Tetsujin: Iron Angel of the Apocalypse is commonly referred to as a first person shooter and was released for the 3DO in early 1994. Developed by Synergy Inc, it also purports to be “An Action Role-Playing Movie”. Yep, you can cross that one of your 1990’s Gaming Cliche Bingo Card if you have it. This raises an important question. Can it be both of those things or does it fall somewhere in between? That is presuming you know what an “Action Role-Playing Movie” actually is.
You are Tetsujin, the “ultimate killing machine”, whose creator has gone a bit bonkers and wants to destroy humankind which he feels is now inadequate and has failed to reach a higher plane of development. Not sure what criteria he was looking at but there you go. He created you to complete this task but for some reason, you’ve decided to stop him. There is a rather well produced intro movie that mixes a lot of early CGI with some video clips of the mad scientist that should explain the story more fully – but really doesn’t. At first, I just thought he wanted me to pop up to his lab on the top floor of the building the game is set in to have a chat, not stop his plan of world destruction. After nearly six minutes of this (this is obviously part of the “movie”experience), you then set off to cover thirty levels where you’ll pick up a total of five weapons the game so graciously permits you to have: the Runt Gun, the Big Heat, the Gatling, the Bazooka and a secret weapon (spoilers, it’s a laser). Sounds fun, doesn’t it? Along the way, you’ll get into boss fights every six levels and endure what seems to be increasingly cheesy cut-scenes.
Now, I said this was a first person shooter, and technically it is, but it feels more like a maze game than anything else. You do get to shoot enemies, one or maybe two at a time, and it does have a first person perspective, but whilst navigating the levels, if you haven’t found the level map yet, you could spend an awful lot of time just wandering about not knowing where the hell you are. You could always make your own map as you go but that’s possibly taking things too far. Progression isn’t linear either – the first elevator you use can take you up two floors, but on the upper of those floors, you’ll find just a supply room – you then have to drop down a floor to progress. It pads the length of the game, it must be said.
Let’s talk about the graphics for a moment. As you can see, the display window is rather small, but you do get textured floors and ceilings. This was a bit of a bragging point with console games at the time. Enemies are varied, but not numerous, and there is little variety in texture design between floors. Not that this matters as the draw distance is dire. You’ll often see a wall with a black gap in it, only to move forward a couple of paces and find that it’s a door. Talk about pop-in. Same with enemies: you have to get close to see them, especially in some of the larger areas so it pays not to rush in, thereby slowing the pace of play even further. One good point about this is that the enemies seem to forget you once they are out of your sight. When you do find something to shoot, then it’s the frame rate that suffers. It could be limited animations for the enemies but even so, the already low frame rate tanks with objects on screen, to the point where I would say down to single-digit figures. That doesn’t help with aiming or shooting. Oh, and when shooting, if you are at certain angles to walls or an enemy, your shots don’t connect, wasting ammunition when the game doesn’t exactly give you much of it either.
That lack of speed continues over to the controls. Yes, you do have left and right strafe, and yes, you can change the control scheme slightly, but even then, they are unresponsive and frustrating to deal with. This gets worse, yes, even worse, when you realise that you have to be precisely straight when going through doors or around corners. If you’re not plumb when you hit that gap, you stop dead in your tracks. This is more than annoying when you’re being shot at. Pro tip here though: find the save points and use them wherever you can when you are about to leave a level. When you die (and you may die a lot), you only have two options: continue from a save point or re-start from the very beginning. It would have helped having more save points but you’re pretty much limited to one per level.
So with poor graphics and bad controls, what about the sound? Same story here. The sound effects are poor, limited in scope, and also tedious – in that when your ammunition levels run low, you get an alarm – one that does not stop until you find more ammunition. Traversing a confusing level (‘cos the walls all look the same) without a map with that screaming out of your TV is not conducive to having a good time. There is, however, a silver lining in that the music is suitably atmospheric and well suited to the game. Brooding as it is, it is repetitive though and you will tire of listening to it long before you finish the game. As to the style, think heavy industrial metal sound effects.
What this title does well is build an atmosphere. The emotive and quite well done movie sequences do give a noir-ish vibe. The music complements that very well and overall, it has a suitably Japanese madness about the tale. Thing is, people didn’t pay to watch the intro movie or be dazzled by video sequences (as much as some developers thought they might). Nope, the paying punter wanted to play a game, and what they got here was a very sub-standard and limited Doom clone that struggles on the hardware – though that didn’t stop a sequel being released in 1995. Reading the credits at the back of the manual really is enlightening – eight people are credited for the game creation, whilst twenty four(!) are listed for the video production. It’s a shame so much obvious effort went into the presentation of Tetsujin that they forgot to include a game, never mind an enjoyable one. Technically a first-person shooter, the game’s creators only got one word of their own description right: movie, but as for action and role-playing? Forget it.
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You can see what they were aiming for, but a mis-guided focus on style means there is little fun to be had playing this game.