Upon loading Watchtower, the immediate thought that springs to mind is "Cwor, this don't 'arf look like Chaos Engine" - and quite rightly so. The graphics certainly owe more than just a passing nod to the Renegade classic. However, after a few minutes playing you realise that Watchtower's contents is more akin to elderly titles such as Commando and Rambo, not to mention the Sensi classic, Cannon Fodder.
The game's creators have mercifully spared us of a twenty page plot, instead opting for the more easily digestible "You're one well-hard geeza up against the enemy army in its entirety" theme - and before you know it, you are off up the screen armed only with a pea-shooter and a handful of grenades.
The game itself is split into six missions, each with a different objective and a different setting (e.g. desert, enemy base, urban). The truth, however, is that the gameplay is pretty much unchanged throughout, with only graphical changes and the odd new enemy type making the different levels identifiable.
Whether you are on level two or five, you can bet your granny's space teeth that most of your time will be spent shooting hostile enemy soldiers and blowing up installations, tanks, aircraft, and... well, pretty much anything that will react to a well placed grenade really.
The aforementioned explosive apples come in limited supply, so creates and boxes must be blown open along the way as you search for fresh supplies and point-rewarding items. The programmers have obviously spent time perfecting their explosion graphics - and very nice they are too - but this is more than just a special effect, as it can also be exploited by the player. How? Well, let us just say that any enemy units near exploding items, er... 'fly away to meet their maker'. Hurrah!
Guns, guns and more guns
As previously mentioned, the player starts off with a full compliment of grenades (the maximum allowed being nine) and the standard issue pistol, namely the Desert Eagle Magnum .44. Unfortunately, this has a fairly low damage rating, a pretty pathetic range, and a limited rate of fire, so you will need to find some crates as soon as possible and blow them apart in the hope of finding a better weapon.
There are a number of guns to be found, but due to weight, only one type of gun can be carried at any point. It is therefore down to the player to become familiar with each gun's attributes and on-screen appearance so that you do not accidentally swap, for instance, an M60 machine gun - with excellent range and rate of fire - for a rocker launcher that, while having the best range possible, can only fire one rocket at a time.
Other toys to play with include AK-47 Kalashnikov, Israeli UZI Sub-Machine gun, M16 Assault Rifle, Minigun, and a Flame Thrower with continuous flame and high damage - grrr! Of course, as well armed as you are, you can expect to encounter enemy soldiers with the same level of weaponry as yourself and what with you starting each new mission back with the pistol, well, let us just say that complacency is not advisable.
As well as engaging enemy troops, you can also expect to come up against some fairly serious military hardware in the form of tanks, supply trucks, and even bombers that fly across the screen dropping their deadly payload right on the old noddle. Fortunately, careful rationing of the ever-popular grenades will ensure that you are always in a position to reply to such challenges in kind.
The level designs are well thought out, so ambushes are frequent enough to keep the player on his toes, while narrow (not to mention well protected) bridges call for some sharp shooting skills. As well as a large number of obstacles that can be blow to clear a path, there are also buildings and installations that must be worked around as the screen scrolls slowly to reveal new areas on the map.
As if that was not enough, later levels are covered in land mines, but thanks to the fact that many of the enemy soldiers are not only single-minded but pretty damn thick, they can be tricked into clearing routes through such deadly grounds (and a very good impression of chopped tomatoes they do too!).
Reap the many rewards
As you progress through the missions your performance is evaluated, and if you have been a good boy, you could even find yourself being awarded with a nice badge or even a shiny medal. How does a Legion of Merit grab you? Or perhaps a Medal of Honour, a Silver Star, a Bronze Star, a Distinguished Service Cross, or a United Nations Medal.
One to avoid, however, is the Purple Heart, as this is generally only rewarded to those who have died as a result of standing in front of enemy snipers shouting "come and get it big boy". You can also impress your friends and family with promotions throughout the campaign - right through from Private to Brigadier General.
And the final verdict is...?
To be honest, as simplistic as Watchtower is, it is actually pretty good fun. It is certainly of the 'old school' as far as gameplay goes - but as long as it is still fun, who cares? The comparisons to Chaos Engine only really go as far as the presentation, the fact that you can have two players trundling around at the same time, and the graphical representation of the extreme questionable coins that appear throughout the game as point bonuses. Other than that, it is all very basic in as much as you just wade through the levels killing everything that crosses your path.
At times the screen can get a tad crowded, as large numbers of soldiers all appear at once, adding to the on-screen confusion with bullets spraying in all directions (though I am sure you will be glad to know that only once in my entire testing sessions did I encounter any slowdown).
The only other comment worth noting with the screen is that you have to sometimes wait for the scrolling to catch up with your position, otherwise you will be standing on the edge of the screen just as a new soldier appears, which is - needless to say - a bit of a git.
The choice of weapons is impressive, although once you get yourself a decent weapon with a good range and fair damage, there is no real need to swap around. As for the grenades, well... they are great! I would say, though, that due to the game's general difficulty (i.e. bloody hard for the most part!) a few more grenades would not have gone amiss.
And that is about it really. The three difficulty levels do not appear to do much more than make the soldiers tougher (not in intelligence, but where one bullet would suffice on the easy level you will need two for the medium level), while the six levels are progressively more busy and generally nasty.
As for whether you are getting twenty six quid's worth of value, well... that is really down to how much you personally go for 'bread and butter' arcade games. My personal advice would be to give Watchtower a go, because while it ain't Earth-shattering, it is not at all bad.