In a futureworld where the law is all, and crime is the national sport, you need a special breed of lawman. Mike Roberts dons the half-eagle badge of a rookie Judge and tracks the lawbreakers.
At last, Britain's most popular comic hero comes to the silver (computer) screen. Judge Dredd, the character from the highly popular science-fiction comic 2000AD, is the subject of a game by beat-'em-up specialists Melbourne House.
The future city of Mega-City 1 houses over 400,000,000,000 inhabitants - each one a potential lawbreaker. Housing is scarce, and jobs are even scarcer, each person living in massive mile-high 'city blocks', each block holding many hundreds of thousands of people. For this high tension situation you need a special class of law enforcement. Enter the Judges.
The Judges are an extension of the police we have nowadays, with the power to convict and sentence an offender on the spot - even to the death sentence. There is no trial, no jury, and no appeal. The Judge's word is final.
To reach these exacting standards, Judges enter the Academy of Law at the age of five to begin their fifteen year training program - a failure at any stage during this training means immediate expulsion. Given the power over life or instant death, a judge must never make a single mistake.
Judge Dredd is the toughest, meanest, and most respected Judge in the whole city. Being cloned from the first Chief Judge he has no parents - the Law is his family, having been in the Academy since birth. In the game it is your task to play Judge Dredd, and to uphold the Law in the Mega-City.
Equipment plays an important part in the duties of a Judge, and this is borne out in the game. The main item of a Judge's equipment is his bike. Each Judge rides a 'Lawmaster' motorbike, capable of tremendous speeds and packing enormous firepower, it also carries most of a Judge's immediate back-up equipment, such as his computer and data link back to the Hall of Justice.
The most important piece of equipment that a judge can have, however, is his gun. The 'Lawgiver' pistol is fully automatic and can fire a selection of seven different types of bullet, all types being housed in different magazines in the gun and being available at all times. The standard round is the GP shell; this is a rocket propelled lead slug of roughly 9mm calibre. As well as this, the gun also fires the 'Rubber Ricochet' bullet that can be used to fire around corners using the ricochet effect.
The incendiary bullet will ignite anything that it comes into contact with, whilst Armour Piercing can be used against light armour and robots. High Explosive and Grenade are fairly self-explanatory.
The last bullet that the gun can carry is probably the most interesting. The Heat Seeker or 'Hot Shot' is a bullet that homes in on body heat and can chase a suspect around corners - but don't try to use it in a crowded shopping centre!
How does all this fit into the game? The first thing that you see is the status screen. This shows a view of the section of Mega-City 1 that Judge Dredd is patrolling at that time. On this screen will flash icon pictures of crimes along with descriptions of what is going on. You can then move your Lawmaster onto the crime that you wish to 'solve' and you will zap into the action section of the game.
This is a multi-level, multi-screen chunk of Mega-City 1 that your Judge Dredd is busy running through. Your pocket computer will give you the address of where the crime has taken place, and your Lawmaster will have dropped you off at a point as close to the crime as possible without having to run down innocent pedestrians. From there you have to proceed on foot. At this point, it is also wise to select your ammo type and response level.
Response level is either "Halt!", "Warn" or "Kill". The first option will just make you Judge shout at the offender and hope that he will stop. The second option fires a warning shot, and the third option is shoot-to-kill. When I was playing the game I found that the third option was the only way that I could stop an offender from shooting me dead, even for a simple crime like littering that would usually require only a stern word to stop. This is contrary to the ethos of the Judges, whose ultimate power over life and death needs to be carefully used, and it is strange that the game allows for this but is much easier to play if you just shoot everything. There is no real penalty except for points, and the points reduction is well worth it if your stamina is fading fast.
The game also allows you to select between six of the seven kinds of bullet that the gun fires (excluding grenades). Though the only difference between five of them is that the gun carries less of some kinds of bullet than others. All bullets have the same effect, so there's no real point in switching between them. The exception to this is the heatseeker which will whizz off at 90 degrees to the direction in which the gun was pointing and just tends to shoot passing pedestrians.
The graphics are limited, the character for the offender is the same in each case, so a smoker (an extremely serious crime) looks the same as a stookie glander, a litterer or a murderer.
The background graphics are very good and illustrate the various parts of Mega-City 1 as well as could be expected. However, robo-dogs that fire at you are everywhere. Why, I don't now. They don't occur in the Judge Dredd series and seem to be thrown in because the programmers couldn't be bothered to pick out something more relevant out of the 450 (or so) Judge Dredd episodes that there have been up to now.
My eventual impression of the game was that it suffered on one side from having a nodding deference to Judge Dredd which restricted the gameplay slightly. But failed on another side through not being accurate enough to the character. Different types of criminal needing different types of bullet would have been better, and very simple. The whole game seems to have a rushed, unfinished, and apathetic air to it resulting in Judge Dredd fans and ordinary games players both being disappointed alike.
If Melbourne House ever produce a sequel (incredibly unlikely) perhaps they could get the programmers to read at least one episode of the comic strip, because they don't seem to have so far.
Sorry Melbourne House, this game could have been good, but the fine detail that makes a game like this into a classic is just not there. And, with the character Judge Dredd, it's the fine detail that made him one of the most popular heroes of today.