Who remembers last Christmas? It got quite embarrassing here in the YS office, I can tell you. Ocean had just had their Megagames Batman and The Untouchables out and were releasing their Xmas biggies, Operation Thunderbolt and Chase HQ (both of which also turned out to be excellent games). Yikes, I thought, this is beginning to look like favouritism - every recent Ocean product had got (and was getting) brilliant reviews. Something had to be done! But what?
Well, I had a cunning plan. There was this other Ocean game about to be released, based on a rather more obscure (although incredibly popular, as I found out later) coin-op called Cabal. Right, I thought, let's give this to somebody who's notoriously hard on games, who's basically got a real bad attitude to anything resembling a shoot 'em-up (or a footie game, or anything really) and is bound to slag it off. Let's call in... Jonathan Davies! Heeheehee (I chortled) - even if this turns out to be a pretty good game he'll still be hard on it, hopefully hard enough to deny it a Megagame and make it look like Ocean can produce something fairly crappy after all.
A couple of days went by. Jonathan returned with his review. Lets take a look at this, I thought, it'll be really, really... positive?? Aaargh! Yes, for the first time in his entire life (just about) Jonathan had turned in a rave review! He actually liked a game! (I couldn't quite believe it.)
And the really annoying thing was that he was right as well - Cabal was a very nifty piece of work. Colourful and chunky, it had a distinctive look very different from Op Wolf et al, and played like a trooper. Who'd put it together, I asked? Well, it turned out it was the work of a couple of guys at Special F/X, the Liverpool development house - the same couple of guys who've just produced Midnight Resistance in fact (which at last explains what this lengthy intro thingie has been all about).
Um, so how does Midnight Resistance play then? Well, from what I've seen of Ocean's current line-up (this, Sly Spy and Shadow Warriors), this'll be the one they'll all be talking about. It's brilliant basically - an excellent little (or rather, pretty huge) coin-op conversion, packed with colour and presented in a very distinctive style. Yes. there's an obvious family resemblance to Cabal here all right. The chunky sprites, with their heavy black outlines and stumpy little limbs, stand out brilliantly against the busiest of backdrops, while the variety to the levels is, for a military-esque scrolling shoot-'em-up, fairly remarkable.
The thing is, this is a much more ambitious program than Cabal was, and it's to the Special F/X programmers' credit that they haven't fumbled the ball in making the transition from (fairly simple) flip-screen shooting-gallery-style game to a full-blown scrolling shoot-'em-up.
One of the really special things about this game is the control system - it's one that takes some getting used to admittedly, but once you're there it works a treat. There are two controls - as well as walking backwards and forwards and jumping (as normal) there's a sort of Rotate jobbie for turning your little man around on his axis. At different degrees of rotation he does all sorts of different things - at one stage he's lying down (or crawling along) shooting, then he's shooting down at an angle (so if he was lying on an overhead walkway he could pick off something on the ground below him), then he's shooting behind him, then up in the air at an angle and so on. He can do all this from a standing and running position too, and while this makes some manouvres quite tricky (when taking out something on a low platform in front of you it's best to try and fire diagonally towards it, rather than jump up and fire like you would with most shoot-'em-ups) getting it right is quite a fun challenge.
Of course the game comes complete with your normal ration of collectable weapons (machine guns, shot gun, flamethrower and the like) bought in a weapons shop sequence with keys collected from dead baddies, including some rather special things that sort of mount in your back-pack and produce all sorts of weird and wonderful effects when fired.
With nine very varied (and very difficult to complete) levels, bags of platforms and ladders to explore and the unusual control system making things a challenge, you're certainly getting plenty of gameplayIng for your money here. Luckily they've bunged in a Continue option to save your frustration, so there's no need to get chucked back to the beginning each time you die.
So what's the verdict? Well, as you might have gathered, I really think this is one of the best shoot-'em-ups I've seen in ages (perhaps ever). There are no problems at all with visibility or feeling out of control, everything is pitched at a good challenging level, there's plenty of variety and, quite simply, a lot to it. Certainly, the controls take some getting used to (so I found the first levels particularly hard), but once you've got them sussed you're in for a real treat. Ocean come up trumps again I'm afraid (damn their eyes!).
Colourful, varied, well paced and tricky shoot-'em-up (with 'interesting' controls too). Excellent!
Quick! Move onto that leaping jeep before it speeds by! (It'll give you a great vantage point from which to seriously trash some baddies!)
Ha! Suck on that, whatever-you-were!
Look out! It's not safe there - those guns can fire diagonally! (But so can you!)