Zero Tolerance (GEN) North American Box Art
Name: Zero Tolerance
System: Sega Genesis (Mega Drive)
Genre: Scifi First Person Shooter
Release Date: 1994
(Editor’s Note: This game was covered playing a US copy of Zero Tolerance to completion on a North American Sega Genesis system, both being purchased by the reviewer. The Multiplayer portion was covered using two copies US copies of Zero Tolerance on two North American Sega Genesis systems using the proprietary Zero Tolerance Link Cable.)
The first person shooter genre has seen many entries even until the year of 1994 for both computer and home console platforms. While titles such as Wolfentstein 3-D and Doom have defined and solidified this genre, there have been plenty of imitators that have not been able to achieve the acclaim and success of these two seminal titles. This has rung even more true within the confines of the home entertainment landscape, with releases being marred by lackluster ports and issues having to do with the limitations of a control pad for input. This, coupled with the fact that the 16-bit era consoles simply do not have the native horsepower needed to facilitate the crafting of immersive 3-D environments that allow for fluid game play, further cements this school of thought. However, there have been a few exceptions to this stereotype and Zero Tolerance for the Sega Genesis is that exception. This title is an incredible accomplishment for the Genesis created by Technopop, showcasing a first person shooter experience with intuitive controls and game play elements that work well within the limitations of the console; albeit within a 3-D world with many aesthetic features that challenge the design of FPS games both on PC and consoles of the same era. This in combination with sound design that complements the action, incredible graphics, a unique single/multi player experience and a fine attention to detail this stands as a fascinating and deeply entertaining title. Though there are a few aspects of the game that may act against the player, Zero Tolerance is greater than the sum of its parts and shows that FPS games can be done with a good level of aptitude on home consoles.
The story of Zero Tolerance, like most other first person shooters, is simple and not all that important when compared to the main game play. The Planet Defense Corps’ flagship near Earth is seized by aliens. The troops aboard are no match for these hostile forces and send a distress signal to the headquarters on Earth. The ship has been heavily damaged and most of the crew have been killed and are being hunted down by the aliens. The cooling system of the ship’s core is damaged, giving it only hours before self destructing. The PDC decides to send in a team of battle hardened commandos under the moniker ‘Zero Tolerance’ to infiltrate and wipe out the alien forces as well as the humans that the aliens have infected before the Europe-1 explodes.
Each member of the Zero Tolerance squad has a different area of specialization. Captain Haile is an all around demolitions expert and excels at using explosive weapons. Captain Ishii is an expert marksman and is proficient with all projectile based weapons. Major Wolf is the medic of the squad and yields the most healing power when collecting medpacks. Major Ramos is good at moving stealthy and melee combat. Major Gjoerup is a well rounded member and is a security systems expert. Each character offers different play style depending on how the player prefers to tackle FPS based challenges. An interesting thing to note is that, unlike other titles in the genre, this game features a multiracial cast of people. Ishii is a woman of japanese descent, Haile is a man of African descent, Ramos is Hispanic, Wolf’s ancestry hails from Scandinavia and Gjoerup is a white American. In a genre that has so many generic white male pumped up action hero type characters it is refreshing to see a game with a diverse cast where each person brings something different yet equally important to the table.
The object of Zero Tolerance is pretty self explanatory. The player, as one of the members of the ZT squad, must make his or her way through each level eliminating all hostiles in order to clear the area and continue doing this throughout the entire location he or she is in. If the character dies the player has to pick another member of the team. If all team members die then the game ends. There are a total of three different locations, spanning 40 levels, that the player must infiltrate and liberate from the alien forces: the space station Europe-1, a merchant freighter vessel and finally the Planet Defense Corps headquarters on the Earth’s surface. While it is not necessarily required to destroy all enemies to move on to the next levels, the player will not receive a password to continue from that level end point until all aliens are dealt with on that particular level. Even clearing a later level of all hostiles will not yield a password until the all levels until that point are cleared of enemies beforehand.
