are running down a corridor. You may have taken a wrong turn, but
you can’t remember, and there’s no time for that, anyway.
Roaming bands of robot walkers and wall cannons have destroyed your
weapons, your health is low, and the building you are in will explode
in two minutes. Where the heck was that exit? Which floor will it
drop me onto this time? You turn left, then left again and back
down a narrow hallway covered with ice. You then take a wrong step,
and spin helplessly across the icy floor, right into the path of
a hovering mine which blows you to bits. Don’t feel bad; at
least you’ll get your picture in the paper.
is a wonderfully tense action-adventure, and a classic of handheld
gaming. It is just about the best game ever made for the Atari Lynx.
That this game is brilliantly executed should come as no surprise;
Epyx, the development studio, was also the designers of the Lynx
portable. In 1989, after selling the machine to Atari Corp., they
unveiled six launch games that showed off the Lynx’s abilities:
vivid colors, sprite scaling, 3-D effects, smooth sprite animation.
In many ways, this little handheld was the most powerful console
on the market, surpassing even NEC’s Turbografx and Sega’s
Genesis (which also debuted in 1989). The Nintendo Gameboy, needless
to say, didn’t even come close.
all of Epyx’s launch games, Electrocop best shows
off the 3D effects of the Lynx. The game takes place in an office
building, with fifteen levels of twisting, turning mazes. The hero,
armed with a single-shot gun (don’t they look like the phasers
from “Star Trek?”) runs down hallways, opening locked
doors, finding more powerful weapons, and battling various enemies.
And the game literally puts you in the maze; walls and floors scale
and zoom smoothly as you run into and out of the screen. Half of
the floors resemble a space station, and half resemble a collection
of circuit boards inside a giant computer.
game draws its influence from Atari Games’ Xybots
(1987), which features a gun-toting hero in a 3D maze. However,
Xybots only moved forward, only in lurching steps, and
never sideways. In Electrocop, everything scrolls smoothly,
and the visual details are never lost or overly pixilated. This
is a genuine visual landmark; consider that Electrocop
nearly achieves with two-dimensional sprites what Tomb Raider
and Super Mario 64 do with polygons seven years later.
each level, you must hunt down or avoid various robotic foes that
litter the hallways. Some, like the walkers, are slow and easy to
spot, but others will suddenly appear out of nowhere. Floating mines
will explode as you draw closer, and viruses will hop around the
floor, infecting tiles as it goes. There are hazards everywhere,
and as quickly discover, your weapons take damage, too; pretty soon,
you will find yourself defenseless.
the nearest door becomes an essential oasis. At these stations,
you can repair yourself and your weapons, and temporarily shut down
the machines (but only once per station). Each door, however, is
locked; if you don’t know the code, you will need to activate
the code breaker program. But it takes time to crack the code. The
punch line? That comes when you open the doors; some lead to weapons,
some lead to dead ends, and some lead to exits. The cruel joke is
that many levels have several exits, which may send you back to
the beginning. Your final objective is the fifth floor, but you
will have to dart across all fifteen floors before reaching the
top everything off, the entire complex will be destroyed in sixty
minutes. The clock moves menacingly in real-time, and nothing you
can do will stop it. This really is the masterstroke; you have to
find a balance between playing it cautious and rushing headlong.
Always being cautious will cost precious time, and always running
full-speed will get you killed. Tension, kids. It’s all about
is the creation of Greg Omi, who later delighted audiences with
the superb Lynx version of the arcade puzzler Klax. Like
his collaborators at Epyx, Omi knew how to make challenging games
that worked your brain as well as your reflexes. That mainly comes
from Epyx’s long history of computer games, with a different
tempo from most arcade or console titles. Since they didn’t
have to target teenagers with pockets full of quarters, they could
afford to slow down the pace, and introduce more strategy or adventure
elements. Of course, this is pretty much the norm for today’s
games, but in the late 1980’s that distinction was still there.
Perhaps that’s why games like this have stood the test of
time so well.
also have to bring attention to Bob Viera and Lx Rudis, who were
responsible for the audio in Electrocop. These two were
responsible for the sounds and music for all of Epyx’s launch
titles for the Lynx, and after the company faded away, they migrated
to Atari and continued to work their magic. The audio on Lynx is
typically mediocre (especially compared to the Gameboy), but Viera
and Rudis knew how to marry thunderous booms to Electrocop’s
wonderful visuals. The main theme is especially catchy, with a couple
movements and variations; the best surprise is a Bach piece that
plays when you access the doors.
don't know what was in the kool-aid those crazy kats at Epyx were
drinking, but they seemed to have their pulse on the future of videogames,
before anyone else realized what that future was. Electrocop lay
at the forefront of that movement - years ahead of its time.