A pivotal movie in my early teenage years was the Will Smith starring blockbuster Men In Black. Much like any other major movie at the time, a video game tie-in was released. Developed by Gigawatt Studios with the underrated SouthPeak Interactive (of Temüjin fame) handling publishing duties, this Resident Evil-like action adventure went somewhat under the radar back in 1997.
The missed the Summer 1997 deadline may have something do to with it. Originally intended to coincide with the theatrical release, PC owners didn't see it on store shelves until the end of the year while the PlayStation port came the next year but only for us Europeans. It was on that system where I first experienced it by way of a demo, but I wasn't much impressed. The learning curve was very high with less than stellar storytelling to keep you invested. I nevertheless added it to my PC collection many years later but didn't bother playing it for the longest time. For a measly £2, I didn't much care.
Nevertheless, the game kept calling to me. It was Men In Black meets Resident Evil after all. That's a tantalising proposition. I've now played it, and my feelings are still mixed, but let's start with the good - the graphics.
There are actually four shade-wearing agents you can control as.
Three from the film, while a generic fourth only available via cheats.
In a rather impressive move for the time, the 3D models utilised the scanned visage of the lead actors. The texture mapped heads, while devoid of animation, are remarkably recognisable as Will Smith, Tommy Lee Jones et al. The rest of their body is the same blocky polygons you'd expect from the era and a little at odds to their noggins. It's still more than passable when combined with the detailed and inviting pre-rendered backgrounds.
There's also a decent sense of exploration in most of the game's four levels. Other than the first, which is a reimagined version of the movie's opening chase scene, each level is its own unique tale set in a variety of locales. The Arctic level even evokes the paranoid isolation of John Carpenter's The Thing before going full-bore Giger within an alien ship. Other levels take you to the Amazon, an underground temple and a nutty billionaire's conspiracy-filled mansion.
Before each mission, you can choose which agent you want to play as.
You'll also get to choose your sole sci-fi weapon (others can be collected on site).
When it gets to the gameplay, though, it leaves a lot to be desired. Picking up or interacting with objects required you to be in a precise position, with an action taking place whether there's anything there or not. You can easily bypass an important item because you thought you'd already explored it and found nothing. Couple that with the often zoomed out camera angle making those object fairly small to begin with and it's all too easy to miss.
Beyond walking and running, every other action is a battle to implement. You can attack enemies by holding Alt along with one of the arrow keys. Up kicks, down blocks while left and right swings each of your fists. Getting in the right position for a blow to hit is a nightmare. Enemies will sidestep more fluidly than your control scheme will allow, which will often lead to both sides flailing about at nothing. If you have a gun equipped, poppin' caps in an alien's arse can be even worse. The left and right keys now swivel you on the spot while up pulls the trigger, but aiming is nigh on impossible. I found equipping the tiny Noisy Cricket - one of the few weapons from the film - helps as the recoil will blast you back a little often in the right position to take another aim. The downside about this is the occasional crash if the recoil will blast you back into another room. An emulation problem or a bug? Who knows. Thankfully it didn't happen too often.
Defusing bombs can be very difficult when there are no clues how to do it.
At least the early one (left) is recognisable as one as opposed to the alien schematic (right).
Another necessary mechanic that will leave you pulling your hair out is jumping. It works in much of the same way as attacking with a hold of control in tandem with the arrow keys. It's incredibly imprecise as it is but the nice-looking backgrounds are again a hindrance for the few areas that require it. Some areas are so ill-defined you have no guarantee where you'll land. It's so bad that I rage quitted at one section in the Temple area where you have to jump across some moving platforms. Not good, but I can't deny the one time I managed it was one hell of a celebration.
All of these issues are condensed not in the later levels, but in the very first. Located on the streets of New York, it's a brief approximation of the events that open the film. It's not long before you encounter both a fist and gunfight which immediately dampen any exitement you may have had. And all of this is on a hidden time limit on it too. Not only do you have to get used to the controls, but also figure out there's a bomb in the building and how to defuse it. There's no timer or mention of the bomb before playing so it's an unwanted surprise for first-time players. Later on, you'll have to figure out that kicking down doors and dumpsters is an unsignalled requirement. There's also some jumping over rooftops too, but lining yourself up correctly is hit or miss - and misses mean death.
You first play as Will Smith's James Edwards before he's recruited as a man in black. After that, the game jumps ahead of the movie where you can choose between three agents; J (Will Smith), K (Tommy Lee Jones) and L (Linda Fiorentino). They all play exactly the same, with only their voice actors and lines of dialogue changing. No one agent is any better at fighting, shooting or jumping than the others. A missed trick in my opinion.
Newbies won't know that you can kick down the side of the dumpster (left).
One of the safer examples of jumping in the game (right)
Perhaps it was the tight deadline to coincide with the movie's VHS release that hampered certain elements. Surely, if it had enough time for playtesting such lapses in gameplay could've been ironed out. As it is the game does feel a little rushed. Not only do the mechanics feel undercooked, it's also a very short game for an action adventure. Each level will take up a half hour of your time at most. The story is inconsistently told with the mission-briefings and cutsceners expressed in a static Lichtenstein-like comic-book fashion. There are very few in-game scenes and they mostly seem incongruous to the overall plot - a missing agent in Antarctica, a Chubacabra sighting in the Amazon etc. Considering the rich source material of both the movie and the original comic book, the bumbled plotting is disappointing.
When I first played the demo, I didn't play enough to get past the bomb. When I first played the full version, I got annoyed and didn't get past the bomb. With the help of a walkthrough (and the promise of a review), I pushed past it and found an incredibly uneven game with some nice ideas that were sadly bungled. If you're intrigued by what the game has to offer, you may get something out of it. I very much doubt it will ever be considered anyone's favourite though.
To download the game, follow the link below. This exclusive installer uses PCem running Windows '95. Press Ctrl-Alt-PgDown to toggle fullscreen. Press Ctrl-End or middle mouse button to release the mouse. Manual included. Tested on Windows 10.
IMPORTANT - Remember to shut down the emulated version of Windows before exiting PCem. This could potentially result in errors, lost saves and corrupt data. Close the program only when it is safe to do so.
File Size: 330 Mb. Install Size: 867 Mb. Need help? Consult the Collection Chamber FAQ
Men In Black: The Game is © SouthPeak Interactive
Men In Black (the movie) is © Sony Pictures
Review, Cover Design and Installer created by me