American Laser Games, easily one of the most fantastically titled companies since time began, was a small studio based in Albuquerque, New Mexico (Y'know, that place that Bugs Bunny should have made a left turn at?) and was founded by Robert Grebe.
Grebe, an ex-cop, had previously created a cutting edge police training system known as the ICAT. This system would play out video footage of dramatised crime scenarios for lightgun armed, bloodlust-filled rookies to react too, thus in no way, shape or form preparing them for the actuality of modern American steet violence.
Grebe soon theorised that a similar system could be used in the expanding arcade market. Allowing kids, pockets full of quarters, to live out their Dirty Harry fantasies from the safety of their local arcade (ignoring that arcades could be as dangerous a place to habitat as a 90's Miami drugs bust)
Thus Grebe founded ALG and, using Laserdisc technology, produced a series of arcades which featured awful, equity-card begging actors guiding you through a series of live-action shootouts linked by an identical narrative ("You're good, they 'aint")
These arcades came equipped with solid metal lightguns and large 46" projection screens. The combination of the humongous cabinets and reel-lyfe video fascinated the gaming public, ensuring relative success for ALG heading into the day-glo decade that was the 1990's.
Today, we're looking at the second game of their shooter series. So grab your .38 special, tip the brim of your hat, and prepare to say "schweetharrrt" a lot. It's time to find out...
3. WHO SHOT JOHNNY ROCK?
(American Laser Games - 1991)
After the incredible success of the legendary Western shooter Mad Dog McCree, ALG decided that their live-action lightgun series should visit a variety of different time periods, ultimately picking 1930's Chicago for the second release. An era where you might have seen Al Capone dancing the Charleston on top of a flagpole.
Who Shot Johnny Rock? sees the player step into the gum-based-shoes of a deadbeat detective, who is hired by a breathless dame to track down the killer of her boyfriend, the titular Johnny Rock, a nightclub singer who was shot to ribbons in a phone booth the previous night.
Taking on the case our intrepid hero, sporting the world's worst Bogart accent, journeys through a series of sleazy locations to question the four main suspects to the crime: Mumps, Measels, Lockjaw Lil and Smallpox, because facial disfigurment is hilarious.
In between these rapid-fire showdowns, the player must also perform that most exciting of all Private Eye duties: accountancy, managing their in-game cash in order to stay stocked up on ammunition, whilst ensuring funds remain to pay the world's snarkiest surgeon, should our boy ever end up with lead teeth.
The truly ridiculous aspect of the game, however, is reserved for your memory banks. As our detective blindly massacres his way through the mean streets of Chicago, the player must also remember a whole host of information pertaining to physical objects and numbers.
Should the player arrive at Johnny Rock's mansion (which is a mean feat in itself) they must then shoot a series of background items, and a numbered code, in a particular order, to gain access to his safe, which in turn will give them further clues to the murderer's identity.
This memory game (randomised each playthrough) is a huge ask of a player who is not only going through a fuck-ton of frantic gunfights, but is also situated in an arcade surrounded by noisy distractions and quarter-stealing scumbags.
The possibility of making it through the story alive, managing your in-game cash and ammo AND remembering an ordered sequence of pictures and numbers, tips the odds a little much in the game's favour.
Whilst ALG should be praised for adding features to flesh out the gameplay a little, they should've really considered the lack of pen and paper to hand in the arcade environment.
As for the video itself, the locations, hair and costuming are uniformly great, but the game features some of the worst acting in FMV history (and that's really saying something) Though the actors are obviously exaggerrating their stereotypical gangster roles, they still fucking reek, turning self-knowing irony into amateur pantomime.
I am, however, a huge fan of the detective's gum-chewin'-broad secretary, who pops up now and then to offer tips and advice.
Though it has one of the best time periods to work with, and the most gameplay features, Who Shot Johnny Rock? is one of the weakest games in the ALG series, the shootouts get insanely difficult toward the end, with some microscopic sized villains appearing tucked away in the distant regions of the dimly lit warehouses and garages. Coupled with the aforementioned multiple-memory game, it's just all too much for my pretty little head.
Who Shot Johnny Rock? would find itself ported, along with the rest of the ALG series, to numerous formats once the CD-rom revolution kicked off. These games are seemingly re-released every time a new format hits, with WSJR? most recently made playable on DVD. Those intrigued could perhaps try that version.
American Laser Games would go on to release further titles in this series, showcasing modern day South America and horrendous far-off futurescapes, before ultimately returning to the wild wild west. Each release degraded in both monetary gain and thespian quality. ALG finally bowed out of the business in 1994 due to technological advancements, financial hardships, and the coming of the Atari Jaguar.
..Ehh, maybe not the latter.
Thanks, as always, for taking time out to read part three of my series on this very specific sub-genre of vidyagamez. It's a pretty niche subject and not to everyones interest, but your support and comments are much appreciated.
The floor is open, so grab the mic, friends.
Part 1 - Part 2 -