Fighting Force (PS1) Review

Fighting Force is one of those games I have a fond memory of, but the experience has gotten a bit worse every time I’ve got back to it. STILL, I will say that at the time I saw reviewers complain that it was “just like the old school 2D beat ‘em ups” and give it a low score and go “Wait, just like the old ones?! Great!” I was worried at the time that the scrolling beat ‘em up was pretty much dead, and to be fair it was, but this was a nice ray of hope. Playing it in 2020? Well…

Background:

What is it with street fighting vigilantes and German suplexes?

Fighting Force was released for the PlayStation in October 97 in the US, November 97 in PAL territories, and January 98 in Japan (under the title “Metal Fist”, apparently) It was then taken across to the PC in the same year and the N64 in 1999, before ending up on the old PSN store in 2009 and 2011 in the US and UK, respectively.

The game was originally pitched as Streets of Rage 4 before being turned down by SEGA (infamously because the head of the company in the US at that point hadn’t heard of the Streets of Rage series, somehow…) and you can see that not just in some of the level designs, but the lead characters, with Hawk, Mace, Smasher and Alana are clearly Axel, Blaze, Max and Skate from Streets of Rage 2, with a different coat of paint (and a different gender and race for the teenage character…)

For the record, the sequel, Fighting Force 2, was not a scrolling beat ‘em up and was notoriously crap, even compared to the review scores this got at the time…

Gameplay:

Hawk uses a health-draining special attack on two scantily clad women… Yep, this is a scrolling beat ’em up alright!

The gameplay, as the contemporary reviews said, is back to basics in the genre, with an attack button, a jump button, the ability to grapple foes (and throw them!) and a special move that depletes health when used. There are a lot of pick-up-able weapons in the game, from simple coke cans to classic pipes, from car doors (and engines if you’re playing as Smasher) all the way to guns. There are also health pick-ups, of course.

That’s you’re lot, really! Due to its back-to-basics nature there isn’t a lot to talk about. There are branching paths, much like Streets of Rage 3 that this game was to be a follow up to, but other than that, a standard beat ‘em up affair. I’ll admit the actual fighting is very floaty, there is very little impact and actually aiming on your foe can be tricky sometimes. I obviously overlooked those things at the time through pure want of the genre to continue, but they are pretty obvious now, in hindsight.

As for clichés? Oh yes! Beyond the weapons and look of the levels there are scantily clad females and not one but TWO lift levels. There are also large, wrestler-like enemies, though they’re large muscular rather than overweight, but muscly wrestlers is also a common trope. There is also a level with weird bio-engineered lifeforms, which has appeared in this weekly breakdown far more often than I remembered…

Graphics and Sound:

That’s what these bodyguards deserve for doing the job they’re being paid to do.

The graphics are obviously blocky, a lot of the textures and lighting are very dull and muddy. It’s a PS1 game, basically, which in 2020 ain’t that pretty to look at, but at the time it was fine…

Sound is okay. Generic punchy sounds, generic background music, some regular “ughs” and “argh!s” when you hit and defeat opponents. It does its job, but doesn’t overachieve.

Story:

Let’s face it, this is what a real life vigilante would look like…

A criminal mastermind and weird conspiracy nut (deadly combination!) called Dr. Dex Zeng had been predicting the end of the world in 2000 for many years, and now we’re right at the end of 1999 and nothing has happened he’s taken it upon himself to make sure his prediction comes true. Hawk, Mace, Smasher and Alana team up and conquer Zeng’s skyscraper, only to find out the man himself has escaped and head to his private island HQ, leaving our quartet to battle across the city and the sea to reach him.

They do, and they kill the machine gun-toting baddie at the top of his island hideout. Yes, the final boss has a machine gun… As I said, Streets of Rage 4 was the original idea!

Thoughts Then:

Smasher’s massive arms are good for some stabbing as much as punching!

Back when it came out? Like I said, I LOVED it. Played through it multiple times by myself and with friends, having fun finding the different paths and such. I remember roughly ten years later me and my friend played it again and it was suddenly clunky and not as good as we remembered… Still, “Then” as in when it came out? A high score it gets…

Thoughts Now:

Let me see… I think I slid into an enemy and an exploding crate at the same time. I think that’s what’s happening here…

Sadly the game doesn’t hold up in 2020, and not just the poor muddy graphics. Collision detection is spotty at best, the actual combat feels floaty and in general it just feels… a bit crap. Ah well, not all games age well, especially from the PS1 era. I still applaud its effort to try and keep the genre going…

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