I nearly started this article with an Operation Wolf From Gladiators joke, because what's funnier than pantomime villainy from a fitness-based Nineties gameshow? Then I remembered that I'm old and British and I should not assume the VGJunk audience falls into that same category. If you want to insert your own "Wolf from Gladiators" joke, feel free. Otherwise, I'll just tell you that today I'll be looking at Taito's 1994 arcade lightgun title Operation Wolf 3!
The number three in the title probably tipped you off, but in case you're really hung-over or still coming round from some major anaesthesia, Operation Wolf 3 is a sequel. The two preceding games, Operation Wolf and Operation Thunderbolt, are both Rambo-tinged, military-themed rescue-the-hostages affairs, but by the time the mid-Nineties arrived kids had grown bored with tales of heroism lifted straight from the jungles of Vietnam or where-have-you: this was a modern, urban age and so the threat was changed from military dictatorships to international terrorism.
The terrorists call themselves "Skull," which is simple, to-the-point and much catchier than names like Al-Qaeda or the Real IRA. It tested much better than "Islamic Jihad" amongst white males aged 18-30, and that's the key demo for any terrorist group.
As you can see, Skull have occupied "some island." It's not important which one. Our heroes will figure it out, they're willing to go door-to-door if that's what it takes.
Skull's island fortress better be somewhere sunny, because there's no way these guys are taking off those sunglasses unless it's as a precursor to a quip-strewn lovemaking session with a rescued and grateful hostage.
Hornet and Queen Bee are part of the Gun Metal Army, and while yes, they also sound like a terrorist group they're apparently some kind of eusocial-insect-themed paramilitary force. I really hope their boss is called "King Termite". Those two agents are tasked with wiping out Skull, a mission which they will accomplish by shooting lots of people who pop up from behind the scenery and take pot-shots at them. This is an arcade shooting game, after all.
Something that I always enjoying seeing: utterly redundant "How To Play" screens from arcade gun games. Look pal, the cabinet's got a gun attached to it, if you can't figure out what you're supposed to do with it then I think you're going to need more help than just a picture featuring the word "SHOT" and an arrow pointing to the trigger.
The action begins! Yes, Operation Wolf 3 has digitised graphics and yes, they have aged about as well as a dead fish hidden down the back of a radiator. Normally I'd advocate looking beyond the graphics and judging a game on the gameplay, but this is a point-and-fire arcade gun game. It's shallower than a straight-to-video action flick starring Stone Cold Steve Austin. Some exciting, interesting graphics could have been one of its selling points, but thanks to the digitisation process it's ugly, murky and occasionally indecipherable.
So, OW3 works exactly as you'd expect: move your crosshair over the enemies - the game uses positional guns rather than true light guns - and pull the trigger. Continue until all the enemies are dead.
Here I seem to have made a grievous error by shooting a member of pioneering post-punk band Devo. Between the Devo lookalike and the hostages that show the usual level of shooting game self-preservation by jumping in front of your crosshairs and shouting "Don't shoot!" I think OW3 presaged the release of this song by almost a decade.
Terrorist Mark Mothersbaugh up there did at least have the good grace to drop a box of .44 magnum rounds when I killed him. Shooting them will give you slightly different bullets, but I have to be honest and say I didn't really notice any difference in power. Most enemies are defeated in one or two shots anyway, and the game's slightly unusual reloading system means you've always got plenty of bullets at your disposal. Your gun fires continuously as you hold the trigger, but when your ammo runs out it switches from rapid-fire to plinking out one round every second or so. To reload, just release the trigger for a nanosecond and your uzi - because let's face it, no matter what it's firing in this kind of game the gun is always an uzi - will be instantaneously reloaded. That's about as interesting as OW3's gameplay gets, but I'm sure you'll stick around for the rest of this article because how else are you going to find out what happens to Hornet and Queen Bee?
The first stage takes place in a factory, by the way. What does this factory make? Nothing, as far as I can tell. There're not much you can make with some steel piping, a couple of lorries and two oil drums. A really bad obedience course for a dog you don't like, maybe.
We're not told much about their aims and motives, but something that Skull definitely isn't opposed to is brightly coloured jumpsuits. One poor Skull trooper has been forced to don the Red Jumpsuit of Shame and is slowly winched across the screen, dangling by one arm, a helpless target. His crime? Suggesting that maybe the name "Skull" isn't quite as badass and intimidating as the leadership thinks it is and shouldn't we have, I dunno, a manifesto or something?
A blatant lie. There is no super weapon. Super weapons are things like skyscraper-sized battle robots or orbiting space lasers. Helicopters are not super weapons.
The boss is a coy helicopter that spends much of the fight hiding coquettishly behind the buildings, emerging periodically to launch missiles at you. As ever in this situation - you know, the situation where air-to-ground missiles are mere inches away from your face - the only way to avoid damage is to shoot the missiles, causing them to explode in the air before they can hit you and explode, because apparently that extra three feet of distance makes all the difference.
The cockpit is the weak point, but you can also destroy the rocket pods to make your life a little easier. That counts as a gameplay feature, right? I know I'm reaching, but this battle just isn't all that interesting and I don't know enough about helicopters to furnish you with interesting facts about my opponent. Let's just hurry along and assume I destroyed it quickly and with the minimum of fuss.
Stage one clear, and the stats are in: I did 1457 shoots but only 28% of my shoots did a hit. That seems poor, but I think it's rather unfair to evaluate me on my accuracy when the only weapon I have is a rapid-firing machine gun with a loose trigger. I'm set up for maximum hot lead saturation, not precision. It's like judging an artist's paintings by the number of brush-strokes they used, and frankly I think "number of microseconds between each terrorist I gunned down" would have been a much better metric for evaluating my combat proficiency.
