Retro Game Retrospective: Quarantine (3DO)
Good afternoon everyone, and happy weekend to you all! Xanfan’s back once again with a brand new edition of Retro Game Retrospective. This week, we are going to tackle a game that was released for one of those consoles that despite what you may thought of it then or think of it now, was actually somewhat ahead of its time. Where compact disc based media was just about to take off with the upcoming release of the PlayStation, but until that point, simply was not ready. While I could be talking about CD-i, I’m actually talking about “the other one”, which of course was the Panasonic 3DO Interactive Multiplayer (or just “3DO”). This week, we are taking a look at the controversial title, “Quarantine”. (How can you possibly pass up a game where the box art shows you a windshield wiper cleaning off blood?)
Quarantine was released for the 3DO (as well as DOS compatible PCs) in late 1994 and early 1995. At the time of the American release, the 3DO version was somewhat more desirable and in demand, because the computer version had advanced hardware requirements that made it somewhat difficult to run smoothly. It required a 386DX processor and 4MB of RAM to run, which while such a configuration was becoming a standard on home PCs, was still a little tight. In fact, an ad for this game had the slogan, “If you’ve got the RAM, we’ve got the pedestrians.” (I know I have an old computer magazine with that slogan on it, but I just cannot find it at the moment.) Anyway, the game was created by Imagexcel and published by GameTek. While these would be the only two versions of the game that were published in the United States, overseas saw another story. The Japanese version of the title was originally released for 3DO on September 14, 1995, but later on, a version for the Japanese PlayStation console was released with a title change. This new version was called “Hard Rock Cab”, and was released on February 16, 1996. Also, in response to the success of the Sega Saturn system in Japan, a third version was released for that console. This final edition was made available on July 12, 1996 and was titled “Death Throttle”.
Let’s start talking about the plot, which is actually quite a good story. The game takes place in the near future, in the city of Kemo, which was the leading manufacturer of hovercars up until the year 2022. Over time, Kemo saw an increase in the city’s crime rate. In 2029, it was decided by a group of officials known as OmniCorp, that they would do whatever it took to get the crime rate down and order restored to the citizens. A massive wall was built around the entire city, thus making it a situation where “no one can get in or out”. The public reacted violently, and Kemo just got even worse. In 2043, OmniCorp distributed a chemical called Hydergine 344 via the cities public water supply. This chemical was supposed to relax and convert the violent citizens into law-abiding ones, however massive brain damage and insanity prevailed. In fact, over half of Kemo’s population became deranged killers, literally overnight. Now, in 2048, you play the part of Drake Edgewater, a taxi driver who was one of the lucky ones that were unaffected by the chemical. What started as a dream come true with a wife, a daughter, and a fantastic house, you are now desperate to leave the post apocalyptic Kemo City in one piece. Armed with a pumped up cab with endless abilities, you will do whatever it takes to escape the town alive.
The easiest way to describe this game, is that it is a very unique combination of Crazy Taxi, Duke Nukem, Twisted Metal and Grand Theft Auto. After watching a full screen video introduction of the game, you start off in a first person view of your taxicab. You’re job is to pick up a patron, and more or less, do whatever he or she tells you to do. They may simply tell you to drop them off at a destination, or they may ask you to deliver a package for them. (Did we say package? I also meant to say coffins that are filled with the bodies of patron’s dead grandmothers.) But no matter who the passenger in life is at the moment, there is always some sort of short text-based story about what your motive is. In fact, some of the people who you pick up will actually tell you that they will throw a couple of extra bucks your way if you would do them the favor of killing a few people while en route to the destination. Like the storyline says, the people in this town have completely lost it! But, you don’t really seem to mind it. You are so desperate to leave the city that you’ll do anything for a price.
Basically, while doing your courier work, you are basically slamming your car into anything that moves on the way. You can hit other cars (which seem to appear literally out of no where), and of course you can run over the various different pedestrians walking the streets. As you complete more missions, you will be able to purchase upgrades for your taxi. Everything from missiles to flame throwers, to even a chainsaw to attach to your hood! Quarantine uses a “free-roaming” style of game play, which allows you to drive wherever you would like to go throughout the city at any time. Of course, this is what you would see happen a lot in future games to come. For the time, I can honestly tell you that the city is HUGE. While it’s certainly not Vice City large, for the time, it was an impressive feat. Considering that very few video games had ever done anything like this before, if you were playing this game originally in the mid 1990s, you had to be in some kind of awe.
