From 2010 to 2014 Richard Cobbett wrote Crapshoot, a column about rolling the dice to bring random obscure games back into the light. This week, remember when terrorists brought the world to its knees?
Crime Wave is one of those games where you pick up drugs for bonus points, but can't ever be quite sure they're not going straight into the designer's veins. It's just… wow. Minute to minute, it's impossible to tell if it's a deliberate comedy, or just constantly lucking into being so bad that it's amazing. Maybe it's both. Go get a pillow and place it on your computer desk to avoid breaking your jaw when it inevitably drops, because this week, we're looking at stupidity of criminal proportions.
Oh, Access. It was a strange company, really. On the one hand, it brought the world the Tex Murphy games, and if you were into golf, the famous Links series. On the other (rotten, maggot-infested hand) was absolutely everything else.
Armed with endless optimism, and a somewhat loose understanding of other peoples' intellectual property, it desperately wanted to create movie-style experiences. It managed to fit video onto floppy disks. It invented RealSound, which gave the PC speaker the ability to play proper audio, when all it had been designed to emit were farting noises at various pitches.
And time after time, its games absolutely stank. In hilarious ways. It's amazing we've not looked at more of them here, but don't worry—several are on the hit-list, including the stunning Amazon: Guardians of Eden.
Ah, they don't make 'em like that any more…
As a pure game, Crime Wave isn't very interesting. It's a shameless rip-off of a game called NARC, and doesn't even bother to hide it. You walk from the left of the screen to the right, shooting endless identical criminals on a quest to rid the world of crime. Sometimes you shoot bullets. Sometimes you shoot rockets. I won't be talking much about that, because it's really very dull. Dull, dull, dull.
The wrapping though… the wrapping is a 24-carat crapmine from start to finish. Here, a sample. You play 'super crime fighter' Lucas McCabe. This is 'super crime fighter' Lucas McCabe.
With those glasses, this has to be a '90s game. And it is! Somewhat oddly, despite being released in 1990, its setting is the not-exactly-distant 1995, by which point Access suggested that America would have been completely taken over by terrorists and the only cure would be one slightly pudgy guy in shades grabbing the nearest rocket launcher and killing them all personally.
But wait. That would be silly enough for most games, but this is Crime Wave. Despite 'super crime fighter' Lucas McCabe never being without his traditionally badass jacket in between-mission briefings, in practice he spends most of the game practicing his Elvis cosplay. If he rescues you, thank him. Thank-im-very-much.
Could it get any sillier? It can! Due to the way the sprite system works, your best bet for most of the game isn’t to stride proudly into danger, but crouch and waddle around. I’m not kidding. The manual itself tells you “Crouching is the most effective way to maneuver (sic) and survive.”
In case you’re wondering how badass this looks in practice…
But that's Crime Wave! The Adventures of Super Duck Walk Elvis, murdering a million terrorists per missile with a rocket launcher, scooping up an entire Columbia worth of drugs, and the enemies only managing to keep a straight face because, as we'll get to, they are even dumber.
Not quite as dumb as the button to duck down being [TAB], admittedly, but only because that's sodding impossible.
Let's step back though. Why is all this madness happening? Along with the criminal takeover of the entire world, apparently, the President's daughter Brittany Cole has been kidnapped by a terrorist organisation called MOB, and “super crime fighter” Lucas McCabe is the only man with the power-shades to go rescue her.
Somewhat oddly, the entire game is spent watching his rampage from their headquarters, on a giant screen that can track him through the city. He mostly returns the favour with psychic powers, or at the very least a convenient tendency to bumble into exactly where they don't want him.
Between missions, the… well, MOBsters I guess, gripe about that quite a lot, while the game shrugs, and occasionally wheels Brittany out for some of the most eye-rolling fanservice ever. Here. An example. This is 'super crime fighter' Lucas McCabe's computer, as he looks up a criminal he needs to beat up. Seems reasonable enough, right? Over the top and very, very '90s, but okay.
See? Nothing to be ashamed of. Here however is his official ‘super crime fighter’ file on Brittany, the President of the United States’ daughter. Repeat. The President of the United States’ daughter.
But oh, it gets so much worse. Going by the classic damsel in distress playbook, Brittany’s abductors inevitably tie her up. Can you spot the teeny-tiny flaw in their eeeevil bondage plan?
To give MOB some credit, at least they're not unaware of 'super crime fighter' Lucas McCabe carving a bloody swathe through their men—though apparently they are unaware that their boss is secretly Alfred Hitchcock masquerading as the criminal mastermind 'King Pin'. Yep, with a space. Pinhead.
Luckily, as a world-class criminal organisation, MOB has no shortage of specialised agents to do its dirty work. Why, in the first street alone, 'super crime fighter' Lucas McCabe has to super crime fight about five hundred thousand street thugs. When they're obviously not a match for him, MOB HQ simply laughs and moves to Plan B—dispatching the urban jungle's most fearsome predator:
Okay. Look, this might not be as dumb as it looks! In the '90s, ninjas were the ultimate weapon. You wanted something dead, you sent in a ninja. And MOB? They send in ninjas on level 2.
If they consider the greatest fighting force ever to be completely overrated by cinema to be a mere grunt, just imagine the badasses they're saving to torture 'super crime fighter' Lucas McCabe on Level 3. Why, they'll…
Excuse me. I… I think I need a moment. Back in a sec, OK.
Dang it, that didn’t help at all.
Anyway, where was I? Oh, yes. Over the next few levels, ‘super crime fighter’ Lucas McCabe never quite matches the sheer shock of seeing Crack Mack, but Crime Wave gives it a good shot. The secret rooms for instance, where MOB keeps its supplies of drugs and money behind easy to dodge laser beams, start out relatively sane. At least, given that this sentence included the words ‘laser beams’.
At this point Crime Wave just throws its hands up and declares that even it doesn't care any more. The terrorists originally kidnap Brittany as part of a big plan, but that's pretty much irrelevant throughout and then she's just there for the sake of it. “Super crime fighter” Lucas McCabe tracks her to King Pin's mansion, otherwise known as 'obviously where she is', and fights her captor.
This being a '90s side scroller, it should come as no surprise that King Pin has a robot suit. Every villain did in that decade. It came with the spotless white suits, and final cigars they were allowed to smoke.
I'll just embed the final level, because… well, you'll see. Aside from the robot, a personal favourite moment is King Pin defiantly refusing to tell 'super crime fighter' Lucas McCabe where Brittany is, and it promptly taking eight seconds to find her anyway. She's in the basement. Where else would she be? Sorry if that counts as a spoiler. You might want to watch anyway for the topless beach shots that finish the game though, where 'super crime fighter' Lucas McCabe finally gets his hero's reward.
Or indeed, not.
Sigh. Access. I'd say you tried, but that would so obviously be a lie. Until Tex Murphy made it big, anyway, this was pretty much what you got outside of their golf games—pretensions of cinema, wrapped in shit.
Easily its dodgiest moment was stealing its title music. As YouTube now demonstrates so easily, it's a few seconds of Pink Floyd's One Slip. Of course, this was just 'one slip' for Access. It would never for instance have dreamed of blatantly pinching the Blade Runner poster for the Mean Streets box, any more than a big electronics company would have pinched the theme music from Robocop on the Gameboy to create one of the decade's most infamous ear-worms. Ahem.
Oh, the '90s. Those sweet days when anything seemed possible, if only because nobody was paying attention. How long ago they seem now. How long, and how tasteless. Shudder.