Midway's classic side-scrolling shooter, NARC, was a real one-of-a-kind game when it hit arcades in 1988. And really, it's remained unrivaled in its ability to have it both ways. As a pair of hyper-badass Jerry Bruckheimer-style narcotics agents, you would use a fascistic level of force against any and all involved in the drug trade, including dealers, junkies, and prostitute-killing clowns--you know, everyone. It was a giddily surreal take on Nancy Reagan's "Just Say No" mantra, and its absurd violence arguably paved the way for games like Mortal Kombat. All this manic fun is completely absent in Midway's modern remake of NARC, which comes off as a halfhearted third-person action game barely worth its budget price.
Where are my dumpster-hurling PCP addicts?
Though you're still out to bust up the bad guys, the brightly lit setting of the original NARC has been traded in for a darker, seedier attitude and more backstory. And it's fairly obvious the designers had their eyes on Grand Theft Auto the entire time. The game aims for the same moral ambiguity that will cause players to explore the finer interactions between pedestrians and baseball bats in Rockstar's criminal action series, but NARC doesn't have the actual goods to back it up.
The idea is that you can be a good cop or a bad cop, but it doesn't really work out that way. Alternating between two different cops (who play identically), you go on a series of missions to bring down a drug cartel, which usually involves shooting lots of bad guys or making sure specific good guys don't get shot. Along the way, you'll pick up an assortment of street party favors, including weapons, cash, and, of course, a whole galaxy of multicolored uppers, downers, laughers, and screamers. The good cop will turn in all the evidence, ensure the public safety, protect, serve, and all that. Meanwhile, the bad cop will add weapons to his personal arsenal and will either sell or use the drugs he confiscates.
Drug use is a central theme in the game, and the idea is that using drugs will give you an edge...but at the price of addiction. In a rather grotesque take on substance addiction, the game treats drugs like power-ups. Marijuana will slow down time but allows you to aim in real time, Ã la Max Payne. (Incidentally, NARC also makes Cypress Hill's "Hits From the Bong" or The Stranglers' "Golden Brown" play in your head while you're stoned.) LSD gives all pedestrians gigantic bobbleheads and makes the "bad guys" easily identifiable by giving them devil heads. The most beneficial, and thus, most addictive of the drugs is the fictional "Liquid Soul," which is basically like the super star for Mario, making you invincible and making all your attacks extremely potent. It's novel to check out the effects of the different drugs a few times, but their already-limited usefulness is hampered by a tedious inventory system that makes it unnecessarily difficult to go from using drugs to using guns.
Any of your illicit behavior will affect your "badge rating," and when your badge rating falls far enough, you'll be suspended and won't be able to take on more missions until you set yourself straight. The real rub here is that there's really little motivation to be a good cop. If you get hooked on dope, an easily acquired pill will free you of any monkeys that might be on your back. And if your badge rating gets too low, it only takes busting a couple of drug dealers, hookers, taggers, or muggers to get back into the chief's good graces. The process of identifying perps is pretty easy, especially for the street dealers, who are marked with the icons of the drug they're selling. However, the actual process of arresting them is needlessly contrived and convoluted, with a lot of button mashing and swinging power meters. It feels more like you're playing a golf game than a gritty crime game.