Ocean's first big launch of 1988 proves to be as good a game as they've done for some time; in shockingly bad taste, it has to be said, but a good game nonetheless.
Oliver Stone's film Platoon, just released on video, is a brutal, bloody, foul-mouthed production. However, while the film, for all its faults has an anti-war message, the game itself trivialises it to an appalling extent. Rather than depicting the dehumanising effect of war (pretty difficult though I must admit in 48K), the game is a straightforward shoot-'em-up, in which gooks (that's Vietnamese to you boy) exist only to be gunned down.
The game is rather like a 1988 version of Beachhead; there are six sub-games, none startlingly original in itself, each based loosely on an episode from the film. These load in three sections on the 48K machine, or all in one on the 128K.
Part One is a jungle maze in which your aim is to find a bundle of explosives. You can move in and out of the background, the graphics of which are suitably sultry. There's very good use of colour where it would have been easier to do the whole thing in mono. The character design is good too, with clean sprite masking and smooth animation. Enemy soldiers try to gun you down, running at you along the paths, popping from foxholes or dropping from the trees. You can shoot them, duck under their fire or sometimes leap over them. Booby traps are strategically placed in order to blow you to bits, and you'll soon get through several of the fifteen lives available to you; five platoon members, with three lives each.
You can throw grenades using the space bar, and you'll automatically pick up the food, ammunition and medical supplies which improve your status. Mainly, though, this first section is definitely one for mapping fiends. The toughest part is spotting the trip wires. I kept blundering into them happily, and wondering what was killing me.
After collecting the explosives and making your way to the bridge, Part Two is set in a village where you have to fight your way through the huts searching for a torch and a map, before crawling into a tunnel network. In Section Three, the right hand side of the screen turns into a map, while a crosshair appears in the graphic of the tunnel interior. Using this, you zap the knife-wielding soldiers who spring up in front of you while searching for the flares and compass you need for the next section. The control mode - move, shoot or search - changes automatically according to what's happening on the screen.
Back to the jungle for Section Five, possibly the best part of the game. Here, you have to make your way along jungle paths strewn with barbed wire and other obstacles, following the compass bearing which will bring you freedom. V.C. snipers and mines bar your way to the top of the screen, and there are many false turnings.
In the last section (which I admit I haven't yet reached) you have to blow the renegade Sergeant Barnes (he of the horrendously scarred face) out of his bunker by scoring five direct hits with grenades.
Six enjoyable mini-games then, linked together by a strong plotline, and common factors such as your decreasing ammunition, the strategy involved in switching control from wounded to healthy men, and the morale counter which marks the end of the game should it reach zero.
In the most ambitious bit of packaging design yet, the game comes in a large format box with a poster, a photo, an audio cassette (Smokey Robinson's Tracks of My Tears from the film soundtrack) and even a competition to win a copy of the video.
Not long ago people just a little older than the average SU reader were fighting and dying in VietNam. You might argue that the game is justified because it's based on a film, but would Ocean feel justified in producing an arcade game based on a film of the Manson killings or the Hungerford massacre? If they genuinely wanted to convey the horror of war, why not include the scene from the film where a guerilla is clubbed to death?
I liked the game; it's well-presented, neatly programmed and as the manual claims "packed with fun and excitement" - just like the VietNam war itself. I suppose. The first casualty of war may be innocence, but it seems the first casualty of marketing is good taste.
Label: Ocean Author: Choice Software Price: £9.95 cassette, £14.95 disc Memory: 48K/128K Joystick: various Reviewer: Chris Jenkins
Six exciting mini-arcade games combined to form one of Ocean's best titles yet.