Vice: Project Doom

  • Released on Jan 16, 1991
  • By Sammy for NES

Vice: Project Doom review
Video gaming is my vice and work is my project doom


While old school sidescrolling platformers can be a lot of fun to play through, there aren't a lot that deal with mature themes. Most of them, especially on the NES, just revolve around saving the princess or saving the world. At least they're aware of this, because there also seems to be a lack of any real in-game story. Vice: Project Doom is a subversion of this fact as there are not only cutscenes (well, still shots with text, but same thing really), but it also deals with some rather gritty themes that are reminsicent of Blade Runner. This isn't the first NES game to do this – Ninja Gaiden was, but Ninja Gaiden has an unfairly hard last world where you'll be lucky to see the resolution of its plot. At least with this game, you just need actual skill and reflexes to achieve a climax.

So what is this big bad story all about? Well, it's not quite about saving the world. It starts off with a couple of people inside a building acting like the city is in their hands, but they're apparently missing a test subject, so one of them heads out to look for it. Meanwhile, our main man, Hart, is alerted of a maniac loose on route 246. Cut to the end of the car chase, and the driver doesn't appear to be human. His hand is more like that of a werewolf's, and his gun looks like something out of a science fiction movie. From there, you'll be tasked with investigating this strange occurrence. This seems like a typical game nowadays, but for an NES game even back in 1991, there's a lot of intrigue in this game's story as there are a fair few twists and turns that'll take you by surprise. Even though the cutscenes seem brief by today's standards, it digs into what's going on. It doesn't exactly develop the characters or anything fancy, but it gives you what you need and does so in a way that still feels like you're getting a lot out of the story. Color me impressed – it's not a Shakesperean work of art or even Metal Gear Solid, but it's most definitely a step up from what's expected out of an NES game. The ending is especially well done.

Oooh burn!

To start off the game is a shoot em up level in Hart's car. You'll be able to speed up or speed down, depending on whether you want to fly like the wind or slow things down so you don't get destroyed. But above all else, you can shoot up rogue vehicles or obstacles before having to fight the big bad maniac's vehicle. The starting mission isn't the only time you get to use your car, but they go by the same principle. Overall, these are a lot of fun as there's always stuff to shoot down and, although it's not a bullet hell shooter, there's plenty of things that can take you down. Your car can take multiple hits, which might make it sound lobotomized when compared to the likes of Gradius, but you'll be grateful for them when you get to some of the harder parts.

At its core however, Vice is a sidescrolling platformer. You'll run, jump, slash, shoot and make things go boom as you progress through most of the game's 11 levels. You're only given a limited amount of bullets and grenades, though you can find replenishments throughout the game. Like the shoot em up segments, there'll be plenty of enemies to take down and it'll be up to your reflexes to take them down. That's not to suggest that this is a lazily designed game that only relies on trial and error because while enemies come at a fast rate, they're not coming at you at like a million miles per hour so they give your reflexes realistic expectations. Some rush at you and others prefer to hit you from a distance, but you can do the same thing with your arsenal of weapons. It's about finding the best course of action against what you're given. Same with the bosses – they're given simple enough movement and attack patterns for you to analyze and gauge whether to use your sword, gun or grenades while still giving you an adequate amount of challenge.

Sometimes, you'll be put into a first person view, and it's on rails like those old school arcade shooters (ie. Terminator 2), so the only thing you can move around is the crosshair. It is a bit slow and rigid though, so things can be a bit tricky to get the hang of, especially when you get bombarded by enemies. Thankfully, you are given a few grenades to clear enemies off the screen, but they're not infinite and are very hard to come across, so only use them in emergencies. Bullets aren't infinite, either. You'll need to make sure to hit your mark or you may find yourself a little empty, though there are some bullets to be found. There are two layers – back and front. Enemies up the front will do more damage, so they should be top priority. These have the potential to be just as good as the other two segments, but due to the crosshair's learning curve, eh, not quite. It's a shame because after getting the hang of them, they're actually reasonably fun. You're only given this mode of play twice, by the way, and enemies can and will pop up quite often, so you're not given much time to get used to them.

That's not a sword; that's a walkie talkie!

Remember that Blade Runner comparison I made? Well, it's not just in the story's themes; it's also in the aesthetics. It's dark and gritty without being monochromatic (am I right, modern military shooters). The use of techno noir colors helps it stand out and be exciting whilst giving you the impression of a city that's under the rule of something more sinister than meets the eye. It's especially evident in the first sidescrolling level – the city is bright with lights while everything else is dark, even the sky with its dark red clouds, and the cutscenes really manage to capture just the right atmosphere with its keen eye for lighting. Technically speaking, it's brilliant – each of the backgrounds, especially the city, are very detailed with just the right colors placed where they are, and yet, Hart and his enemies manage to stand out amongst the chaos, which truly goes to show what great art directors can really do with 8 bit graphics.

The soundtrack has a distinct noir atmosphere to it that you'd expect for a game like this. Just because the music is 8 bit, doesn't mean that there isn't always the feeling of intrigue and suspense. Again, the cutscenes manage to help it stand out atmospherically. Even though the songs during the cutscenes may sound upbeat, they have a very unnerving feel to them, like not all is as it seems. It doesn't quite extend to the in-game soundtrack – I mean, there is still that feeling of there being something strange out there that'll make things more interesting, but the general idea is to be as energetic as possible to compliment the high amount of action throughout. So overall, it has a great soundtrack with just the right atmosphere.

Vice: Project Doom receives a 9/10 for being fantastic platformer/shoot em up/first person shooter with a surprisingly compelling noir atmosphere in its story and aesthetics. While platformers were a dime a dozen on the NES, none stood out in the same way this game does. In-game stories, in and of themselves, were such a rarity that you'd be willing to pay your life savings for one, let alone a good one like this. Add to that a decent amount of variety in gameplay styles, all of which are executed well for the most part by being fast paced and challenging enough to maintain your interest, and you've got quite an NES game on your hands.

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