Vice: Project Doom
For much of the NES generation, developers were still trying to figure out what, exactly, a videogame was. Before the NES, most videogames consisted of a single screen where players performed the same actions again and again in an attempt to accumulate a higher score. But with the arrival of Nintendo’s little gray box, and more specifically, Super Mario Bros., everything changed. There was still a score, but more importantly, there was now a goal. It wasn’t just enough to accumulate a million points; the player was also required to actually go to a specific point in the game’s world and accomplish a specific task. If the player did both of these things, regardless of his or her score, he or she could claim to have “beaten” the game.
The ways developers responded to this new development were fairly fascinating. Many essentially copied Super Mario Bros. verbatim, tossing players a wisp of story as an excuse for the protagonist to traverse a wide variety of environments and battle numerous bizarre enemies. Still others attempted to concoct elaborate adventures featuring a variety of play-styles that, more often than not, fell flat due to lack of programming skill and the limitations of NES-era technology.
By the time games like V.I.C.E.: Project Doom came along, though, some developers were beginning to find their feet and a style of game design was emerging that still practically dominates the console field today.
V.I.C.E.: Project Doom is, if nothing else, a game that is eminently comfortable with itself. When playing it, one cannot help but feel that the game is accomplishing exactly what it set out to do, which is to tell the story of Detective Quinn Hart via an action-platformer. While there is still a substantial amount of absurdity to the game, what with Hart laser-whipping jumping fish and throwing grenades at men with pumpkin heads, more than many other games on the system the gameplay is determined by the narrative. As a futuristic, Blade Runner-style detective, Hart dashes through run-down factories and chemical plants in the course of his investigation, blasting thugs and mutants as he goes. The game takes significant inspiration from the Ninja Gaiden series with its use of cutscenes that progress the plot in between each stage, giving the reasons why Hart must venture into each area, making them seem more like parts of a cohesive story and less like a series of disparate set pieces. It also has a handful of solid driving and shooting-gallery stages which help to establish Hart as a more rounded action hero instead of just a guy who jumps around on girders and whips things.
V.I.C.E.: Project Doom isn’t a particularly flashy game, and it’s been largely forgotten in the years since its release. Nevertheless its developers took the lessons of early NES games to heart and managed to produce a refined, confident title that contributed to the progression of the story-driven games we have today.