However, if you are playing this game for the first time in this modern-day in age, you will certainly have a lot to say about the graphics here. You have to remember that this game was published during the time period where CD-ROM was new to the genre. Previously, compact discs were mainly only used for audio and data retrieval. The concept of using the medium for video games was still very new and not perfected yet, and unfortunately, a lot was promised by companies like Panasonic and Philips, that simply could not be delivered yet. (Not to mention, if you think loading times for modern systems is slow, keep in mind that the CD-ROM drive in the 3DO was only a double speed drive, which while was faster than the CD-i, not by much.) The city as a whole is for the most part pretty blocky looking and not really realistic. In fact, in comparison it looks a lot like games such as Wolfenstein 3D, which of course was quite popular around this time. (In fact, some people have been known to call this a Wolfenstein-style clone.) The dashboard of the vehicle you are in looks pretty much like any other computer driving game of the era, so there is really nothing special to mention on that aspect. When you hit another car, the car basically just gets “pushed” away with no damage shown, and when it gets pushed out of the way, it looks very unnatural. The most realistic graphic is when you hit a person in the road, when the blood will splatter on your windshield. This was of course used very graphically on the cover of the game box. Add to all of this a very slow refresh rate, and sadly, you get a game that should have been shelved for a few more years.
The only part of the CD media that is utilized very well in the game, has to do with that the CD medium does best at this time period, which is playing music. The background music for this video game is excellently produced. When the game was being created, the people at Imagexcel wanted to take the post apocalyptic era and turn it up a bunch of notches. What you get is a soundtrack consisting of 11 songs that featured alternative rock bands from Australia. Bands such as Custard, Smudge, Underground Lovers and Sidewinder all participated in the music. Obviously, since this was recorded on a music media, the background audio is CD quality. While none of the songs on the game are memorable to the point where you would be able to rattle off the names of the artists, song titles or histories after the fact, the feel of the music really gets you sucked into the style of the game. If there is one thing that this game did correctly, this soundtrack is certainly it. (Not to mention, you can change the song at any time by pressing a button on the controller, as if you were changing a radio station. Perhaps this is how the radio station concept on Grand Theft Auto started?)
But as we all know, it’s not graphics or music that makes the game. It takes a great storyline (which this title certainly offers), and most importantly, excellent controls. Sadly, this game has some of the poorest controls that you have ever played on a home console format. It’s not that they are terrible, but they are very touchy. Whenever you try to make a U-Turn, you always crash your car into buildings. Not only that, the steering is very sloppy. You have better control of cars playing games for the NES and Genesis than you do here. You also have to remember something else. There was really no standardization of controls on games like this yet, since the concept of these kind of games was still so new. You also have to take into consideration that the 3DO controller was not exactly state of the art, even for the time. For those unaware, the 3DO controller had 3 action buttons on its face, plus two shoulder buttons. While it’s not as bad as the CD-i controllers that had only 2 action buttons, controllers for systems like the SNES and Sega Saturn had a total of 6 or 8 buttons throughout. But, there was still enough ability there to make the controls a little better. Allow me to put it this way. You remember back in the NES days when a game was bad, you knew it was bad when you had to press Up to jump? Well, to leap the car into the air, you have to press Up on the directional pad. Seriously? They have a button to change the background music in-game, but you have to use the directional pad to jump? I guess the programmers knew exactly where the game was best. “Don’t worry about jumping over cars which might be vital. We have to make sure the radio station can be changed on a whim! You can’t drive without good tunes!” (If you get the idea by now, you know what the controls are all about.)
So here is the final outcome. If you are able to get around the sluggish response times and slower than normal refresh rates, and if you can somehow master the awkward controls of the game, you will actually have a lot of fun playing this, just like I have. The only question you have to ask yourself, is would you be willing to dedicate all of the time and frustration in the meantime to get to that point? Back in the day, I was able to master the controls, but could never get around the slow refresh rate, which didn’t help matters all that much. I was certainly able to get more than a few enjoyable hours of play time on this title way back when. Especially since it was something so insane at the time of publish. Back when this was first published, the whole fiasco with the government wanting to start a ratings system (what we know now as the ESRB) was going on. While Quarantine never had an official rating on the box, the people at GameTek did at least say on the front of the box that this game was for those 17 years old and older. (Whether or not it was required with what was going on in the background of the industry at the time, or if it was voluntary, I do not know.) But digressing for a moment, my final statement is this: If you enjoy games of random murder and blood splatter, or if you like first person driving games, chances are very high that you will find some enjoyment in this title. But if you need to play a game that is “perfect” in every way, and are not willing to learn the controls or deal with the time period of new technology, then you might want to pass on this one.