Anyone who was born circa 1980 or bought Midway’s recent Arcade Classics 2 package may remember NARC, a game about a couple of ultra violent DEA enforcers that are out to clean up the streets. It was a game that epitomized the “just say no” attitude of the late 1980s, yet retaining the satisfying over-the-top violence games (especially those from Midway) possessed at the time. Here we are fifteen years later and how times have changed. After countless classic game remakes, some good and some bad, its NARCs turn to get a facelift. Does NARC shine with other remakes like Ninja Gaiden or does it flounder with the likes of Pitfall Harry in the proverbial Surreal Life of game characters that are better left in the past? Well, let me just go on record to say this game is awful. While the classic game was a tad weird, it was at least enjoyable to play. NARC feels like a rushed cash-in on an old name; couple that with the stupidest gimmick this side of BMX XXX “look, you can use drugs!” and you’ve got a game that isn’t worth the $20 price tag that’s stuck on it. Midway’s latest remake should be prefaced with 50cc’s of heroin before you get any type of enjoyment out.
You play the part as a couple of bickering narcotics agents named Marcus Hill and Jack Forzenski who get paired up after Jack kicks a drug addiction that got Marcus’s career, as well as aspirations for the future, tarnished. The cause for their loving reunion is a new drug that has trickled onto the streets and it is up to them to get to the source and ultimately stop the distribution of this deadly and highly addictive drug; all the while going back and forth like a couple that has been married for twenty years.
NARC employs some limited free roaming gameplay and puts you smack dab on the streets of a bustling city. The game is mission based, but you can also wander around and bust drug dealers, drunks, hookers, and other wrong doers in between missions. You pick up missions at the police station and they can get lengthy. You can reach checkpoints when objectives are completed during missions that can help with the frustration of having to do missions over again. Some mission objectives are outright ridiculous and some of the game’s scripting issues tend to get in the way – as if you’re walking on eggshells not to mess up and fail the mission. One such point had me dealing with a group of corrupt cops; after taking a hit off their pipe, I was supposed to talk to him again. I accidentally bumped into one of his friends while trying to get the “talk” option to appear over his head, resulting in the group pulling their guns on me and failing the mission.
In addition to the missions that help further the story, you’ll also get special assignments that will have you taking down meth labs or snipers that prey on the innocent. While these help to prolong an otherwise short game, it all feels like busy work in the end and doesn’t add much to the overall game.
Depending on where you are in the story, you’ll play as wither Marcus or Jack; though once you’ve played one, you’ve played them both. The only difference between the two is the fact that Marcus carries assault and sniper rifles while Jack carries handguns and shotguns.
One element that is all the rage nowadays is that the game proclaims you have the option of walking the line as a good cop, or crossing it as a bad cop. This is true to an extent, being that you can confiscate drugs from junkies that you bust and deposit them at the station, or you can save them for your own use or sell them for some extra cash. Your actions affect your reputation or badge rating and if it falls below a certain level, you’re demoted to a beat cop and have to earn your respect again. This seems to defeat the overall purpose of being totally bad, as you’ll always have to go back to the side of good in the end. Along the same lines (ha, see the pun?) one element that can’t go without mention is the fact that you can use the drugs that you pick up off of the random junkies that you bust for your own use. Each drug offers special abilities, though you’re always at risk to get addicted. Pot will give you a bullet time ability, speed makes you move faster, acid makes everyone look like bobble heads and bad guys stand out as devils while innocents look like jesters, and so on. While the effects of the drugs are impressive, they lose their novelty after a couple of tries. Once you’re addicted, you have to fight the addiction through a meter system. These tend to show up at the worst times, like in the middle of a gunfight or chasing down a perp. While this does show the dark sides to drug use, it’s a far cry from the anti-drug message that the classic game bearing the NARC name carried.
Though the game has free roaming gameplay, you tend to feel like you’re in a box rather than an expansive city. The cities you’ll find yourself in lack any real detail aside from the wandering pedestrians flooding the streets. There are always large amounts of characters onscreen, and due to this they all lack real detail. You’ll see the same girl in the pink jacket over and over again, as well as the same drunk, junkie, or break-dancer. Textures on buildings are bland, blurry, and do nothing towards making the shoebox city any more real.
The only outstanding quality with NARC is the sound. The game has a decent list of voice actors including Bill Bellamy (Fastlane), Michael Madsen (Reservoir Dogs) and Ron Perlman (Hellboy). All of them do a great job with breathing life into the stilted marionettes that represent them. The game also has a great soundtrack featuring a number of exclusive hip-hop tunes for the game as well as some drug-influenced licensed music such as Curtis Mayfield’s “Pusherman” and Cypress Hill’s “Hits from the Bong”.
In the end, NARC seemed like a great idea, but ends up feeling unfinished and sloppy. The combination of bad visuals, an annoying camera, awful controls, bugs, and lack of anything to do in the free roaming environment make NARC a ho-hum shooter with a couple of poorly executed gimmicks going for it.
- Brad Hicks (aka Dr. Swank), SwankWorld Media