From 2010 to 2014 Richard Cobbett (opens in new tab) wrote Crapshoot, a column about rolling the dice to bring random games back into the light. This week, are you ready to rock? I SAID, ARE YOU READY TO ROCK? Well, too bad, because music just got declared illegal. You disgusting, degenerate scum.
Revolution X likes to declare "MUSIC IS THE WEAPON." I suppose it's a snappier tagline than the original, "A MACHINEGUN WITH INFINITE AMMO IS THE WEAPON", or the even more honest "ABANDON SANITY ALL YE WHO ENTER HERE." In the arcades, this was one of the louder rail shooters, in the home, still one of the more surreal. It's also definitely a case where buying the damn game was definitely cheaper than trying to win it with a pocket full of change, especially as having at least one friend helping out is almost essential when things get tough later on.
Oh, and it has some guys with long hair in it. I think they played bebop in the '80s or something.
I was about to say that there weren't that many games based on bands prior to the likes of Guitar Hero, but on second thoughts that's not quite true. There weren't hundreds or anything, but there were quite a few, and most of them very, very, very weird. Queen: The Eye asked 'what if this music was the basis for a twisted futuristic dystopia' and decided 'it would be pretty terrible, but let's make it anyway.' Iron Maiden got into the act with Ed Hunter, another rail shooter starring their mascot. When the developers of Daikatana walked out mid-development, it was to make the surreal superhero shooter Kiss: Psycho Circus and answer the question, 'what's a worse career move than just finishing Daikatana?'
Other musical individuals have appeared in games now and again, including David Bowie in Omikron, Michael Jackson in several different takes on Moonwalker (the most unfortunate in retrospect being the famous one where he dances around and collects children, and the worst being this wisely forgotten nonsense on DOS).
Revolution X though was one of the few made for the arcade, and subsequently ported to home systems. In that form, it supported up to three players, using mounted guns. The DOS version could handle two, and mouse controls. A free voucher for carpal tunnel therapy was sadly not provided.
This being a rail shooter, clearly the plot is a sprawling masterpiece that rewrites the Hero's Journey in an emotionally charged experience that also offers new insight into the works of Descartes. You play an Aerosmith fan, supposedly, but I have to question that because I don't think most fans go to their favourite band's concerts with a machine gun and a willingness to gun down anything in front of them by their thousands. I'm pretty sure that this is actually the story of the Daily Mail's almost favourite target, who just happened to get lucky enough to find him or herself in the middle of an open war zone over freedom of music and personal expression and decided "Ah, sod it, that works too. CHAARGE!"
The baddies, members of a clone army that would give Emperor Palpatine palpitations, are the New Order Nation: a band of fascist conservatives somewhat curiously led by a dominatrix called Helga who appears to have weaponised the phrase "I have boobs, you must obey!"
The New Order Nation's goals are simple. Crush the will of the people. Harvest all that is good in the world. Capture as many blondes in bikinis as possible for fates worse than death, including being turned into monsters, experimented on FOR SCIENCE, getting forced to dance at Aerosmith gigs, for some reason... and being dominated by men dressed as bees.
Making this slightly creepier, both Helga and the nameless army of clone babes are all played by the same woman, Kerri Hoskins, who also played Sonya Blade in several Mortal Kombat games and the infamous Mortal Kombat Live (opens in new tab).
Also, Helga turns out to be a guy. A space alien guy. From space.
Like I said, weird.
The basic game is easily enough described... or at least, seems to be. As said, it's a rail shooter. Enemies pour out in their hundreds and you gun them down, with unlimited bullets and collectable CDs that are the only real way to take out vehicles and bits of the scenery. Taking hits means taking damage. Running out of life and credits means taking a trip back to the start of the game. On the easiest mode almost nothing can even touch you, on the harder ones, everything is brutally unfair.
