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How would you know is someone stole your mind? As Doug Quaid you Travel to Mars to discover your true identity - your mission is now a journey of non-stop action, strange mutants, futuristic vehicles and a startling array of weaponsry all captured in superbly executed graphics and a game play that compliments the success of the year's top movie.

TOTAL RECALL... a nightmare journey into the 21st Century.
~ from the back of the Atari ST box

Looking back at my old Atari ST collection, I found a little red box with the unmistakable vidage of Arnold Schwarzenegger. It was Total Recall and I remember very clearly that my younger self  couldn't get past the first enemy let alone the first stage. With the benefit of years of gaming experience, I thought I'd check it out again and see what I was missing. And play all the other Total Recall games in the process.

There were four distinct games in total. One for the Amiga and Atari ST, another for the Amstrad CPC and ZX Spectrum while the Commodore 64 and Nintendo Entertainment System got their own unique game. Let's start with the most graphically impressive developed on the 16-bit computers.
The Atari ST won't autolaunch, so begin by double-clicking TOTAL.PRG (left).
If you're lost in the first stage, go up twice on the first lift to find a navigator watch (right).
I was always jealous of the Amiga, thinking it a far better gaming system than the Atari ST. There's no doubt that Total Recall took advantage of the system's specs with smooth scrolling in the side-scrolling sections. I did find this made the already punishing game quite a bit harder. On the Atari ST, the flips of the screen help you guage where you are in the large maze-like level. As such, this was the game I played most.

The stages don't really bear any resemblence to the plot. You alternate between a 2D platformer and a horizontal shooter, but without the lines of text in between, you'd be lost. The game gets quite a bit easier after the first level, which has you blindly hunt down specific items before reaching the end of the level. The frequently spawning enemies relentlessly chase you while those with guns give you very little room to dodge their bullets let alone shoot back. I'm surprised I got past it to be honest, and understand completely why my 8-year-old mind gave up on it so quickly. A shame, because with a lot more polishing it could've been a decent movie licence.
The Amstrad CPC has some nice graphics for the system, even if the platform stages are tough (left).
At least the horizontal shoot-'em-up stages are more fun (right).

The Amstrad CPC and ZX Spectrum games follow the same template; 2D platformer followed by a car-based horizontal shooter. This time, the ZX Spectrum is near unplayable, even if you could get used to the vomit of colours that make up its graphics. By comparison the Amstrad CPC was miles ahead, looking very nice considering the age and limited hardware.
As for the gameplay, well the first level puts off all but the most masochistic of players. There are switches to turn off and on coloured blocks which need to be cleverly manipulated to see to the end. The enemies are easy enough to shoot through, but it was the jumping that really angered me. The are a good number of insta-death fire pits in the first level that are a pain to get past. You need to jump at a specific point to clear the gap and the sluggic and imprecise joystick controls don't help. It's unforgiving. Funnily enough, the fire pits in later levels don't kill you in one hit, instead draining a little bit of your health. If I had this as a kid, there'd be no way I'd even get to that point.
You can upgrade your weapon to explosive effect on the C64 (left).
Find a speed boost if you want to jump that raised bridge (right).

The Commodore 64 game fares a lot better, even if the jumping arch is a bloody pain. You still have a punishing first level that is almost designed to trick you into dying,but there is a logic to how everything is played out. The jumps are specific and predictable once you get used to the bounce-back if you strike a wall, but it is incredibly finicky at times. I found it hard to line up my jumps resulting in a fall on spikes, draining my energy far too quickly. At least some hackers have added some cheats if you want to have an easier go of it. I know I do.

It doesn't help for the driving sections, though. The top-down view may look like an early Grand Theft Auto prototype, but the inertia of your vehicle is more like a bumper car on ice. The aim is to pick up a speed power up then jump over a chasm without meeting those pesky bad guys. They are shown flashing on the map which helps, but the speed boost isn't enough to see you sail over the raised bridges until you reach your destination. It will require trial, error, joystick dexterity and map memorization to get there and I didn't have the patience to keep going.
Out of all the games, the NES version lets you play scenes directly from the movie.

Lastly, there's the NES game which has become a little notorious. The graphics are appalingly awful, with Quaid looking like a derpy lug than an undercover spy with a body building side hustle. Many enemies are laughably half your size, peeking round walls to drag you  into a side alley for some fisticuffs. The first level is not too difficult in comparison to the others, but still annoying enough to scare off many disappointed children that Christmas. 

Out of all the games here, this is one that really follows the plot of the movie. You get to shoot an 8-bit representation of Sharon Stone, have a gunfight behind an X-ray screen and drive insanely fast through the slums of Mars. It does get more interesting the further you go, but there is still nothing special here.

If there's one thing I've learned looking back at all of the Total Recall games, it's that every developer using this licence, whether it be Ocean Software, Active Minds or Interplay really wanted the first level to be tough as nails. By doing so, it only ensures all but the most hardcore of gamers will see past it. A poor design philosophy that scuppered what might have been an average to good series of games. I still have a nostlagic soft spot for the brutal Atari ST version though.

To download the game, follow the link below. This custom installer exclusive to The Collection Chamber uses FS-UAE to emulate the Amiga version and Retroarch with the Hatari, Vice x64, cap32, NEStopia, and Fuse cores to emulate the remaining console and computer games. X-input controllers supported. Manuals included. Tested on Windows 10.

File Size: 248 Mb.  Install Size: 522 Mb.  Need help? Consult the Collection Chamber FAQ








Total Recall (for the computer sytems) is © Ocean Software
Total Recall (for NES) is © Acclaim Entertainment
Total Recall (the movie) is © Carolco Pictures
Review, Cover Design and Installer created by me

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