Genre: Action Developer: Sega Ent. Publisher: Sega Ent. Players: 1 Released: 1990
Robocop was a major inspiration for many games back in the eighties, so it should come as no surprise that Sega developed its own take on the cyborg cop formula by releasing Cyber Police ESWAT in the arcades in 1989. Home versions for the Genesis/Mega Drive and Master System followed in 1990 with the 16-bit version being a loose adaptation and the Master System attempting to be a more faithful translation.
You’re probably asking why the name E-SWAT with a dash when it’s always been called ESWAT without a dash. Well, the box art and cover of the manual show E-SWAT while the interior of the manual always refers to the game as ESWAT. Quality Assurance must have been napping that day. Anyway, you play as a police officer who discovers that the city is under siege by the criminal genius Balzar and his legions of goons, cyborgs, and robots; and you are the only person capable of putting an end to the technological terrors he’s constructed.
Like the arcade game, you begin the game as regular officer with just a badge and a gun to take on the lower level thugs on the streets of the city. After defeating the first two bosses, you’ll receive a promotion to the ranks of ESWAT and will don your armor to really let the criminal scum have it with a machine gun attached to your arm and three special weapon pickups. The first is the Heat Charge, which unleashes a blast of fire across the screen for several seconds and is the best weapon against most of the bosses. The second is the Spray shot, which discharges two bursts of bullets from the left and right of your armor simultaneously. Lastly, the third is the Laser that fires three wide beams at anything in front of you.
The gameplay is simple. Blast whatever enemies are in front, behind and above you, grab ammo and special weapon pickups, and try to avoid destroying your suit along the way so you can take on the two bosses to clear the round, all under a time limit. There are two difficulty settings: easy and normal, and the main differences are the number of enemies coming at you and how fast they move. On easy they are manageable, while on normal you will be swarmed from all sides. You have just one life and three continues to get through the entire game.
As for the controls, button one handles your basic weapon, button two is for jumping, and the directional for all movements. You can fire your weapons in multiple directions while standing and jumping in the air. You can also crouch to avoid fire and crawl along the ground. Pressing both buttons one and two will activate whatever special weapons you have picked up along the way. Keep in mind you can’t fire your basic weapon if you’ve activated a special weapon attack. You’ll have to wait for it to finish before you can resume shooting. The controls here are responsive and work great.
In another nod to the arcade, your armor isn’t invulnerable as in the other versions. When you take damage, pieces of it will break off, and eventually you’ll be left with just your pistol again as a means of defense. If you run out ammo – and you will on the normal difficulty setting – all you can do now is kick the enemy, which is pretty much useless. Once your armor is gone, you can’t use any more special weapons, even if you have some leftover. Thankfully, your health and armor are completely replenished at the beginning of each stage, so you won’t have to break your foot against some heavily-armed cyborg.
E-SWAT takes place across five different stages, each with a sub-boss and main boss to defeat before you can move onto the next one. Several of the arcade bosses make an appearance here, such as the Karnov impersonator Rolling Man, and the boomerang wielding Nasty Nick and Dirty Duffy (minus his demolition charges), who has been re-named Rocketman and given a cybernetic suit of his own. Several new bosses like the giant mech Gladiator and the Chameleon Twin cyborgs, have been added to the mix. The final confrontation with Balzar is just like in the arcade original, with the added extra of facing off against the main villain himself after you destroy his Tesla coil machinery.
In terms of presentation, E-SWAT is another game to feature bright colors and detailed stages, most of which are loosely based on ones from the arcade version. They couldn’t add every stage from the arcade, but most of the more recognizable ones make an appearance. Rounds two and three have two stages with some parallax scrolling in the background, but sadly, these are the only two that do. The rest end up being a variation of a factory or warehouse setting. I’d say overall the graphics do a solid job representing the various enemies and stages from the arcade game although they do have a slightly darker look to them from the bright visuals of their counterpart. On the sound front, you’ll be hearing several reliable renditions of the arcade soundtrack as well as some beefy firing effects for your normal and special weapons. Everything here sounds to be either above average or average in presentation.
In closing, despite E-SWAT being a more faithful arcade translation than its sixteen-bit counterpart, the game is lacking in the fun department, especially on the normal difficulty setting. You will run out of ammo very quickly if you try to eliminate the waves of enemies coming at you from the front and behind. Your best strategy is to take out those enemies at your rear only as necessary and keep pushing forward. Staying alive is vitally important as once you use one of the three continues the game offers, you’ll lose all the ammunition that you’ve accumulated up to that point and will start the level with only a measly fifty rounds again to get through the stage and defeat the boss. This task ends up being practically impossible to achieve, even with the ammo pickups along the way. On easy, you have no trouble stockpiling ammo due to the lesser number of enemies to defeat, and by the mid-point of the game you’ll have the maximum of 999 rounds and can handle any adversary E-SWAT throws at you.
While the normal difficulty setting does add some replay value and strategy to the game, I think the developers should have added a third difficulty setting to bridge the gap between the two. Easy ends up becoming too easy once you’ve mastered the basics, and normal can become a tedious slog as you’re trying to make every shot count and avoid most enemies. Your job is to bring these guys to justice, not run away and hope to escape the stage unscathed. Overall, E-SWAT is a decent port that tries to deliver most of the basic arcade gameplay but ends up being either too challenging or not challenging enough in the long run.
SCORE: 5 out of 10