The action kicks off at an Aerosmith concert, where the band is playing for an audience of exactly nobody but doesn't seem to have noticed. Insert your own joke about musicians' habits here. You arrive just in time for Adolf Titler to have them all arrested by her goons, before fighting your way through to their dressing room to receive a pre-recorded message that more or less says "IN EVENT OF ARMED UPRISING, BREAK GLASS." From there, you commandeer a helicopter to find Aerosmith's car, which is the kind of logical leap that needs a pretty long running jump, and then go take out all of the NON's resources while Aerosmith (consults script) is not paid enough to do a damn thing.
Really. For most of the game, their only presence is in the pre-mission briefings, where each deigned to record a single sentence like "Destroy Kemmitech, it's a front for the New World Order," in a way that suggests the words were written on the cue cards and only one take was scheduled. Still, the delivery is at least better than Lou Reed's cameo in Penn and Teller's Smoke and Mirrors (opens in new tab).
The game itself is an incredible chore, mostly because it never knows when to quit, and keeps trying to be clever. Bosses don't just take ridiculous amounts of damage. Every single bit of every boss takes ridiculous amounts of damage, while spitting endless rockets and bullets into your face. This isn't Time Crisis, so you can't dodge. The clone army is utterly relentless, without even breaking things up with a few Mortal Kombat-style palette-swapped ninjas. As far as power-ups go, it's possible to get a better gun for a while, and upgrade your CDs to laserdisc—the one time in history when that has been a good idea.
But it's not the shooting itself that's so weird, even when you include the racist Pacific Rim natives who look at your machine-gun but still think they can take you with spears...
...or the New Order Nation trying to recreate the intro to Goldeneye...
...or whatever the hell is going on here...
Though indeed, all those are a bit eye-popping. The bikini babes doing forced labour only seem to have to break a single thing before being allowed to leave, as that's how you 'rescue' them on that level. In others, you shoot their bonds as they hang from a wall hoping not to be saved by Duke Nukem, and in others still, blow up machines.
In gratitude, they run away, and somehow don't get immediately recaptured by the roughly 98,000,000 NON soldiers patiently waiting their turn to be gunned down and have their carotid artery sliced open with a CD. You'd think that a few of them would count as elite, but no. Helga is, like a Now That's What I Call Music compilation, about quantity rather than quality.
It's impossible to just switch off your brain and shoot though, because Revolution X keeps feeling the need to be—brace yourself—'clever'. This rarely works, and it never feels the need to explain what the hell it actually wants. It's a game that will happily leave you sitting in front of an endlessly respawning room of soldiers without hinting that maybe hurling a disc at the door at the back might be good idea, or that blasting the columns down the side will grant escape, or that instead of shooting the guy throwing grenades from behind a desk, you should be focusing all fire on the sign above his head so that it can drop down and make a squishing sound out of his brain.
Another boss spends his whole fight chasing you backwards through the level, and can only be defeated by blowing out the bridge supports in your peripheral vision. Admittedly, in that case there's a clue in the load screen with Chairwoman Meow showing off her twin political manifestos, but that's no help while being eaten by a mutant centipede.
And then there's the bus. Oh god, the bus.
It doesn't look like much, does it? It's your classic timed boss fight, with your goal as ever being to blow up the bits of the bus before it reaches its destination with its cargo of prisoners to be reprogrammed into NON Soldiers. Except it's not that easy. For starters, it keeps changing speed, so you have to hit the speed buttons to get lined up again—and this takes a few seconds. The time limit isn't just brutal, it's a lie. There's a whole chunk at the end that doesn't count, defeating the entire point of the status bar. You're under constant siege while blowing apart the bus, and have to destroy every available scrap of it. Doors. Turrets. The linking bits. The bars on the windows.
But you know what you can't shoot? What the game just brushes off as irrelevant?
THE BLOODY WHEELS!
No, the wheels are indestructible! Because of course they are! Anything else would just be silly! I'm not going to pretend that this is the worst boss ever put into a game, but it is worse than thinking you're being given a cup of tea and then finding out it was really cholera. And had sweetener in it instead of sugar.
