G-Police

G-Police
4
Game Name: G-Police
Platforms: PlayStation
Publisher(s): Psygnosis
Developer(s): Psygnosis
Genre(s): Action shooter
Release Date: 1997
Notes: PSN download in the EU. Second hand elsewhere.

If you want me to buy your game, put some Blade Runner cities in the screenshots.  It is apparently the sweet honey bait needed for any effective J Man trap. Psygnosis, better known for their PSX space opera Colony Wars, released this similar flight-shooter title at almost the same time. Shortly after hearing of it, there was a me-shaped hole in the door of the local Funcoland, and an explosion of dollar bills from my wallet.

Offering support for the police convoy on the ground.

Offering support for the police convoy on the ground.

G-Police casts you as Jake Slater, a hotshot pilot looking into the mysterious death of his sister on Jupiter’s moon, Callisto. Callisto hosts a multi-domed colony with limited laws and heavy corporate influence. Keeping the peace (and the corporations in check) is the Government Police force – the very G-Police that Slater’s sister flew for. He works his way up the chain as a new officer, swings a transfer to Callisto, and arrives to quietly investigate the organization from the inside.

Gameplay has you putting in flight time as a patrolling officer.  You’ll fly a combination gunship/helicopter through the streets and urban canyons of the city, with warp tunnels connecting the various domed districts. Missions are usually either patrol or escort jobs, while local thugs and corporate mercenaries aren’t afraid to take the G-Police on head-to-head. The copious intrigue at work here (naturally going well beyond sis’ untimely demise) plays out through CG cutscenes granted between nearly every mission, and sometimes unfolds within the mission itself – pay attention to those briefings!

You have an excellent level of control over your gunship, with no physics restrictions on your turns and an effortless transition between hovering and flying. You can adjust your altitude to fly over the tops of most buildings, though most interaction happens with cars or structures on the ground, so you’ll eventually need to weave through some skyscrapers and traffic. The game can be played through either a cockpit view, or a handful of third-person cameras. You can look around the cockpit with the right stick if you have a DualShock, and you can watch your craft’s engines swivel based on your applied speed (much like an Osprey) in third-person.

Defeated enemies usually tumble from the skies before crashing dramatically.

Defeated enemies usually tumble from the skies before crashing dramatically.

Your weapon selection is robust, and expands as the game moves along. Missiles provide most of your force, with various balances between power and tracking ability. Targets are locked with the R1 bumper and tracked on the HUD. In a neat touch, locking objects also scans them, and some missions require you to look for contraband cargo and the like. Missiles have limited ammo, so an infinite cannon acts as your backup/small craft greaser. Certain missions will also outfit you with special ordinance. These range from bombs, to an EMP blast that shuts down fleeing vehicles, to a flare launcher that marks a location for ground teams to pull up in SWAT vans or patrol cars. The only disappointment is that you can’t select your loadout, but what is provided is always enough for that mission.

The future city look is pretty much nailed. Textures are appropriately grimy, with the occasional neon sign or video billboard providing contrast (and sometimes promoting real brands like Fujifilm or Diesel). Civilian traffic exists both on the ground and in the air. You can easily catch hovercars or advertising blimps in the crossfire, and while civilian kills are tracked to your save, it doesn’t seem to impact your progress. It’s not all city hubs either – outlying domes are dedicated to farming and mining, providing some appropriate variations in terrain. Mined canyons especially give you cover to duck into, and often feature destructible bridges that missions require you to either protect or knock out before ground forces can use them.

This taxi's just flown into a full-on gun battle.

This taxi’s just flown into a full-on gun battle.

Missions are generally varied and complex, but a radio dispatcher (and a big ol’ arrow on your radar) do well to keep you on track. It will be difficult to know what you’re supposed to do at a waypoint if you didn’t read the briefing, but that’s hardly a complaint. This dispatcher also allows for missions to go predictable awry, and provides a system to update you on changing objectives or alert you to incoming ambushes. A radar at the top of the screen does a fine job of alerting you to enemies or friendlies within your current dome, and the objective arrow always points you to the next warp tunnel in your route, so finding a path is never an issue.

The game’s greatest concern is a rather punishing difficulty that ramps up considerably as you go along. Your craft has armor than can only be repaired through extremely rare stations out in the world, or by retreating and using the one outside G-Police HQ. Missions have no artificial timer, but practical ones will usually keep you from doing this or cautiously inching ahead – you’ll have to rush to an area before a suspect escapes, or have to scramble ahead to destroy air defenses before unarmed police bombers arrive. Late game weapons such as lasers burn right through your armor, and while the controls are good enough to move and target without any issue, they’re not quite complex enough to effectively weave and jink out of the way of incoming fire.

Draw distance becomes a serious problem at altitude. You'll be traveling a sea of black.

Draw distance becomes a serious problem at altitude. You’ll be traveling a sea of black.

On the PlayStation, you’ll also have to contend with a draw distance that could best be described as “oppressive.” You’ll have about a block before things fade to black, with significantly reduced civilian traffic compared to the PC version. For pure gameplay, some smart resource management doesn’t make this much of an issue. You’ll always have enough time to see obstacles coming, and a combination of the radar, the locking ability, and some bright enemy engine trails means you’ll always be able to navigate and find your target. Aesthetically, though, the scenery feels like something you’re supposed to be only dimly aware of as you race off to your next objective.

It’s also surprisingly dark here. These screenshots aren’t altered either way. Like the draw distance, it rarely makes a difference in gameplay – though admittedly you’ll sometimes be reacting to and steering toward glimpses of motion rather than to any definite form. The distance does fade off better here than it does in the PC port, but everything else is soundly improved on the computer – if you can find it and actually get it to run, that is.

Overall, G-Police feels quite a bit like Colony Wars, which is certainly a compliment. Missions are varied and engaging, the flight model is easy to handle, and crowd-pleasing light effects and bright explosions are on full display. It is, however, perhaps a bit too ambitious for the PS1 hardware. I never found a moment where the graphics limitations made the game unplayable, but you won’t see any breathtaking vistas (or really, much of anything) here. Also, be prepared for some serious jumps in difficulty, which might mean you won’t be seeing Jack’s story through to its conclusion.

 

The Good

Looks nice when you can see it. Features many of the lighting effects that made Colony Wars stand out. Varied missions sustain interest. Craft are easy to control and attack with.

The Bad

Some very tough missions – even if you manage your own ship well, losing a lightly defended squad car can mean a restart. Disappointing draw distance.

 

2 Comments

  1. Yoda says:

    Sounds like an interesting game. Do you ever do missions that further develop the story or is it just government-issued missions?
    So many PSX games fell victim to the black fading, N64 with the fog. It was nice when they used it as an effect but more often than not it was annoying.

    • The J Man says:

      Nearly all missions advance the overall story. Usually the cutscenes advance the personal story (what happened to your sister) while the missions advance the conspiracy (what’s happening on Callisto), but there’s crossover.

      The fading was rough, but I think they handled it better than the PC version. What little I played of it saw a fair amount of popping. But then, the PC version excels everywhere else: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TMoXhssu8_k

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