CUE TITLES: Fast-cutting establishing shots of 1930s Middle England. Streets of San Francisco-style music. Huge words scroll purposefully across the height of the screen spelling out title: Mr Bickle - Community Policeman. Words MR BICKLE continue scrolling for length of title sequence, mixed with same words scrolling opposite direction.
Sequence is viewed through them as they reduce to outlines. Fast cuts: mohicaned Mr Bickle stepping into the street, closing his garden gate behind him, his helmet tucked under his arm; tracking shot of Mr Bickle Strolling along, nodding to woman with shopping; Mr Bickle drinking a cup of tea in a cafe, his eyes flicking alertly; a small dog returning a stick as Mr Bickle crouches down into shot: Mr Bickle stopping a row of traffic to let a child cross the road; Mr Bickle turning into his pathway, closing the gate behind him. Camera zooms in dramatically on nameplate: MR BICKLE.
Scrolling words meet and zoom inwards in perspective to fit exactly over the nameplate.
CAPTION: Will Hay is:
CAPTION: Mr Bickle - Community Policeman.
CAPTION: Created by Martin Scorcese and Paul Shaffer.
CAPTION:Adapted for television by Roy Clarke
CAPTION: Tonight's Episode - A Schoolboy's Secret.
(Streets of 1930s Middle England. Mix through to besieged house. A dozen police cars, lights flashing. SWAT teams. Guns. Helicopters. Spotlit. Mr Bickle is confronting an armed gunman who stares madly.)
MR BICKLE: Do stop looking at me, it's rude. (Armed gunman drops gaze with a sob. Gun hangs limply. Police rush in. Chief Inspector leads Mr Bickle out of crowd).
CHIEF INSPECTOR: Good work, Mr Bickle.
MR BICKLE: He didn't mean any harm. (They pass a child prostitute). Shouldn't you be in school? (Boxes ears lightly).
CHILD PROSTITUTE: Sorry, Mr Bickle. (Runs off).
CHIEF INSPECTOR: Mr Bickle. There's been a £2m robbery at the airport.
MR BICKLE: £2m, eh? I didn't think there was that much money in the world. I'll need backup.
CHIEF INSPECTOR: Elliot Ness and his number one marksman are on their way.
(Enter Moore Marriott and Graham Moffat).
GRAHAM MOFFAT: Wotcha squire.
MOORE MARRIOTT: Ooooooo, lovely.
MR BICKLE: Come on.
(They dash out of shot. Chief Inspector watches them go, one hand on his hip, the other pushing his hat back on his head).
CHIEF INSPECTOR: What a crazy guy. (Suddenly serious). But he's the only chance this city's got.
Closing his garden gate
The really stupid thing about AB3D is that almost all the bad things happen at the beginning. Installing it to hard drive, for example - you can't. I tried following the instructions and double-clicking on exactly the right icon for a few attempts, then asked one of the Amiga Format techy people to manually copy things. Nothing worked - the game would invariably crash when trying to load a level.
Hmmm. Okay, the game works amazingly well from floppy - there are two disks, and following an extended bout of sinister whirring from disk one you just swap to disk two and that's it - but it's a shabby fault that, along with the CLEARLY WRONG box blurb, smacks of the game being rushed into the shops. (It certainly took, for example, us by surprise). Still, let's put that shabby fault aside for the time being.
Game loaded, then. Short pause while the copy protection asks you to pick randomly a black page from a black book, then trace down a number of black lines and across a black number of rows, holding the book awkwardly under oblique light until some black scratches resolve themselves into black numbers, but that's obviously the fault of the kind of people who prevented Jon Hare of Sensible from buying a third Porsche so we'll put that aside as well.
You only have to do it once, after all (I was at one point terrified that the game was going to ask for number after every level, but it was just the plot) and, hey, you're given precisely one chance to type the black number correctly before you have to wearily reload and smack the mouse button to skip the Team 17 because it only holds up the loading for five or six seconds you just want to play the thing.
And there it is.
And it's magical.
It is, in fact, Doom - but on the Amiga.
Sinister whirring from disk one
What AB3D gets right - and what eluded Fears and Gloom had everything sitting in the middle of the screen and plurping out similar bullets, or merely sizzling balls of light. AB3D has plausibly horrific guns that recoil and 'feel' different - the phaser rifle for example, is wreckingly powerful but has slow bullets and is hard to aim over distance - and you'll almost instantly elect a favourite.
Mine is the shotgun - accurate, instant hit, quick and satisfyingly slide-actiony to reload, though being a doubled-barrel it should, of course, be broken open AS ANY FULE KNO and the technical qualities shut its rivals in a cupboard (lifts and stairs, outdoor bits, ripply water, walkwayed arenas, admittedly in a third-size screen but it's a hi-res 'un; incidentally, contrary to the instructions you can get full-screen graphics by pressing Enter on the keypad, which I found out when missing my run-away key.
