So my series on Rafaelle Cecco comes to an end (later than expected or, if you’re remotely realistic about my ability to get these things written on time, as late as expected) with one of his earliest games and also, arguably, his poorest: Cop Out.
Published by Cecco’s first employers, Micro Gen, in 1986 this is distinctly different from both his later titles and his other release for Micro Gen, Equinox (which I wrote about last year). Cop Out is a shooting gallery game with the player-character present on screen meaning that as well as aiming and firing at the various enemies he has to avoid their returned fire by running back and forth – quite similar, in fact, to the arcade game Cabal. But there, I’m afraid, the similarities fall out and decide it would be best for all if they went their separate ways.
Although the cover art, blurb and loading screen suggest a US-set, 1920s gangster atmosphere with their picture of a distinctly American cop flanked by two weirdly spectre-ish (not to mention rather hunched-shouldered) mobsters, the actual game is rather different. The first three stages (I couldn’t get any further) are a generic street, a generic North America desert and some kind of mansion house (nb I’ve just checked the map on World of Spectrum and later levels seem to be warehouses and train stations) none of which feel distinctly like anything from the early 20th century. The bad guys are a mixture of dreary and just plain weird – there are no fedora-wearing mobsters (unless you count the chaps who run back and forth and to me those look more like pork pie hats), instead we get men in boiler suits (?), 1980s hipsters in sunglasses, men in wide-brimmed Mexican-style hats, girls with their hair in bunches (?), birds (?) and various vehicles which can be shot for bonus points. Cop Out doesn’t feel like a war against the mobs of 1920s Chicago, it feels like a cartoon shooting gallery.
It’s not just the atmosphere that’s the problem, either. Whilst dodging the bullets requires some skill and keeps the player on their toes, the collision detection seems a bit off and the player-character has an annoying inability to shoot at regular intervals, instead just firing about five shots in succession before being unable to shoot for an annoying second or two which is as conduitive to enjoyable gameplay as it sounds. It also doesn’t help that there seems to be no goal to completing a level other than time – at first it looks like the player just needs to clear all the bad guys but on taking-out (say) the chaps on the second stage who look a bit like the Three Amigos they just regenerate. After a certain amount of time, apparently regardless of how many bad guys you’ve taken out or how much score you’ve clocked-up, you complete the level (in fact I just had a game there where I shot only about three bad guys and still finished the level so this theory appears to bear-out). This feature takes away any real sense of achievement and further diminishes the idea that you’re a lone cop taking on the bad guys – no “area cleared” just “well done, you lasted a couple of minutes”. Poor stuff.
Cop Out isn’t completely terrible, there’s some fun to be had and in 1986 this was probably an adequate arcade shooter for many of the kids who bought it but now its gameplay deficiencies really stand out. Cecco would go on, as we’ve seen, to produce some cracking titles for the ZX Spectrum but this really isn’t one of them.