With the exception of this password acquisition gimmick, the structure of Zero Tolerance is not all that different from other first person shooters of the era like Wolfenstein 3-D and Blake Stone: Aliens of Gold. There is an advantage to being able to jump forward and even backtrack through levels. If players have left behind extra weapons or items because their ammunition and health are maxed out or their inventory is full at the time the player can always go back and pick these items up if their supplies diminish while tackling subsequent areas in the future.
Each of these environments vary significantly in level design, the enemies encountered and the overall visual style. The Europe-1 features a sleek design much akin to Star Trek with its color scheme and structural design. Each floor varies in layout and the enemies encountered based on of the functional purpose the area poses to the space station. The Lab is laden with super computers and memory stations, Hydroponics features an organic floral aesthetic and Engineering is riddled with glowing plasma chambers.
With the Planet Defense Corps headquarters building, the outdoor environment and backgrounds are alive with the flashing neon lights of the futuristic urban skyline. Above ground floors feature an office building environment with security cameras and sentinel robots on alert and basement floors are dark and dreary with raw machinery pulsing all about the levels. All of these environments offer a sense of life and energy that are seldom seen in other FPS offers at the time. The level design is definitely a visual feast for the time.
The game play of Zero Tolerance, like other FPS titles, focuses on shooting various weapons and using melee combat to take down hostiles while traversing the environment. When it comes to implementing a 3D first person shooter on a console one of the biggest hurdles to overcome is the controls. With only so many face buttons and a directional pad on a Genesis controller there are severe limitations to the level of input available for this type of game. Luckily, the Technopop team has managed to craft a control scheme that offers a wide breadth functionality without feeling confusing and cumbersome.
With general maneuvering the D-pad makes the character walk forward, backpedal and rotate left and right. Strafing is preformed by holding the A button in conjunction with pressing left or right. Holding A while pressing up will make the person jump and pressing down will allow one to crouch and sneak in a prone position. Crouching actually makes it harder for enemies because make the player a smaller target for ranged enemies to shoot at. Running forward is done by walking forward and gradually building up momentum as is done in games like Sonic the Hedgehog (GEN) and Faxanadu (NES).
Pressing the B button will fire the currently equipped weapon or will engage in a melee strike if a weapon is not selected. The melee combat features different attacks depending on the D-pad press and the B Button. These martial arts attacks range from simple jabs to roundhouse kicks. Lastly, the player can cycle through his or her weapons and items in the inventory, which is confined to five total items at one time. With that said, Zero Tolerance has a pretty robust feature set which is comfortably housed within the Genesis controller.
However, this title has a some control quirks that can potentially affect the game play. One of the most prominent oddity occurs when walking or running forward and immediately going into a backpedal. Rather than to a logical halt and moving in reverse, the character will almost slowly slide to a stop as if he or she is a train on rails. This also happens when turning left and suddenly trying to turn in the opposite direction. It feels almost as if the player is skating on a soapy floor and feels awkward. This is not simply restricted to the main character, as enemies will suffer from this slippery movement as well. This design quirk can be circumvented by first letting go of the D-pad before moving in a different direction, but this is easier said then done and takes time to acclimate to. This can make combat difficult at times, as getting shot will push your character wildly in a direction and slide. Nonetheless, the controls of this title are well configured so that the challenge lies in the game play itself, not fighting with cripple and clunky controls.
Another issue is with crouching and sneaking. While this is a neat feature, there is no way to remain in a crouched position indefinitely. Thus, going through long stretches that require sneaking are tedious because the character will automatically stand back up straight after only seconds of crouching. If engaging in a crouch was a toggling action as opposed to temporary, this would not be such an issue.
The systems and overall framework of Zero Tolerance is, without a doubt, very fascinating in its implementation. The main game play screen takes on the framework of a multi windowed layout and is very reminiscent of the first person shooter role playing game Pathways Into Darkness (MAC) and Marathon (MAC) with the main view screen taking up a fraction of the entire display. Knowing that this game runs solely on stock hardware sans graphics accelerator assistance, the truncation of the main view screen was a necessary design choice meant to facilitate the 3D engine’s stability when in play.