A extra scene, huh? Maybe it'll be some target practise to help me get my woeful accuracy rating up, ha ha.
Oh. Oh. I didn't actually think it would just be a target range, but Operation Wolf 3 has assessed my marksmanship and it has been found wanting, hence this shooting gallery filled with clay pigeons, pop-up targets and, erm, milk jugs? The jugs and the forest setting give the whole thing a redneck-y kind of feel, as though when Hornet's not a terrorist-busting secret agent he's just a down-home country boy who spends his time shootin' critters on his back porch.
Stage two takes place on a highway, and I'm beginning to develop a theory that Operation Wolf 3 was created solely to showcase the collection of truck photos curated by one of the developers.
Having your soldiers dress in radiation-green jumpsuit and stand out in the open might seem like a counter-intuitive strategy, but there is method in Skull's madness because I was so busy feeling sorry for the Human Target over here that I failed to notice the helicopter lurking in the background.
There's a tank on the highway! That's a pretty fearsome opponent, what with the impenetrable armour and the big gun and all. Hopefully by shooting it a few times with this shotgun I collected I can cut it down to size and make it a less menacing opponent.
Yes, it's definitely less menacing now it has become the Fisher-Price "My First Mobile Armour" version of its former self. It's the tank equivalent of a unicycle, and unicycles are only threatening when there's a clown perched on top of them.
The boss is an armoured car, and the only real difference between this and stage one's boss is the colour of the projectiles - the armoured car fires orange balls at you that look like miniature suns. Unlike the real sun, you can destroy these projectiles by shooting them with your uzi. I feel that last sentence may have some redundant elements.
My favourite part of this boss fight is that you can't actually destroy the vehicle itself, you just have to damage it enough that the driver gets pissed off and opens the door, allowing you to shoot him. If only Skull had engaged the child safety locks, I'd still be trying to take this guy down now.
Stage three - the bafflingly-named "Hunt A Wasteland" - begins with a rare splash of character as this insouciant young terrorist calmly strolls into the line of fire and readies his weapon with an arrogant air. This didn't to anything to stop him getting shot, but I appreciated the effort. His street-punk looks seem at odds with the rest of Skull's boilersuited minions, and it got me thinking that OW3 is a few cosmetic changes away from being a perfectly acceptable RoboCop game. This in turn made me realise that there was never a RoboCop lightgun game (that I know of), which seems like one hell of a missed opportunity. If some enterprising soul wants to take this game, change the graphics a bit and make a "your move, creep" voice clip play every so often then RoboCop: The Gun could be a reality.
The boss is another helicopter. I know, it looks like a Harrier jump-jet but in practise it's the same as the first boss but with one extra gun to deal with.
The Tower of Them? Them who? Am I going to be fighting giant ants? I hope it's giant ants, I've seen enough boilersuits to last me a lifetime.
No, it's more boilersuits, in all the colours of the rainbow. It's like fighting your way through a new series of Power Rangers where the "teens with attitude" have powers based not on dinosaurs or wild animals but the local janitors' union. It's not even that interesting, because at least with the Mighty Morphin' Custodial Staff Rangers I'd probably get to fight a Megazord in the shape of a cleaning cart.
Because this is a tower, there's a scene with an elevator. Much like every beat-em-up ever, enemies continually appear in the lift until you reach the top of the tower.
Some members of Skull are a little hazy about how elevators work.
Finally, a super weapon that's not just a real-world piece of military hardware. What is it, you ask? Well, it's obviously a, you know, it's clearly one of those, erm, flying boxes that have guns on them. Yeah. One of those. A heavily-armed nutcracker, possibly. It can close its shell to protect the weak point that is mandatory on all terrorist vehicles, and it can spawn smaller robots to help it out through the mighty power of delegation while it zips around in the background. It's a difficult battle, because unlike my uncle Frank it rarely exposes itself, and it moves around really fast but with a bit of persistence and a continue or two I managed to crack open the tough exterior to reveal the fleshy innards.
Defeating the brain isn't enough to save the world, and the nuclear missile is fire. Fired, I mean. Look, this is a matter too urgent and too vital to worry about things like translation and proofreading.
Thus the final stage sees Hornet and Queen Bee chasing the nuclear missile - which was apparently launched from a horizontal position, which doesn't seem right but as I'm not a nuclear missile expert I don't feel qualified to pass judgement - through a forest while attempting to shoot it down. It's not an especially interesting stage. From a gameplay perspective, I mean: the idea that shooting at a nuclear warhead while you're close enough to read the writing on the side could ever be the best course of action is certainly interesting.
It doesn't take long to destroy the missile, because being a missile it can't really fight back, and once it's downed you've completed Operation Wolf 3.
Your reward is portraits of Hornet and Queen Bee that do nothing but make me wish this game had been in third-person because these guys are clearly far too cool to be hidden away where you can't see them for the entire game. Hornet's even smoking a cigarette! That's how you can tell if someone's cool, you know. Didn't your parents teach you that?
Part of me feels like I've been a little harsh on Operation Wolf 3. Sure it's basic and bland, but where can you go with the concept of moving a crosshair and pulling the trigger in order to keep it interesting? Well, for one thing you could have made it without the awful digitized graphics, because this game is grainier than a wholemeal loaf but not nearly as appetising. That aside, you could have implemented new weapons that actually change the way you play, or have some kind of shot-combo system, or interactive backgrounds, or something. You know what? I've changed my mind, I haven't been harsh on this game at all. It's extreme averageness is only disrupted by the ugliness of its graphics, so if you're looking for an arcade shooter of intense unoriginality then Operation Wolf 3 can fill that niche - just don't blame me if you're consumed by a murderous hatred of anyone wearing a jumpsuit.