I don't much care for the mode, though - it is fast, but it's (obviously) blocky, and you don't get any readouts and the sound is even better than that of Fears, dropping the subliminals but bringing in INCESSANT HOWLING that you must kill all to stop, bringing back the 'breed squeals' of the previous games, and bringing about FEELINGS OF TREPIDATION with breathy new monster samples (including, I'm sure, a growl from the Hanna Barbera library).
And the special effects are amazing (hits punching out bits of monsters to blap off the walls behind, bouncing grenades you can arc into pits, chainreaction explosions that fill rooms with whumping death) and the attention to detail delicious (hounds dropping with an expression of shock, two-gunned slug monsters visibly firing shots from their left then their right hands, an ammunition reservoir so you can carry more than the screen can show, automatically ducking if the tunnel you're rushing through is too low (although, slightly annoyingly, you don't afterwards automatically stand up), step noises for each floor type).
And there's a two-player deathmatch (except it's incredibly poor - the levels are the same as for the one-player game but with all the locked doors disabled and NO MONSTERS; as the later levels are around the size of five old men laid end to end you just wander around until you get bored, and the top box CLEARLY LIES when it claims you can play co-operatively, and ONCE AGAIN the other player looks exactly the same no matter what gun he's hefting or whether you're hitting him).
And the monsters act differently (there are, for example, hounds, and cannon fodder with plurp guns, and sergeants who hang back to shoot you from afar, and scuttling tree creatures who spawn flying eyeballs) but most of all it is FUN TO PLAY.
A computery department store
Remember those bits in Gloom where you'd round a corner and face off against a dozen biters backed up by cloaks? AB3D's like that, only more so. The thing with Gloom was that it had no stairs or walkways, so beefed up its shooting side with mazes of crushing blocks and switch gags - that way you didn't get bored with rounding a corner and facing off against a dozen biters back up by cloaks.
AB3D's levels go up and down, round and round and come out here, and so despite being the more sophisticated game, it's far shootier-orientated. There's little cunning in the use of switches and keycards, but you're prevented from getting the measure of the game by its sheer diversity of location. On one level, for example, you start by racing through the mezzanine of what appears to be a computery department store (look, it does me) being sniped at by monsters patrolling upstairs. You can, of course, get them at that point (there's little of the Fears curse of monsters popping at you without your being able to see them - all the monsters here bar one have projectile weapons so you can trace their line of fire)but you'll keep getting caught in crossfires and so do far better to make a run for the stairs and TAKE THE FIGHT TO THEM.
In another, you start high up and have to place grenades to set off barrel bombs in a huge pit before risking leaping down yourself. In a third, you'll be wading through glittering water being dive-bombed by a mouse with wings. There's always something to throw you off-balance and keep you interested.
(An aside about airspace - despite the architectural credibility of AB3D you still can't look up or down. The designers have been careful largely to avoid the Fears horror of bumbling around on a staircase without a clue as to which way you're pointing (idiotically one of the few such cases is on level one) but there is at least one class of monster that tries deliberately to get direclty above you so you can't hit it.
Fair enough, but it's big on self-preservation and takes ages to tempt back down, and if you try to sprint past it it swoops like a sinister crow. Apparently the programmer could have included looking up and down but twigged too late. I trust there'll be the option in the sequel, of which there must be one if this one sells like it should).
Staggeringly, there is no map. At all. You're expected to keep a level in your head, and as you'll recall, they're incredibly large. It's not as pointed a problem as you'd expect (smoking corpses marking explored corridors and all) but there were more than a few times when I found myself clearing out the level and then pottering around aimlessly trying to remember down which fiendishly twisting corridor I'd find the exit.
It's one of a clutch of mildly irritating omissions that must have been caused by a lack of memory (I refuse to believe they'd have been bodged on purpose) including a rubbish death (the sound merely grinds a bit - you don't even get to sink to the floor) and a pitifully feeble rocket launcher that takes up half the screen but fires a blob the size of a penny piece.
And the graphics occasionally glitch interestingly (spots circling high walls, floors flashing where they meet walls) but you allow for that. It is, after all, an awfully clever thing. (When playing on an unexpanded A1200, for instance, to keep up the speed it starts dropping certain of the animations, or skipping frames as if you're long-jumping; entertainingly, this means you can almost outrun your own bullets).
Dive-bombed by mouse with wings
WHINING CHILDISH HATEMONGERS
I regard AB3D as fantastic. A glance at the credits screen reveals that it's been done by an entirely different set of people from those who wrote the previous Alien Breed games, and this is a Supremely Good Thing. There are no radioactive rooms. The game plays fair. (It suddenly struck me how generous the monsters' target profile is; a hit reasonably close will count, which is blessedly helpful at a distance, when everything's a bit squizzy).
It is diamond-hard (perhaps extraordinarily so: you're expected to do the whole of a level in one go, which by about number eight of the sixteen invites vexation. Still, just the way we like 'em. And you can always break off to search out of the secret rooms). It is a ripping game, and an amazing accomplishment, it's extra-special and it's outdone Gloom. Good work, Team 17. You whining childish hatemongers.