Virtua Cop 2 (1996, Sega AM2 for Sega Saturn)

I had a terrific amount of fun with Virtua Cop, both in the arcades and on Saturn. The home version was released as part of the Holiday 1995 trilogy (including Virtua Fighter 2 and Sega Rally Championship) that rescued the console from an early collapse. It’s a fantastic lightgun game that pushed the genre forward, offering new possibilities for realism and immersion beyond simple target practice. The game was always popular with friends and at parties, always great fun with pizza and soda and beers.

For the sequel, Sega AM2 once again raised the bar, determined to raise the bar and really wow the gamers. And, boy, did they ever succeed.

Here’s something you should do. Before playing Virtua Cop 2, put on the original disc and play the first stage until it becomes familiar. Now turn on the sequel and start at the first stage, the downtown jewel heist, and be astonished at the improvements. Yes, you are still playing “on rails,” as Goldeneye fans would gladly point out, but it is the best roller coaster ride yet seen, a fully immersive and highly interactive city with streets, buildings, highways and cars. You begin by intercepting a jewel store robbery, shooting down armed terrorists in the street and inside the building, smashing the glass, knocking down the chandeliers. After the robbery, a highway chase gives way that twists and turns across streets, over hills and through the highways, ending at the gang’s hideout outside an office building.

The car chase sequence is a spectacular rush, and the camera bobs and weaves as your car swerves around traffic, engaging the criminals in their vehicles. You can shoot out the windows and tires, sometimes even causing the cars and motorcycles to explode and crash. The pacing is extremely fast and fluid, never a hiccup or moment of slowdown, and it feels quite cinematic. The second mission takes place at a hotel, where you make your way through the main sections including the lobby, ballroom and rooftop lounge. The third stage is my favorite and features a subway chase that is an action movie sequence for the ages. Even today, I marvel at how Saturn could pull this off, as you work your way through the subway cars that bob and weave, turn and glide through tunnels and over open land. Gunmen hide behind the seats. Idiot civilians pop out and get in the way at the worst possible moments. Are you sure I should be punished because Milhouse over there got in the way of my bullets? Are you sure there isn’t a cheat code that helps me out here? Activision once made a Space Invader clone (Laser Blast) where you were the invaders. I wanna play a version of Virtua Cop where I’m one of the criminals and my goal is to shoot all the civilians.

Even though there are only three main stages in the game, each mission includes a branching path onto two different directions, which helps to enhance the replay value. The challenge is also high as you face an endless assault of criminals and soldiers. This world is far more interactive than its predecessor; there are far more targets and objects to shoot, and there’s a sense of discovery as you wonder what can be hit. Most of the time, this is done purely for kicks, but you will also find more powerful guns hidden about.

Once again, Virtua Cop 2 allows you to target specific body parts of the criminals (a famous inspiration for Goldeneye) as well as the “justice shot” that knocks the gun from their hands. You still have the three-shot combo, but the scoring system has been changed from the original. Fortunately, you have the option to play the Vircua Cop 1 scoring system, which again adds to the replay value, which is always important for target-shooting videogames. The “proving ground” mini-games are pretty impressive but are screaming out for a two-player mode.

A CRT television is required to play with the light gun, and this remains the best option, but you can also use a joypad or mouse when your Saturn is connected to an HDTV. To my surprise, this option works better than expected. It’s not quite the same experience, but you can have a pretty good time and the action is quite challenging. I never felt myself overwhelmed by having to use a, ugh, cursor. That said, somebody out there really needs to create a method to make light guns work on modern displays. And Sega needs to bring this series back. Why they never released a Virtua Cop compilation on Nintendo Wii when they had the chance, I’ll never know.

P.S. Just for the record, the Sega Dreamcast version of Virtua Cop 2 is actually a port of the PC release, which was kind of a rip. The Saturn version remains the only true console translation to date.

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