Back in the day, when I was nothing but a small boy, I used to love going for long drives with my dad. The rest of the family could come too, but my absolute favourite part came about when we had to stop at the services. You see, that was the time when we’d be able to have a quick look at the arcade section of the services. If we were really lucky, there would be a shooting game that Dad and I could play together, such as Operation Wolf. Standing in front of the machine, on my tippy toes so I could see what was happening, we spent many happy hours all over the country shooting virtual bad guys. What this long and rambling introduction is leading up to though is the 25th anniversary of one of the best light gun games in the arcade, that of Namco’s Time Crisis. Fancy joining me for a little trip down Memory Lane?
The story of Time Crisis was the usual kind of overblown nonsense, with us playing as members of a special unit called Vial Situation, Swift Elimination or V.S.S.E, as we are tasked with eliminating a threat to national security. I don’t remember any more details than that, to be honest, but what it meant was that there were a load of bad guys between us and our objective, and they needed to be cleared out. And nothing says “Get out of the way!” like a bullet, as video games since the year dot have taught us. With 12 stages to go at, split over three areas, there was a lot to do and a lot to see, and even at 20p a credit I did spend quite a lot of pennies before I actually finished it.
Time Crisis was an on-rails shooter – one that just so happened to come with an interesting cover mechanic. On the cabinet in the arcade, not only was there a cool looking pistol to wield, but there was a pedal that you could press with your foot. As a default, your character hid in cover, until you slammed down on the pedal, at which point your guy would emerge and allow you to shoot at the bad guys. If you were taking a lot of fire, then releasing the pedal allowed you to take cover again, avoiding incoming fire. This one little mechanic ensured Time Crisis in the arcades was a bit more tense, as being on your last heart of life certainly focused the mind wonderfully when it came to avoiding the enemy fire. Pop out, blast away, pop in again to reload and so on.
However, Time Crisis also had another little trick up its sleeve to stop you cowering in the cove forevermore: a time limit. You see, you only had a certain amount of time in which to clear each stage of all enemies, and the more time you spent hiding, the less time you had to succeed. With cash on the line, the balance between staying safe and going all gung ho was very well done.
Graphically, at the time, it looked amazing, but I have to say that that same time has not been kind. The low polygon count of the enemies can be overlooked, but the way Time Crisis comes across now is nothing to write home about. The sound was likewise pretty much middle of the road stuff, with cool gun effects but not much else to hear. However, the tension that the time limit built up, the quick pop outs to see where the enemies were before popping out again and dispensing lead-based justice, the avoiding bullets, they saw it all adding up to an experience that was more than the sum of its parts.
Now, I can’t mention the original Time Crisis without tipping my hat to the version that released on the PlayStation. Bundled with the G-Con 45 – a great light gun accessory that replicated the arcade pedal with a button on the barrel – I must have spent many more hours than I care to remember playing this game on my PlayStation, and it was always a hit at Christmas as other folk lined up to take on the enemies. I couldn’t afford a second G-Con as I was only a poor student at the time – it was, however, great.
So these are my memories of Time Crisis; one of the best shooting games I remember playing in the arcade. Sure, we had stuff like House of the Dead that came along to move the genre on, but for me the cover mechanic of Time Crisis was enough to elevate things on to a whole new level. But what about you guys? Do you remember the glory days of plastic guns in arcades? Did you play it? Let us know in the comments.