I really liked ESWAT in the arcade but unfortunately never had the chance to play it much because of distance. So when news of a Sega Genesis version of the game hit I was ecstatic. Little did I know that the home console edition of the game would only share the name as it is an entirely different beast altogether. In my opinion its better too.
An organization armed with new high tech weaponry names E.V.E threatens to take over the city. Officer Duke Oda, a rookie cop, vows to take them down but not before earning his stripes first. The Genesis version is missing the arcade game’s 2-player coop but let’s be honest, if the city were really in a pickle they should have had a whole division full of these bad boys ready to clean up the streets.
You know I never noticed the similarities between ESWAT and Robocop growing up. Both star protagonists who were ordinary police officers but through circumstance become something more. At least in this case Red Forman from that 70’s Show isn’t blowing your body into little chunks first.
The arcade game had more in common with Sega’s Shinobi than your typical action game. Ammo was limited, there was a time limit, and the level design was similar, featuring deliberate enemy placement in tightly scripted areas. This worked as a normal officer but in the suit its apparent the game was not designed for it. There was a slow build up to earning your stripes as you collared a few smaller criminals first. It made the promotion to ESWAT seem epic. But in practice the suit was incredibly lame. Cheap hits were hard to avoid and it was more of a hindrance than a help outside of its super cannon. Even the occasional special weapon did little to alleviate the heavily flawed gameplay.
The Genesis game is completely redesigned. Gone are the time limit and limited ammo and its place is a faster paced game. There are no more stacks of boxes to hide behind cover and the levels are wider and have an element of exploration. The first two levels are rough since you are so limited. You can only have one bullet on screen at a time and your life bar is very small. Thankfully the enemies you’ll face aren’t aggressive so it isn’t a complete slaughter although the boss battles feel like a war of attrition. It makes the upgrade to cyber officer that much more monumental and here it happens by the third mission.
The cyber suit has been overhauled and feels more bad ass. The machine gun is no longer the default but one of five subweapons you can carry and switch any time. It is joined by the pulse cannon, which charges automatically, the rocket launcher and Fire, a single use screen clearing super move that uses up all of your burner fuel. Your after burners allows you to super jump, hover, and even fly around for a brief period. The meter recharges over time limiting its use.
The game truly picks up once you gain the suit as most standard enemies are replaced by robots and mechs. Despite the increase in action there is a decent amount of platforming involved, especially toward the end. To a degree I find ESWAT to be heavily reminiscent of Revenge of Shinobi. It’s ironic considering the arcade game was Shinobi in a different skin. Both contain the same mix of action and platforming and feature similar level design as well.
Speaking of level design I think ESWAT doesn’t get enough credit for the degree of variety in the game. Mission 3 is a war zone in an open field but is followed up by a slow crawl through a bio lab where the mad scientist’s creations run wild. This is followed up by a mad chase in a robotics factory where you’ll really get to put your after burner to extensive use. Hell I even enjoyed the sewer level and those are usually the god damn worst! The last level I do feel tries to be a bit too clever in its design and can be incredibly frustrating with the numerous cheap hits you can’t see coming but not enough that you will hate the game.
Although it is a better designed game ESWAT still has traces of its arcade difficulty. Regardless of how overpowered your weapons are you are still a dude in a bulky suit and you will take some unavoidable hits. Some levels are particularly difficulty such as mission four and can sap your lives pretty quickly. Death comes at a high cost as whatever weapon is currently equipped is lost; technically you can switch back to the default gun but chances are you won’t have time. Weapon drops are not frequent meaning dying here is almost as bad as death in a shooter. You’ll certainly spend a decent amount of time with this before seeing the end credits.
It has a few issues but otherwise ESWAT is a solid action game and one of the better titles for the system in that window before the Genesis received real third party support. It makes a great appetizer after you are done with Gunstar Heroes and Contra.