decided to indulge me with a second Mega Drive cartridge as a Christmas present.
Which game would I choose to extend my game library to a whopping two titles? Phantasy Star II and Strider Hiryu were out of the question since they were ludicrously expensive at the time (upwards of $90). Then I remember there was this one game that I saw in a video game mag called ESWAT that had screenshots displaying really good graphics (later I would find out that the magazine was reviewing the arcade version, but I was too stupid to realize it at the time). And since the game was reasonably priced at $65 I chose this game on blind luck and some blurry screenshots. ESWAT ended up being quite fun and I ended up playing that for a year and a half also. But enough of the nostalgic crap.
ESWAT's visuals may not have the been the best to show off the Mega Drive's power, but they were pretty good for the time. The character sprites were all rather small and rough looking, with a heavily pixelized appearance. The graphics were nowhere near being as arresting as Dai Makaimura (Ghouls N' Ghosts) or Strider Hiryu , but they were competent enough to do the job and certainly weren't ugly. Most of the Boss sprites were really large and had a good amount of detail (especially the bosses of Round 4 and Round 5). The backgrounds had some shining moments, with the memorable purple hued sky in the first mission and the nuclear power plant in stage three. And of course the animation of the characters was stiff but no so choppy as to hamper the gameplay. Later on when I would play the arcade version of ESWAT I would be in shock to see that the hero actually had a large sprite with smooth animation and even a detailed face! But considering the limitations of the hardware you can't expect too much.
The audio happens to be much better than the sounds. It is 16 years later and I can still honestly say that this game has a pretty good soundtrack. There are only a couple of BGMs that are lackluster (that would be stage 5 and the final boss's BGM). Other than that the rest is sweet. The soundtrack sounds similar to the BGMs present in Revenge of Shinobi. Let me be clear that is NOWHERE near the brilliance of Sonic the Hedgehog, Bare Knuckle I and II, or even Super Hang-On, but it is pretty good overall (and much better than the BGMs in the arcade version).
ESWAT controls really well. The layout is simplified with the default controls being A for weapon selection, B for firing your weapon, and C for jumping. You can even reconfigure the controls to your liking. Control of your character is pretty smooth even in hectic situations (like in the dangerous platform jumping sections of stage 5).
The biggest difference between ESWAT the arcade game and the Mega Drive version is the game mechanics. Whereas the original arcade game ran off of the Shinobi gameplay engine, the console version makes the gameplay more sophisticated.
Both of the ESWAT games gave you a life meter represented by bars that shows how much damage you can take before losing a life. However, in the arcade version you only take damage from attacks and you do not lose health for simply making contact with an enemy (just like in Shinobi). The Mega Drive version employs the traditional console rules of being damaged for simply touching your enemy. Both the arcade and console versions feature the "Ice Combat Suit" gimmick (I took the the name for this from the NA ESWAT instruction manual). This is when you don the infamous ESWAT cybernetic armor that changes your officer of the law from a regular cop to a cybernetic justice enforcer that looks somewhat like Robocop. Your ESWAT officer also has a cannon for a arm, a not so original idea that is used by iconic video game characters like Rockman (Megaman) and Samus Aran from Metroid.
There is a huge difference in the combat engine between the arcade parent and it's console child. In the arcade version of ESWAT your ammunition was in limited supply and you constantly had to pick up icons in order keep your firearm loaded. When you ran out of ammo you had to resort to using a kick attack that forced you to go extremely close to the enemy in order to defeat them (which is extremely dangerous since they have machine guns, throwing knives, flamethrowers, etc). In the console version of ESWAT you have an unlimited supply of ammo for both your default and Special weapons. In the arcade you could not select your special weapons, and whatever weapon icon you grabbed automatically replaced the one in your inventory (and they had a limit to their use). The special weapons functioned more like the "Ninja Magic" feature in Shinobi. In the home version you can select your weapons and they are unlimited in supply (the only exception being the "Fire" weapon). The part that is extremely annoying is that if you die while on of your special weapons are activated, you will lose it PERMANENTLY until you find another weapon icon later on in the game to replace it. This is really frustrating, especially in boss fights. The best way to keep your special weapons intact is to switch to your default "Shot" weapon when you anticipate death approaching so that you can continue with your full arsenal. One annoying major difference is that when you died in the arcade version you just continue in the same spot with momentary invincibility, but in the MD version traditional console rules prevail, and you are taken back to the beginning of the stage or to a checkpoint . Lame.
The arcade version also had a cool graphical feature where your Ice Combat Suit gradually lost sections of it's armor as it incurred heavy damage and slowly revealed the officer underneath the suit. The console has no such feature. Another major feature that is present in the arcade that is not in the console is that the enemy have life gauges that display their vitality whereas in the console you just shoot blindly until the enemy keels over.
But the console has a huge gameplay difference that is not in the arcade, and that is you have a jetpack that allows you to hover in midair and fly for a limited distance. The fuel in your jetpack is monitored by a "Burner" gauge that sits in the top right of your screen. The "Burner" gauge gradually replenishes itself over time, but you can also find icons to refill it immediately. A full "Burner" gauge is also necessary to using the "Fire" weapon, the most powerful weapon in the game (the only weapon in the game that can be used once). "Fire" basically has your ESWAT officer shooting a HUGE tongue of flame out of his arm cannon while he spins 360 degrees to torch any and everything around him. All enemies are immobile and frozen in midair when the "Fire" weapon is in use, and all enemies onscreen are destroyed (and bosses receive heavy damage). Think of it as a desperation move. The only bad part is that a.) it can only be used once, and b.) it completely uses up all the fuel in your "Burner" gauge. The arcade version doesn't have the "Burner" jetpack function or the "Fire" special weapon at all.
The level design between the arcade and console versions of ESWAT have absolutely NOTHING in common. The arcade version had you apprehending bank robbers, kidnappers, gorillas, tigers, and enemies in monster trucks(!). The arcade stages were more focused on combat in the city slums and had you fighting more human enemies. The console version has stages in cybernetic prisons and industrial robot factories, and your enemies were more of the cyborg type. Even the basic enemies are completely different between the two versions! The bosses are all completely different with the exception of one. The two versions of ESWAT are as different as night and day. If you've played both versions you'll notice that some of the weapons from the arcade made it to console, although they function completely differently, and both games have their own unique set of weapons specific to each version. Another major difference is that the arcade game had the option of a second player joining in (basically a palette swap of your character except Player 2 wears a red uniform as opposed Player 1's blue uniform), while the Mega Drive is strictly a solo adventure.
ESWAT was produced during a time when ports of arcade games weren't graphically faithful at all due to the restraints of the console hardware. Basically arcade to console adaptations only had the very basic gameplay intact, if at all. Developers who wanted to cash in on the popularity of an arcade title were forced to think out of the box and come up with creative solutions in order to make the game enjoyable for the console player while trying to keep the spirit of the arcade game intact. ESWAT is one of the games during that era. The level design, enemies, powerups, and even gameplay are radically different. The only thing that seemed to be intact was that you control a cop and that the "Ice Combat Suit" gimmick is in the game. Other games like Golden Axe, Strider Hiryu, and Super Hang-On were definitely a lot closer to their arcade counterparts in terms of graphics and gameplay. If you take ESWAT for what it is (and that's basically a sidescrolling action game) you will have some fun. Just don't expect it to be an arcade perfect port, though.
Sad but True Fact: As a kid I my parents only bought me 3 Mega Drive games - ESWAT, Thunder Force II MD, and Super Hang-On.
Reviewer's Score: 7/10 | Originally Posted: 08/30/06
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