Jean Claude Van-Damme is no stranger to film video game crossovers, having played Guile in the live-action Street Fighter film, but compared to other 90’s action icons like Stallone and Schwarzenegger, his video game tie-in ratio is pretty small with only a Universal Soldier game, which was simply a conversion of an already existing game called Turrican 2, and Timecop. Licensed games, especially in the 8-16 bit era, were known for their poor, cash grab quality and Timecop certainly oozes this as well. However Timecop is such weirdly bad game that it’s almost mesmerizing to the point of recommendation, in fact, I’m not sure if words can even describe this game accurately.
From the cover you could almost assume it’s not based on the movie but in the comic story the film is based on that appeared in the Dark Horse Comics anthology series, but upon booting up the game it clearly is based on the film and serves as a sequel instead of a retread. I could provide a recap of what exactly the plot of the game is, but I ceased paying attention to the scrolling text the second I was shown the game’s “villain”:
Timecop was one of those games that tried to emulate the style of games like Mortal Kombat where a digitized action was used as a character, which is funny now that I think about it considering the fact that MK was initially envisioned as a game about Timecop’s leading man. This style worked for Mortal Kombat where you only had to manage a one-on-one fight, but when this technique was applied to a 2-D side-scroller, the results were never good: Batman Forever, Mortal Kombat Mythologies: Sub-Zero, really take your pick, and Timecop doesn’t buck that trend. The best thing I can say about the graphics is that the player character looks like Van Damme, somewhat, but everything else is laughably terrible. When you move and then change directions for any reason, like to doge an attack or grab a pick-up, it can only be described as if you were running out the door because you were late and then forgot something in your house. Watch your character jump in the air and perform a mid-air dance that looks like it was stolen choreography from a Vanilla Ice back up dancer.
The game is primarily an action plat-former where your tasked with running, jumping and fighting enemies in a maze-like environment until you reach an exit while you race against a time limit. I’m not sure what’s really worse, Timecop’s graphics, or its gameplay. The controls for movement and jumping are incredibly slippery and enemies, having not mastered the ability to either crouch and attack, can be easily jumped over instead of fought. You can punch, kick, shoot if you have ammo and fire a screen clearing bomb, but nothing is as effective as jumping over an enemy and moving on. This is one of those games where enemies keep coming back no matter how many times you kill them, so there’s no incentive to fight them at all. It certainly doesn’t help that your opposition has about twenty frames of animation total and might as well say “I’m going to shoot you now” as they slowly lift up their fire arms.
What makes things even worse are stages where the plat-forming is eliminated altogether and you have to get from one end of the stage to the other. These levels require a lot more action with additional ammunition provided for your gun, something you otherwise never use, but your character is positioned too far to the right when moving, giving you little time to avoid goons shooting at you from windows. The saving grace is that this game is very generous on giving health and your lives roll over with a high enough score. Starting you this game feels like one of those impossibly bad ones, but really it’s just bad, and can be beaten in under an hour without continuing with very little practise.
Where all the flaws in the gameplay are compounded is in second area where the game tries to change itself up the most. This iis the game’s underwater stage where in the first part you’re in a scuba suit and can only shoot enemies, in one of the few stages where you have to. You can’t crouch at all and enemies come in two varieties: other people in scuba suits that fire shots at you that you can’t duck under, only hilariously moon jump over, and octopi that only spawn when you walk over them or behind scenery where you can’t see them. They also have the nasty habit of hovering around your knees just below the range of your gun when you can’t crouch and even the odds.The second part of the underwater stage transforms the game into a horizontal shooter where your behind the wheel of a submarine that takes up the majority of the screen. Here you have to keep shooting octopi that are coming at you, but as your vehicle takes up most of the screens real estate, it just makes what should be a fun diversion pretty awkward.
Above all else though, even with the odd graphics and bad controls, this game doesn’t do much with the concept of being a cop who travels through time. You start in the future and go back to eras like the 1940’s and 20’s, but other than a few enemies in gangster outfits, you never get a sense of place. That also applies when you go even further in the future where everything just looks run down and the enemies just change to 90’s version of future criminals, which of course is mohawk clad punk rock rejects.
Cryo Interactive, those who also bought us the awful but oddly hypnotic Hellboy: Asylum Seeker, had a way of making a game that is by no means good, but also something you almost want to check out. There’s nothing good about Timecop: the graphics make characters look and animate strangely, the play control isn’t tight and little is done with the simple concept described in the title. That all being said, I would almost recommended you experience this game in some way just to see it and feel it for yourself, but I wouldn’t want anyone to go out of their way to do so, nor spend a lot of money to play it.