The year is 1953. The place, according to the intro at least, is "A big city somewhere". Well, that's helpful. Within this city are men of justice, heroes who fight to rid the generic city of crime - but not small crime, oh no. They've got much bigger fish to fry.
A gigantic crime, huh? Sadly, the gigantic crime was not whale smuggling or producing bootleg planets as I had hoped; instead, it's the grim spectre of organised crime that you'll be fighting against in Dead Connection.
Our heroes are galvanised into action after a woman is brutally gunned down by a cheerful psychopath with a cigar and a tommygun.
Pretty horrifying, I'm sure you'll agree. The man behind this heinous crime is a strangely familiar-looking Mafia boss named Don Nerozzia.
You come into this arcade on the day my shoot-em-up is to be released and ask me to give you some change in ten-pence coins. Don
With your target in place, it's time to pick a character:
A fine bunch of decent, upstanding law enforcement officers. You might even say that they're, I dunno, Untouchable or something. James has definitely got a Kevin Costner vibe going on there, and Philip is somewhat Andy Garcia-ish.
Sadly, there's no Sean Connery to keep us entertained with his eerily accurate Irish accent. It doesn't really matter which one you choose, because they all play identically, and once your character is selected the game begins. Your character walks into the lobby of a swanky hotel, flashes his badge, tells people to put their hands up and then starts indiscriminately blasting away as his proud American heritage demands.
Dead Connection is certainly a shooter, alright: it has most in common with games like Smash T.V. in that it's a single screen shooter where enemies swarm in and you have to put them down with the variety of weapons at your disposal. The controls are fairly simple, although it sadly doesn't have the double-joystick system of Smash T.V. or Total Carnage. Instead, you fire in the direction that you're facing by pressing a button, and you also have a dodge button to help you avoid some of the lead being launched at your face. Pressing dodge while moving lets you do a diving roll, and pressing it while stationary makes you lie down to avoid gunfire and possibly catch up on some sleep.
One of the first things you will probably notice when playing Dead Connection is that the backgrounds are very, very destructible. First, have a look at the screenshot above, showing the first level in pristine, un-law-enforced condition. Now take a look at the same scenery at the end of the stage:
Extensive remodelling of the kind not often seen outside warzones. It might seem like a pleasant if ultimately pointless bit of graphical frippery, but it really does make the game more fun to play. That's partly down to the fact that destroying the environment can help you out by killing some of your foes. For example, on the first stage you can kick the statue down the stairs by standing next to it and pressing the dodge button, crushing any goons at the bottom beneath a vengeful lump of rolling marble. It's like Home Alone, really, except you also have to option to shoot people. You can hide behind things too, which makes a nice change from something like Total Carnage where your only defensive option is to kill everything before it fires at you. You even get a health bar, further negating the frustration of dying instantly because you got hit by that one bullet that you didn't see.
Once you finish a stage, you're treated to a nice bit of story involving all your favourite mobster cliches. I like the attention to detail demonstrated by showing the knotted bedsheets going out of the window in the background. To finish a stage, you have to defeat a set number of enemies; when there are only three remaining, three tougher-than-normal goons will appear to act as a pseudo-boss.
It's all terribly good fun, I have to say. Apart from Smash T.V., Dead Connection is probably the best shooter of this type around. The game mechanics are good, and the lack of instant deaths and the ability to dodge make it a much less frustrating proposition than most shooters. The sprites, while small, have a lot of character, and the destructible backgrounds add a lot more to the fun than you might think.
Stage two is set in a junkyard. There're exploding barrels and cars, and you can watch the sky turn from sunset to nighttime as you cower behind a pile of tyres, bleeding from a gunshot wound to the thigh. Once the stage is done, you threaten a goon into telling you where Nerozzia is hiding, which is in a restaurant.
Eschewing any notion of stealth, stage three starts with our hero driving his car through the windows at the front of the restaurant, with Dead Connection really going out of it's way to portray Federal agents as violent, semi-suicidal psychopaths who are more of a threat to the safety of the country than the Mafia. A nice touch here is that if you shoot the table, the candles fall over and set the whole thing on fire. After this stage, our heroes are kidnapped and bundled into a car. Who will save us now!?
Andy. Andy will save us. Thanks, Andy!
Stage four is set on the rainy city streets, and cars full of mobsters screech back and forth, trying to run you over. You can enter the building and head to the balcony, where you can knock the sign down onto your enemy's heads. Anyway, this stage is bound to be a breeze with Andy on our side! Isn't that right, Andy?
Oh dear. I personally thought that exclaiming that poor Andy "bit the dust" was nice and tactful. You know why Andy died? Because he wasn't wearing a hat. Shame on you, Andy.
With Andy quickly buried in a shallow grave at the side of the road, it's on to stage five: the warehouse. It's got everything you'd expect to find in a warehouse: conveyor belts, Mafia hitmen, crates. There's a switch on the wall that you can shoot to drop a crate that explodes, filling half the screen with fire; unfortunately, the epicentre is usually about three inches away from where you're standing.
What better way to relax after a fight in a grimy warehouse than with a genteel garden party? Well it was genteel until our heroes shot everyone in attendance and burned down the building. They're not anti-heroes, they're criminally-insane arsonists with a body count to rival the Black Death.
Continuing theme peaceful outdoors theme, the next stage is sent a park with a curiously British-looking red telephone box. Perhaps, in these tranquil surroundings, out heroes will rein in their bloodlust a little?
Oh no, they've drowned a man in the fountain. That's a shame. At least they're nattily dressed in their colour-coordinated outfits. Take note, Andy: hats. They could have saved your life.
The final stage takes place on an actual stage, in an opera house complete with destructible piano and curtains. The enemies here are tougher than before, and completing the stage without frequent deaths comes down to using the collectable weapons well. As well as your standard pistol, you can pick up a slightly more powerful handgun, a rapid-firing tommygun and, best of all, a shotgun that can take out multiple villains at once. Eventually, the Mafia runs out of soldiers and you've completed the game. Or have you?
Shock! It was an ambush all along! They don't look scared for their lives: they look more like they've been caught doing something naughty by a teacher and they're trying to keep straight faces while being told off. At gunpoint. By Marlon Brando.
Just when it looks hopeless for our heroes, an unlikely saviour arrives.
Miss D. E. Machina appears and shoots Nerozzia in the back. It turns out she's Andy's (understandably upset) girlfriend. Phew, thanks for the save, ma'am. I'm just sorry that in trying to save these lawmen you have stained your soul with an act of murder, condemning yourself to a life of crushing guilt for the rest of your days.
And that's Dead Connection: not a story about the sudden consequences of not paying your phone bill, but a really rather good arena-style shoot-em-up with a nice Prohibition-era setting (or at least it would be if it wasn't set in the 50's). I heartily recommend that you give Dead Connection a go: the action is fast and very fun, the graphics are detailed, the music is good and there's a nice range of (rather well done) digitised speech to enjoy. The only drawback I can think of is that it is very short: if your know what you're doing, you could probably complete it in around twenty minutes. Mind you, that might be a good thing for a lot of people. Ciao!