Winners don’t do drugs. The slogan adorned many an arcade for the best part of a decade and is rather apt for Eugene Jarvis and Williams’ hyper-violent run ‘n’ gun, NARC. After blasting its way to coin-ops in 1988, it arrived in unsuspecting homes in 1990, chased by a bunch of angry parents and holier-than-thou media outlets.
Playing as the pun-tastically named cop duo of Max Force and Hit Man, our heroes are assigned to Project NARC in an effort to bring down drug trafficker, terrorist and all-round bad man, Mr. Big. In the name of justice, automatic rifles and missile launchers are soon put to good use as the player initiates their own gun-based form of drug rehab.
Booting this up, we’re presented with a mission briefing screen displaying the mugshot of a new villain to be hunted down with scrolling text relaying the intel. The police scanner style aesthetic is reminiscent of Chase HQ’s interlude screens with them tying in well to crime busting theme
Blasting our way in to the first level, sprite work is competent if unrefined and scrolling relatively fluid. The colour scheme is a mixture of garishness and dark browns or greys. Dependent on what level your scum shooting antics are taking place in, the graphics can devolve into a bit of a muddy mess, as can be seen during the subway stage.
Our protagonists walking and shooting cycles are competent if slightly Benny Hill-esque. Enemies follow this blueprint and to break up the monotony of the trench coat wearing drug dealer that you will be dispatching in their 100’s, a new target is introduced in most levels. These include serial concrete thrower and headbutt specialist, Joe Rockford, and a knife-wielding maniacal clown called Kinky Pinky. More about him later.
Enemies drop a variety of items and while the scattering of scorched limbs doesn’t happen as frequently as the Amiga version, the amount of carnage displayed on-screen is quite impressive as bullets spray around with ease. This does lead to the odd slow down when the screen is extremely busy but happens few and far between.
Projectiles are a little weak and firing off a rocket is disappointedly displayed as a hail of bullets in the C64 version, robbing the weapon of a bigger sense of impact as junkies explode into small chunks. Nice little touches such as the perps placing their hands behind their back during arrests are undermined slightly as a successful detention jettisons them into the sky like Mary Poppins. But as a faithful recreation of the arcade, graphically this C64 port is relatively successful.
As you clean up the streets, you’ll have the option to either play with sound effects or music. Tackling the effects work first, they’re quite poor with gun fire, drones and bleeps that would be more at home in a space-themed shooter.
The speech samples have understandably not made it to the humble machine and neither has the variety of in-game music. What is present is a composition from Paul Tonge that does capture some of the arcades essence but does begin to grate after it loops back around after a couple of minutes. The short duration of levels and mission briefing screens break up the repetitiveness but unfortunately the lack of samples and variety means the game does lose some of its original charm.
Move, shoot and repeat pretty much sums up the gameplay loop in NARC. Navigate side-scrolling levels, taking out the walking crime waves and the occasional rabid dog is all you need to know. But this simplicity is not necessarily bad thing at all, if executed well, as Eugene Jarvis’ games have shown.
Controlling our gun-toting heroes is slightly convoluted. Pressing fire repeatedly unleashes the automatic rifle while holding and releasing fire launches a rocket. Moving across the different planes feels responsive as does holding fire and tapping up on the joystick to jump. However, having to press Shift or control to crouch, a necessity to take out the canines, is extremely awkward and more often than not gets you into trouble. It takes a small amount of shine off some quite satisfying shooting mechanics and feels punishing in a game where you need to be constantly mobile with an itchy trigger finger.
There are no power-ups and ammo is finite. But certain levels will give you the chance to jump in Porsche and mow down the hordes with impunity. Running out of bullets means your machine gun rate of fire reduces significantly. Shooting or arresting enemies normally results in drops of drugs, cash, ammo or rockets but later levels are significantly meaner in the amount of loot dropped.
With 12 levels of increasing difficulty on offer, they all play very similarly – kill enough enemies for a pass card to appear and move onto the next area. There is one level that gives the illusion of multiple exits, but this is superficial at best. The villains introduced provide a sterner challenge than your standard fodder but their AI feels quite imbalanced. Spike Rush throws syringes around like he’s at an Amy Winehouse flat party and the clown, Kinky Pinky, proves impossible to get away from if allowed to get too close, resulting in what can only be described as a group of them shagging you to death. NARC is definitely a challenge despite the help of a continue system and the two-player mode will have you fighting over those precious resources, providing a slightly competitive edge to co-op.
Upon release, NARC was received pretty well and it’s not hard to see why. It manages to put the carnage and fluidity of the arcade version into a competent audio and graphical presentation, with Bob Wakelin’s tremendous cover art probably helping shift quite a few copies by itself.
FOR THE FULL REVIEW, INCLUDING ADDED TRIVIA ABOUT THE GAME, WATCH THE VIDEO BELOW
NARC will prove a suitably shallow yet fun distraction. It revels in its hyper-violence and makes no apologies – and it’s all the better for it. The C64 version is a good port of a pretty average arcade game. It’s excesses propel the novelty value and makes it a worthwhile experience, all in the name of upholding the law.