The rest of the screen is populated with heads up display elements that show a five slotted inventory subscreen, enemy and health point counters, a dynamic messenger that gives updates, a dynamically refreshing minimap and the selected character’s ID card. It is an interesting way to feed the player useful information without having to pause the game to refer to the full map and observe the full inventory. The only HUD element that is borderline unnecessary is the ID card, which just sticks out like a sore thumb as serving no function except for taking up a portion of space to fill out the rest of the screen.Though game running at a relatively stable frame rate, players may find the truncated view screen as being a painful sacrifice. However, the game is designed with this decision in mind and makes for it with HUD elements that are very helpful to the player.
The minimap is one of the most important tools at the player’s disposal. As mentioned before it refreshes on the fly, always showing the character’s current position and direction. Walls are represented by solid yellow blocks and match the level’s geometric layout exactly. The player is presented as a yellow point with his or her facing direction being show as a dashed line that strobes. Enemies are shown only when alerted and are painted as red points on the map. This map not only aids in navigating the labyrinth like levels, but also aid in combating alerted enemies that are shrouded in darkness from a distance.
One of the most import aspects of any first person shooter is having a good arsenal of weapons and items for the player to utilize and Zero Tolerance offers a feature heavy array of weapons. This eclectic assortment of equipment complements a plethora of game play features and allows for many different play styles when used in tandem with certain characters. This game is just flush with useful effects to collect and use.
Weapons range from simple handguns to rocket launchers and offer a bit in between. The handgun is basic, but is useful for taking down enemies in tight close quartered sections. The shotgun surprisingly has a decent range and has the largest shot radius of all the ranged weapons. Pulse laser guns offer the firepower at the longest distances. Laser aimed guns are the only weapons that are fully automatic and do well with crowd control from a moderate distance. Flamethrowers have a woefully low ammunition capacity, but deal immense amounts of damage and leave sustained flames that can damage enemies that are trying to encroach on your position.
There are a few explosive weapons that are a quick and definitive solution to dispatching large groups of hostiles. Though these weapons are very effective against enemies they can also pose serious harm to the player. Making sure you are a safe distance away and do not place explosives in a cluster, which will set off a chain reaction, is imperative. Proximity mines are very useful for setting traps for enemies trying to approach and has a moderate blast radius. Rocket launchers hurl fast projectiles and offer the largest blast radius, dealing profuse amounts of damage. Hand grenades offer a range of uses to the player. They can be lobbed at enemies from a distance and have a decent blast radius. The most innovative feature of the grenades involves being able to ricochet them off of walls depending on the angle of attack. This can prove useful for preforming take down maneuvers and breaching new rooms to take out enemies near the entrance. This use of rudimentary physics in this respect, along with previously mentioned weapons, is doubtlessly a feature that sets Zero Tolerance apart from its contemporaries.
The list of tools at the player’s disposal is also pretty staggering. The equipment ranges from bullet proof vests to night vision goggles. Bullet proof vests offer protection from damage taking any form. The player’s health is not affected until the vest’s durability is depleted. Bio scanners detect enemies that have not yet been alerted to the player’s presence and paints them on the dynamic minimap. Flashlights are a simple solution for traversing levels that have low level lighting or no lighting at all and spotting enemies that would be normally shrouded in the dark. These have a limited range and range of effect. Night vision goggles do not have this issue as they take both of the picture, allowing the player to see enemies from great distances in complete darkness. When it comes to traversing environments that are on fire in areas there are two solutions. Fire extinguishers can put patches of flames out as expected. Fire suits allow the player to negate the potentially tedious process of putting the flames out and can simply walk about unharmed by burning spaces. Some of this equipment and the challenges constructed to require these solutions offer challenges that help to diversify the standard FPS game play conventions of the time.
However, this large collection of equipment cannot be carried at one time because of the inventory, which restricts the player to only being capable of holding five items at a time. This includes both weapons and tools, which forces you to really focus on the things that suite your strategy and the character you are using. Taking into account that items cannot be dropped, inventory management can be potentially infuriating. Another detracting aspect is that some items, when collected, engage automatically and cannot be turned off and run out of life on their own. This makes some items act only as temporary powerups and not fixtures that can be toggled on or off at will. Despite this, these items are welcome additions in any capacity and add new elements to the FPS formula.
