ESWAT: City under Siege
SEGA's RoboCop deserves a sequel.
Being a fan of RoboCop movies, this game had an immediate appeal to me as a kid. A cop using a cybernetic armor? Count me in! The game tells the story of a police officer which becomes member of the Enhanced Special Weapons and Tactics unit to fight a terrorist group called E.Y.E., which is developing their own special weapons to neutralize ESWAT.
One of the first interesting aspects of this game is that you're not given the cyber suit right away: you have to earn it by going up ranks as a police officer. You start as a captain and have to complete two missions to become part of the ESWAT. Before you get your cyber suit there's not much you can do other than shoot a pistol and jump, but the developers took care of ensuring the gameplay would have the right amount of variety. Each level of ESWAT plays different than the other: in the first one you make your way through a building shooting bandits and end up facing a helicopter in the rooftop. In the second level you have to invade a prison and you start moving about using some sort of platform on rails. This level plays differently from the first one, as finding your way out of the prison has a light puzzle-solving element. But the possibilities are really expanded when you get the cyber suit. The main reason is that it has five different weapons and a built-in jet pack, and this changes the player approaches the challenges.
Each weapon has a different use. The regular shot is not different from the pistol used in the first two levels. The Super gun auto-shoots three bullets at once, making life a whole lot easier for dealing with all sorts of enemies. The Rocket Launcher fires rockets diagonally towards the ground, so it allows for different strategies when dealing with enemies behind barriers or in lower platforms. The Plasma Charge shoots large plasma balls when charged, dealing more damage than most weapons, but as the charging takes some time, its usage must be calculated. It is also the only weapon that can destroy some kinds of barriers in some stages. And last there's a Fire weapon, a rotating flame thrower that can be used only once per pick up and that depletes the burner gauge. The burner gauge is depleted also by using the jetpack: hovering will deplete it very slowly, flying in different directions will deplete it faster. Besides the obvious movement advantages, the jetpack allows for better positioning when dealing with different enemies.
From the third level on, the gameplay is all about using the right tools for the right situations. In the third level is pretty linear and is there more to teach you how to use your new weapons. The fourth level challenges you by removing your ability to use the jetpack. In the fifth level, on the other hand, you will rely on the jetpack a lot, so much that during the boss fight you will have unlimited burner at your disposal. The sixth level is a linear walk through the sewers, but you can choose to avoid the water or not, and it holds one of the most challenging boss fights. The seventh still has new elements as laser booby traps and some puzzle elements. The last stage is a little bit shorter and holds the final battle.
The graphics are very good. The sprites are big and the art resembles other early Mega Drive games such as Shinobi, with a more "mature", less cartoony tone. The animation between levels showing the rank progression of the character and a computerized rap-sheet of the next boss is a nice touch. Another SEGA classic, Streets of Rage, is said to share the same fictional universe as the ESWAT games, as the police car shown in Streets of Rage is the same seen in this game.
The sound effects are simple but effective and the music is great. The boss tune will be on your mind for a while after playing the game. The difficulty level feels just right to me. It is one of those games in which you get a little bit further each time you play. The options menu lets you tone down the difficulty and increase the number of lives you start with.
Even though the level design is varied and the game offers five different weapons, I feel that they could have been used better. For instance, the Fire weapon is not of much use. Since it is the strongest weapon and you can only use it once per pick up, you would naturally save it to use against bosses. But it turns out this weapon is rather useless against them, doing little or no damage. It becomes that weapon you keep saving for a special occasion that never comes (well, maybe it is useful the last stage, but you may not need it as well). I think you will spend 80% of the time using the Super weapon and the other 20% between the Plasma Charge and the Rocket Launcher.
Another thing that could be better done are the boss fights: they all seem pretty easy once you learn the boss pattern. There are only two fights in which you'll have to move around a bit more, the other ones are all about finding the right position and using the right weapon.
Some levels are also rather short. I'd love to see some bigger levels with even more jetpack use.
The Bottom Line
ESWAT is a great early Mega Drive game, and certainly a SEGA classic. It has nicely drawn graphics, good music, varied gameplay and an interesting setting. It fails only in having easy boss fights and in not exploring the full potential of having five different weapons. It is really a shame that SEGA didn't make any sequels to this game or haven't explored more the relationship between this series and Streets of Rage.
by chirinea (46950) on January 15th, 2018