VIDEO GAMES / Texas alien massacre: With real film footage and computerised SFX, who needs a plot? Rupert Goodwins toasts some extra-terrestrial butt

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The Independent Culture
Compact disc video games are wonderful things. A two-disc game like Ground Zero Texas can fit in hours of real film footage on top of the computer graphics and special effects. But is there room for a plot?

Aliens from Reticula have landed in a small Texas town and are eating people to keep their strength up while they plan the conquest of Earth. You are the third special agent sent into El Cadron to clean up the mess; if you don't thwart their plan, Uncle Sam will nuke the place to prevent us all ending up as extra toppings on an intergalactic Meat Feast pizza. The sub-plot is more simply stated: let's toast some extra-terrestrial butt.

Disguised as hard-workin' Texans in jeans and hats, the dastardly aliens are indistinguishable from the populace. Well, they carry around ray-guns that look like giant silver beer cans, but I guess such things go unremarked in the state that gave us ZZ Top.

You start the game in control of four BattleCams which are sprinkled around town. These are like the security cameras in Virgin Megastores, but with guns; if they spot activity, you have to switch to the appropriate camera and prepare for a fight. All you can do is stun the creatures; the Battlecams might be good enough to stop spotty oiks lifting the latest Primal Scream, but against the alien hordes they're not so hot.

The action soon ramps up to an epic slugfest, with Reticulans popping up from hayricks, rusty pick-up trucks, hotel doorways and taco bars. Remember the fairground shooting galleries where tin-plate hobos lurched out from behind casks of moonshine? Well here there's no candy-floss and the critters shoot back, but otherwise the gameplay's identical.

Stun enough of the monsters and you'll be given a RoverCam. A portable version of the BattleCam, it lets you wander around underground caverns and plug some more aliens. By this time, they've given up their disguises and you can see them for the men in bug-eyed monster suits they really are. Almost incidentally, you have to locate and defuse a booby-trapped lock which protects the off-worlders' weapons; get this done, and the Robot Stormtroopers arrive. They shoot at you, you shoot at them. Et cetera, until the end of the world.

The game comes from Digital Pictures, a production company run by ex-Rolling Stone journalist Tom Zito more as a film studio than a computer programming outfit. Zito's already something of a bete noir in the US, where his Night Trap game was withdrawn from some stores for reasons not unconnected with masked vampires attacking teenage girls and hanging them on meathooks. Ground Zero Texas has none of the gore and little of the schlock, but plenty of on-camera action.

The clips are surprisingly good; Zito's policy of using real film crews, real actors and Hollywood-blooded producers results in scenes that wouldn't look out of place in cheaper feature films. They're well integrated with the game, too, with none of the tension-sapping pauses or clumsy lurches that make some CD-based games as pleasurable as playing chess with a drunken navvy. Technical limitations in the Mega CD's hardware mean that the colours are either gaudy or murky and the picture only takes up about half the screen but the game is gung-ho enough to transcend such quibbles.

It won't win Oscars and it won't get banned, but it's busy enough to grab your attention if not your imagination. The trouble is the aiming. Even the unluckiest punk would chance his arm if Clint was relying on a Sega joypad. Watching your cursor lope across the screen, while a bonzo with a Sapporo blazes away, is a recipe for Southern Fried Agent. At least you got an air-gun at the fairground, even if it had its sights surgically altered to hit the dodgems no matter where you aimed.

Ground Zero Texas, available on Sega Mega CD, pounds 44.99

(Photograph omitted)