While the bestiary of enemies to dispose of in Zero Tolerance may not be large, it is big and varied enough to challenge the player. The two biggest threats in the game consist of the alien forces invading Earth and the automated machine/robot sentries in the Planet Defense Corps headquarters that shoot anything on sight. While artificial enemies only detect on sight, organic enemies can detect based on sight and hearing. Regardless of the type of enemy you face, all adversaries are extremely aggressive; more so than in other FPS games of the time. Alien troop will run run at you shooting and beast creatures will charge your position at a breakneck speed, only giving you tenths of a second to react. It is very easy to get overwhelmed by just a few enemies at one time, making this an incredibly difficult game.
The level design in Zero Tolerance has been addressed, but the wide range of aesthetic and mechanical features that put it above its competition on consoles has not. There are a few visual touches added to the mix that help push this title above the the standards of the genre for the time. Shooting organic enemies causes blood to fly out of them in the air and onto the floor as well as nearby walls. Blood splatters on the floor eventually sink into the ground and blood that hits a wall will slowly drip down, eventually dissipating into nothingness. Some wall areas are partially destructible as are glass windows. Objects like rockets and grenades will fall out when thrown at broken windows and will ricochet off of windows that are still intact. Some enemies crawl along floor, walls and the ceiling. Creature enemies, when shot, will either die outright or will twitch while lying on the floor incapacitated. Bipedal enemies bleed out when collapsed on the floor. Going from one floor to the next can be accomplished by using elevators or stairs, in which the engine used for the visuals actually showcases true height differences. Floors and ceilings alike are populated with objects like lights, debris and security cameras that all animate. The backgrounds that can be seen through windows are all alive with animation. These are just some of the technological features that other console based FPS games do not have and a few of these do not even exist in PC FPS titles of the era. It is pretty clear cut that the world of Zero Tolerance surprisingly well wrought.
The sound effects in this game help to enhance the visuals and makes shooting guns and fighting the enemies incredibly satisfying. The shotgun sound alone packs such a punch that you really feel the power behind it. The same applies to all other weapons as they have appropriate sound attached to them. The noises that the aliens make when alerted and killed are bold and bombastic. The sound, married with the visuals, gives the action of this game such grit and crunch that never falls flat or waivers. Unfortunately, the music is a completely different subject entirely. The game’s score can be essentially described using the name of the development company, Technopop. There are not many tracks to begin with and the few songs that do exist are not necessarily great. They are extremely minimalistic to the point where there is no difference between the beginning, middle or end of the songs. These melodies do fit the setting of Zero Tolerance, but not exactly the action. all of these tracks are short, which does not help. Though not terrible, the music comes off being decent, but not memorable.
The single player mode in Zero Tolerance is already a feature rich package that is immensely entertaining, but this console FPS goes above and beyond by offering a two player mode. By using a proprietary cable, exclusively used for this title alone, two systems can be linked together via a direct serial connection to allow two friends to tackle the game’s 40 level campaign cooperatively as a two man insertion team. This mode plays realistically, as both players can hurt one another if not careful and cooperative. This is where the choice of characters, based on there areas of expertise, and the strategic use of weapons coupled with a squad mate makes for an incredible experience that is without equal to date. It is not only a great feature with lots of replay value, but it is one of the best FPS modes since Deathmatch in Doom (PC).
There is absolutely no question that this is an incredibly ambitious game that punches high above its own weight. It is an action packed first person shooter that makes strides in pushing the standards of the genre for both consoles and personal computers alike. With solid game play, intuitive controls, well wrought visuals and equally satisfying sound effects this is an astounding achievement for the Sega Genesis. The movement quirks can annoy, the truncated view screen may feel a tad restrictive from the outset and the music may not be stellar, but these minor blemishes are practically overshadowed by everything this game does impeccably well. If you are a diehard Genesis or have an affinity for first person shooters of this era then you are bound to like Zero Tolerance.