I tend to divide currently released 8-bit titles into 3 separate categories. First one includes rather simple products developed by inexperienced coders and fresh designers, and usually features quite straightforward audiovisuals. They can obviously steal some of my playtime as long as the idea and concept behind them are interesting and addictive. The second category contains games created by more experienced programmers, and the results usually present higher professionalism in terms of solutions used, as well as much nicer fx. These titles are still not complex and can be rather simple in terms of mechanics but can be attractive due to the various advanced solutions put in place which make the entire concept highly playable.
Finally, the third category includes the titles that can be half-jokingly, half-seriously described as Triple-A, or ‘AAA’ (by definition these are games of the highest quality, with the highest development budgets, levels of promotion and an extensive advertising campaign). So what am I referring to while moving this concept back to our retro scene? I’m thinking of the greatest titles recently created, for instance Knight’n’Grail, that turned in 2009 the Commodore scene totally upside down some. Or Soulless, or the port of Prince of Persia, both being mind-blowing pieces of C64 software and turning into the top entertainers in our small Commodore world! Do not think, however, that I’m that picky to only demand the highest possible quality. Frankly speaking it’s quite opposite, but the releases of highest quality titles on C64 scene are still being considered in the categories of top events. They let us get back in time to the old good days, with magazines’ front pages featuring new productions and players discussing them vigorously all over again. Don’t get me wrong: simple, professionally designed games come out quite regularly, but the high-end titles, carefully planned and in production for months, are the drivers of the gaming scene. They keep our lovely 8-bit machines running at high speeds and don’t let them die out of boredom. I apologize for this lengthy introduction, but it’s all in order to finally move on with The Vice Squad, another great AAA title for C64!
The game’s announcement by Psytronik Software was a good sign that something great is coming up shortly. Psytronik is well known not only for polishing up their products, but in most cases also for focusing on highest quality releases. The game trailer posted on YouTube reveals everything I’m talking here about: the combined scenes of supercars street races (not sure if they were taken from existing clips or made exclusively for this trailer, but it doesn’t really matter after all) and in-game footage, all topped with well-composed background music by Linus. Intros like this one are not produced for an average game, but only for those ambitious titles, that are about to make an impact on a retro scene. Before going on with my review, I just recommend that you take a look at the official promotional video to get the first grasp on the mood we’re facing here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_54HXH-e8-o.
Okay, enough with this quality bar-rising introduction, let’s move on to the review itself. For us, the Commodore-users born in 80s, the word „Vice” is usually associated with both, an awesome piece of software used for emulating our machines, and with an American TV series call „Miami Vice”. The latter one mainly tells the stories of cops and drugs smugglers and distributors. And this is actually the direction we’re about to hit in the super-fast gameplay of The Vice Squad: as a cop named James Hutch we’re on a hunt of the ruthless local Mexican drug baron, El Guato. It’s a risky mission, as due to the high level of corruption in local police departments we can only count on ourselves and on our partner. El Guato is a highly dangerous individual and our cops have to use all possible means for winning the war and claiming back the city. To get you quickly up to speed with the gameplay, I will bring up the old good and still famous Spy Hunter title. The idea behind The Vice Squad is similar, although much fresher: the screen scrolls horizontally, the variety of in-game elements is much higher, and the audio-visual content is much deeper. Our car is always heading rightwards and your goal is to eliminate bad dudes’ vehicles, while trying to avoid and protect the civilians’ ones.
The entire game consists of nine separate missions, altogether giving us quite large variety of levels. Initially we’re about to get rid of a certain number of black, unmarked drug cars, but further missions bring us some fancy fights against heavily armored trucks, tanks or helicopters. Obviously, El Guato himself is personally awaiting us in the final mission to save the city: fighting against a stolen stealth bomber will be fun! The story nicely develops into an interesting adventure with ever rising level of hazard, and although it might not be a peak of diversity, every other mission brings up some more challenges to beat. Prior to the start of each mission we can watch the dialogue between our hero cops discussing next steps and tasks assigned to given level (by the way, very cool animation of their faces).
The game comes with a very pleasant and highly intuitive control scheme. Accelerating and slowing down smoothly reflects your joystick movements and make your drive a pleasant experience. It’s easy get up to full speed on wide and less crowded roads, but also to slow down on packed sections to skillfully maneuver between other cars. Our car is initially equipped with single standard gun, but can be easily powered-up with oil slicks, reverse fire, forward and reverse missiles and side beams. Single power-up is dropped after destroying 8 enemy vehicles during a single life. Additionally, at the end of each level we’re being awarded with a mission badge (gold, silver or bronze) depending on how well we performed with the civilian cars. Obviously, lower damage to civilians results in more precious badge.
The game features high quality audio-video: graphics can really impress with the finishing touch quality and large diversity. The number of vehicles we meet on our way is large, with all different kinds of cars, vans, motorbikes and trucks. In addition to this, we obviously fight against enemy baron’s fleet of various military vehicles, on top with tanks, planes, and helicopters. Separately to foreground sprites, I also send a big praise to the background graphics: it’s colorful, full of details and most importantly – very diverse. Each single mission not only consists of a different color palette, but also of different approach on roads, buildings, obstacles, elements of the environment, you call it. There are obviously some recurring objects in the subsequent scenes, but after all this is not something that can be avoided in a large, but sill 64 KB productions. All of these are wrapped up with an extremely good scrolling – so smooth, that High Speed Pursuit Syndrome was mentioned on RGCD website as a possible consequence of too much of the playtime. The music and in-game sound effects nicely correspond with fast-paced action and make every mission extremely enjoyable.
The Vice Squad was created by Achim Volkers (Programming and Design), Trevor Storey (Graphics, Concept, Design & Box/Poster Artwork) and Sascha “Linus” Zeidler (Music, Player & Sound effects). There are obviously some more folks listed down in Credits but I’m not going to mention all of them over here. The final product, available on beautifully designed disks and tapes, was released by Psytronik Software back in December 2013. Another amazing work has been delivered by RGCD (Retro Gamer CD) by preparing a Cartridge version. The game was tested on C64/C128/C64GS in PAL system, but NTSC users report that it’s still playable, obviously accepting occasional slowness and refresh glitches. Nowadays the game is also available for free digital download from the BinaryZone.org website: http://binaryzone.org/psytronik/ViceSquad_Download_2013.zip. In my opinion it was a nice player-focused decision, as the game already turned one and whoever planned on purchasing the Premium editions had probably already done that. The remaining players can now try it as well, so the awareness and product visibility has been definitely increased.
Finally, The Vice Squad can be considered to be the 80’s police action movie tribute. So if you’re often getting back to your childhood times and still miss the uncountable hours spent in front of your TV set watching films about cops and villains, road chases and street shootings, this is the game for you! The quality of work is high and it’s definitely worth to dive in and keep it in your C64 games archive.
You can download this game at psytronik.net