Genre: FPS Developer: Technopop Publisher: Accolade Players: 1 Released: 1994
As so often happens with satellites on the far reaches of the known universe, there is a problem. A problem that is best summarized as an alien invasion. So, what does a space marine do? Come on, class, think back. There are few video game lessons better taught than the time-honored rule that aliens need blowing up. So, get your tail onto the next transport to Europe-1 and start dispatching anything that walks or comes close to it. Pacifists need not apply. In order for your mission to succeed you have to kill everything. That’s right. Everything.
Zero Tolerance, get it? It’s hilarious! Riiiiiight.
Some genres, like platformers, are a dime a dozen on the Genesis. Others such as first person shooters are considerably less common. Zero Tolerance (ZT from here on out) therefore holds a pretty special place in the hearts of many G/MD gamers across the world as the premiere FPS entry on the Genesis. But is that saying much? To answer that question I camped out on the basement couch for the past few days (while my copy of Bioshock rots away upstairs, I might add) and have just emerged from the dank depths to write this review.
First impression? If nothing else, this game is ambitious. It has big levels, lots of enemies, multiple weapons, and even melee attacks. These features are especially impressive when you realize that the other big FPS at that time was none other than Doom. Did Doom have jumping, ducking, and a roster of fighters to choose from? No, and for this I give the Technopop, the makers of ZT, a thumbs up. They didn’t just clone the ten-ton gorilla next door; they tried their hardest to actually improve on the formula. This isn’t a philosophy you see too often when companies try to replicate someone else’s success. ZT was extremely advanced for its time in terms of complexity and gameplay options. Call it visionary, forward-thinking, whatever. Bottom line is that the ZT style of play allows for deeper tactics. There’s just more variety.
On the other hand, ZT is unfortunately limited by the constraints of its home console. There’s no way to get around the fact that Doom had a better framerate and much bigger viewable screen size. There just isn’t enough “oomph” in the Genesis to make an FPS equal aesthetically to its PC competition. The game window is tiny, the framerate is sluggish, there’s no ceiling, and the maps are basically static geometric arrangements with lots of doors. No changing environments or distinct areas to be seen; what you see at level’s beginning is what you’ll see the whole way through. And that’s really too bad, because the visuals basically stab the rest of the game in the back.
I say that like the graphics are the only problem, but the music doesn’t help anything, either. The soundtrack is underdeveloped and bleepy, definitely making this one a candidate for getting drowned out by your favorite CD. Technopop seemed to have understood this and even have an option to turn off the music alone, leaving only the passable sound effects to mar your eardrums.
Regardless of all that, I think Technopop had a good thing going here, and apparently I’m not the only one. ZT sold 215,000 copies on release (according to Wikipedia, the flawless fountain of fact) and has amassed a devoted fan following to this day. In fact, there were ports planned for the 32X and Sega CD, as well as a sequel, Beyond Zero Tolerance, which was slated for release on all three Sega 16-bit systems. Although only the original ever made it out the door, the ports and sequel are a testament to the game’s success. And there are plenty of touches that make this game hard to dislike. Blood slides down walls on contact, for instance, and one of the weapons is a flamethrower. There’s even a link cable floating around for deathmatches if you have two copies of the game. (Cheapskate techies might want to build their own. You can find the schematics here.)
I think that if you take ZT just as a nostalgic little romp through a bygone era of gaming, then there’s no problem in sight. The difficulty arises when you try to justify the game as still relevant, still worth the money, and still a serious contender. That’s when I suggest that – apologies to the fans – ZT just doesn’t cut it. Let me make myself clear: ZT is a great Genesis tech demo and certainly a must-own for a) collectors or b) dedicated Genesis gamers who have the resources to buy everything they come across. But to the people who want a core selection of the “as good now as it was a decade ago” games? Not worth the time.
However, as a loyal member of the second group (except for the rich part), I need to go back to playing. My boot still longs for the gore of alien drones…
SCORE: 5 out of 10