Defining moments in videogames number 3044268: Virtua Cop. The first on-the-rails light gun shooter to take place in a fully rendered 3D polygon environment, with a locational damage system which saw enemies crumple or fall spectacularly depending on where you hit them. It was also, along with its sequel, one of the more cerebral light gun games, where one shot killed, but three-hit-combos were important and accurate blasting was absolutely critical. It's funny how even the genre's recent success stories like Time Crisis failed to mimic this approach, and even Sega themselves abandoned it for their part in the finger-tiring nocturnal Namco collaboration snooze-fest Vampire Night.
Stop it, Sega
But now a whole new generation of gunners can engage in Sega's seven-year-old gems thanks to the release of Virtua Cop: Elite Edition, but as with so many of the former platform holder's "modernisations", condensing two games into one disc has apparently left them no time to tidy up the graphics, add some more levels or alter anything whatsoever. Why not a sequel, Sega? Oh yes, you need the money, we forgot.
However, Sega isn't likely to get a penny from anybody if it continues to peddle this sort of soulless re-release. Virtua Cop: Elite Edition comprises both of the original Virtua Cop games in their low-poly, intensely short states. Up the continue count on the option screen and you can actually complete both games in one sitting - in about 90 minutes.
AM2 has apparently smoothed over some of the rougher edges, graphically speaking, but both games certainly look very similar to the Saturn versions (which we loaded up just for old time's sake at the weekend). It's true that a few edges are rounder and the resolution is higher, but that merely serves to accentuate the blurry, low-resolution textures and emphasize just how blocky the enemy models are. Certainly, any PS2 owner who's played Time Crisis 2, or even a Dreamcast owner with the likes of Confidential Mission behind them, will take one look at VCED and scoff.
For the uninitiated, each Virtua Cop consists of several levels, each set in a different area and at a different skill level. Armed with a six-chamber cop gun, you have to take out terrorists as the game highlights them with a big green aiming reticule. As the green gradually gives way to red and the targets narrow, the terrorist will take his shot and rob you of a heart. Take too many hits and it's Game Over.
The great thing about Virtua Cop and its sequel is that you only need to make one connection to floor a bad guy. Even if you strike him in the ankle he'll crumple to the ground and trouble you no more. The challenge comes in the form of multiple enemies in quick succession, each of whom shoots in a smaller space of time - with a shorter fuse, if you like. The quicker you topple them the more points you get, and the more hits you make the more you get. Each enemy can take a total of three successive hits, so with a bit of practice you can go blam-blam-blam, blam-blam-blam, fire off-screen to reload, blam-blam-blam, etc. Do this and you'll earn a huge score.
To begin with though you won't, you'll have to work your way towards it. Enemies can be fiendishly positioned at times, too, so you'll spend the early sessions learning layout. Then you can replay it numerous times to unlock the various extra guns (automatics, rifles, etc, hidden in crates which have to be shot to open) and beat your high score. However, unless you can stave off the feeling that you're playing an outdated, ugly-looking piece of old skool, the chances are it won't last that long. And that £40 you just laid down will feel less and less justified.
The biggest change to the formula as it stands is the new "gallery" feature. By nailing particularly difficult shots in-game (like taking out an unmarked terrorist hiding behind a sea of head-clutching hostages) you get a "gallery shot" message, which means you've unlocked some new CG stills in the gallery. However, it would have been nicer to unlock new levels, new guns, new anything, really, as opposed to these crusty relics of the Saturn era. Sega fans will of course lap them up, and if you're blinkered enough to think that the gallery represents a cool new feature, then don't let us stop you enjoying it!
We've some ideas for AM2 if it plans to re-release Virtua Cop on other platforms. Perhaps a bonus level where you sit there ploughing bullets into a dead horse? It would be an absolute blast if they stopped mucking about and made a proper sequel of course - the likes of House of the Dead simply can't live up to this pure gameplay approach, something we've missed ever since these games were new.
Don't get us wrong, we love Virtua Cop: Elite Edition, but then we didn't pay for it, and we know if we had done we would feel ripped off. This is an old game, and AM2 has done virtually nothing to update it. It still takes less than two hours to complete both games, the replay value is still questionable and it still looks dreadfully old and ropey! At full price, only die-hards and nostalgics need apply. However shallow and mindless the likes of Time Crisis 2 are, they're a much, much fairer bet for light gun addicts. Next time, Sega, do a blummin' sequel.