Easily the nastiest of these things involves Aerosmith themselves. Fight your way to the end of the game and kill Helga, and you win. It's a bitter victory though, because that just means 'saving the world' and... well, I quote:
"CONGRATULATIONS! You have defeated the NEW ORDER. Youth all around the world will be free to pursue their pleasures. And you will be known throughout history as the leader of this Revolution! But... you will NOT be known for partying with the world's greatest rock band—AEROSMITH!"
This is of course a tragedy. All the history books are replete with such tragic tales, like Joan of Arc burning at the stake and whispering her last words, "Mais, si j'aid ever had la chance de party avec le greatest rock band du monde—AEROSMITH!" Plato, in the Republic, spoke of the Philosopher King who would rule with wisdom and modesty over his dream society (of more or less Sparta ruled by him, Plato), adding that the one thing he would add in retrospect is that that the Philosopher King would officially be a man who sought not to rule but who would definitely be awesome enough to party with Aerosmith.
Had the greatest names in history played Revolution X without hints though, it would never have been. Why? Because... "You did not successfully locate all of the band members hidden throughout the game." Not, you'll notice, 'rescue'. In fact, none of them need rescuing. They're just kinda hanging out, doing Aerosmith stuff while you save the world and somehow decide they deserve any credit for it.
Finding them though isn't as easy as just stumbling onto them. To get the first, you have to go left or right at the very start of the game, then for no reason do the same move when getting into the club where Aerosmith are playing. From there, you have to notice and shoot a toilet sign, which takes you into a bathroom, where one of the band is having a pee.
Not a joke. This is a thing that happens! Look!
(Weirdly, I can't say this is unique to this game. The Rolling Stones never had a game as such, but they did have a multimedia disc called Voodoo Lounge where you can walk into the toilets and see a blue screened Mick Jagger using a urinal. It even made it into the trailer (opens in new tab).)
That's just the first one, though. The others are no more sane. Observe!
The reward for accomplishing this isn't particularly great, being just a final bonus level where you can collect 'Mammy' statues for many extra points and a couple of extra clips where the band get to hand with bikini-clad groupie clones and you get NOTHING! Except a high score. If you can make it to 531,800,800, then as a special secret reward you can turn your head upside down and see it says "Oo, boobies."
Probably the smartest thing Midway did here was calling the game Revolution X Featuring Aerosmith rather than try to dial it in more directly, which allowed them to switch bands for the sequels—a Public Enemy one was on the cards for a while, as was a more sedate version based on the works of Leonard Cohen. (One of these two facts is a lie). The game didn't do well enough to justify future parts though, so here the revolution ended, with the world free to party like it was 1999 even though it was only 1996.
Here's the full arcade version, which has more in the way of glitz and multimedia style than the DOS version did, but plays the same. The main difference game-wise is that the DOS version offers difficulty levels that both make you much tougher and let you start with 20 credits, though it's not possible to keep playing once they expire. That allows for the entire game to be mashed through with ease though, with the exception of the bloody bus part that makes you keep replaying until you actually get past it rather than just docking a life. It is a sanity vampire, and wow, does it know how to suck.
Oh, and here's a fun final fact for you. Kerri Hoskins, who played the fascist, murderous, freedom oppressing Helga in this game? In 2012, she decided to try getting into into politics (opens in new tab). It didn't work out, ruining a thousand hack journalists' chance to put the words 'FLAWLESS VICTORY' into a strap line, but still.
I'm obviously not saying that she shares the evil machinations of her role in Revolution X, because that would be crazy. Helga is a fictional character, while Hoskins is an artist, a model and a stuntwoman with no stated plans for world conquest. Still, if you've been meaning to back up your Aerosmith collection, maybe, just maybe, do it sooner rather than later. Just in case, y'know? It definitely couldn't hurt.