FMV games are awful.
This terrible genre has the same stimulation as moving your cursor around a DVD menu screen. Even if they are technically the precursor to quick timer events (and to an more abstract extent, music rhythm games), FMV games had the unfortunate aftertaste of terrible productions probably due to small development budgets. They starred third and fourth rate actors and actresses with even worse writing that made it seem like the writers weren’t grounded in reality with how people interact with each other.
The worst culprit of them all?
Not only did this company make FMV games, it was their entire business model. Most companies during the early ’90s had no clue what to do with that new fangled technology called compact disc, other than to store the most compressed “looking into a kaleidoscope made of vomit” quality video and throw in some “press button or die, hur hur” game play here and there. And then, hey, you’ve got yourself a game. But Digital Pictures ran a business of nothing BUT this. Imagine this extreme: if it weren’t for 3D graphics and video game systems that could finally handle them properly, FMV games could have exploded the CD format out of the market and we would still be in a cartridge based gaming format. But Digital Pictures was so blindly into FMVs that not only did they almost single handedly force the industry to create a ratings board, they were willing to go bankrupt just to prove that it was the future of gaming.
But out of the bowels of a sea of FMV compost comes a little curiosity that was almost left to rot within the company: a little “I think I can” game called Citizen X.
This game starts off like any other Digital Pictures game, showing its logo, so you would typically know who to blame. Then it immediately goes to a grainy intro FMV with the typical bad acting/narration/writing. You are driving along Main Street at night looking to get something to eat when you casually notice that traffic has all but disappeared and there are bodies everywhere. One woman leaps out of her car coughing and mumbling about nerve gas. As she gives her last breath, she hands you a wrist communicator that immediately picks up a signal of a secret anti-terrorist government agency. It informs you that there is a terrorist that wants to destroy our great country. As the lone person in the city still alive and unaffected by the nerve gas (why you aren’t affected is never explored further), it is your job to find the underground lab to find an antidote and stop the terrorist, assuming the code name “Citizen X”.
The intro video already starts off terribly with its writing. When you are given the communicator, “The Sentinel” as he refers to himself informs, you about the terrorist organization. When he does this, he greets you with the most obviously curt way possible with, “Hey you with the wrist communicator”, totally disregarding the woman who had it previously and is completely unmoved by her immediate and unfortunate death. He gives you the gist of what is happening and shows the terrorist tape. It’s all “blah blah blah terrorist plot line BS” that is, of course, overacted to the maximum. At the end however, he tells you that to protect your identity, they have code named you Citizen X. How is this possible? Just a minute ago he had graciously called you out as if he had never met you. How could he have already known of all my information and identity without the character even saying a word? Was he tracking down my entire history while I was anxiously watching the terrorist video?
But that is just over analyzing, of course. The game has many cut scenes interspersed throughout the game and all come off as cheesy productions we all come to know from the studio. The scenes can range from tolerable to downright painfully bad. Some also dabble in the unintentionally funny realm, like this scene with a miming clown. Here, the clown is “preparing” a plunger and dynamite. As he is about to blow up the dynamite, his facial expressions show an explosion of a different kind.
Special mention has to also be said about the leader of the terrorist organization. There’s bad acting, and then there’s this guy. His terrible Eastern European accent is all kinds of over the top and his acting is just awful. After an incredibly bad pun about living with rats and revealing that he has rat in his coat’s breast pocket, he will take a martini glass in what I’m assuming is the stash of nerve gas, fills it up and then takes a whiff, all while telling you that he is about to gas the entire country for its capitalist ways. All of his actions are questionable and always lead to laughter.
If anything, the FMVs are slightly entertaining because (A) they give you hope that you yourself are a better actor/director/producer than they are and (B) if you don’t dig the crap videos you can always skip them with the hit of the start button. How could you skip the FMV of the game if that’s all there is to the games? Well, that’s because Citizen X is Digital Pictures’ first game that isn’t comprised totally of full motion video. That’s right, this game is actually an action platformer.
All the FMVs are presented on your wrist communicator, save for the beginning of the intro video. The FMVs are treated like mere cutscenes that only advance the highly cerebral plot. Once the intro video is done and your mission is set forth, you immediately are on the main street, staring the terrorist in the face as he laughs and then quickly runs away.
Your character’s movements are not unlike that of the original Prince of Persia, except somehow more frustrating. Your character slowly walks at first, but as you hold down the d-pad, he will then briskly run. He has to slow down before coming to a complete stop, adding a bit of realism, but it’s a pain when you have to make pixel perfect jumps over gaps. He can punch and kick, and can also wield a gun, if you can find it, which has a very limited amount of bullets.
Another element grabbed from the Prince of Persia is the time limit. In Prince of Persia, you had to beat the game within an hour. Citizen X says: “screw that,” and gives you only fifteen minutes to finish the game. That’s right, only fifteen minutes. And the game area is structured much like a Metriodvania game and is quite huge. Really huge and incredibly drab as its the same thing over and over.
For, you see, this game primarily takes place in a sewer. And you are going to stay in that sewer for almost the entire game. What makes this worse is that the sewer system is huge, which is great for it tries to be a game that demands exploration. Too bad every section of the sewer looks exactly the same. You will trudge through the sewer, section by section, wondering the entire time if you are going in circles. Luckily, there is a map feature that shows you where you have been before so that you are at least making a bit of progress.
The screenshots to the right show a wide variety of locations, but it’s all practically a lie. While all these screens are in the game, you will either never see them or randomly stumble upon them only to realize that they are for only one to four screens long and that’s it. Oh, you found the circus. Awesome! Too bad it’s only two screens wide, full of clown enemies, and utterly pointless (unless that’s supposed to clue us into why there are clowns roaming the sewers?).
Like any Metriodvania type game, there are various items you can find that will help you on the way. Some of these items are required to be found to even move on like dynamite for blowing up holes and vaults or the S Disc so you can gain access to the water line so you can ride a raft to continue through the sewer. While dynamite can be used as a weapon, its sparse and needed to blow walls up. So, about a halfway through the game, there will be a gun, if you can find it. Bullets are strewn about the sewers and can be picked up, but there is no point as the gun does little damage where you might as well walk up to the enemies and punch them. You can’t even shoot the small animals, so the gun taunts us with its uselessness even more. Other items you will run across are health, extra lives, and diamonds and gold statues that actually serve the purpose of increasing your score and giving you an extra minute on your time. While this sounds good in theory, they are all out of the way to begin with, so you are wasting time anyway. And, unlike Metroidvania games, if you fall in a hole and try to go back, most of the time you won’t be able to. Forgot an item to drain the sewers? Looks like you have to start all over. It reeks of cheapness.
Inhabiting these sewers are enemies that are quite bizarre. Sure, you have your usual rats, alligators, snakes, and jumping bird monsters (apparently hailing from Altered Beast), but everything else is so out of place, it’s insane. There are three different types of clowns, that range from mimes (from the cutscene earlier), clowns who shoot a gun that either has real bullets or a flag that says “bang”, or ones that juggle bombs. There are the cannibalistic boxers that will stop fighting you if you toss a dead rat on the ground, which will prompt them to forget about you and start munching on it. At one point in a forest area (there are sewer systems right below a forest?), you get attacked by a giant spider, of all things. The bosses in these games are just as crazy, like a crazed mob boss with a Tommy gun or a cannibalistic martial artist. While it’s great to have such a diverse group of enemies, each one has a ridiculous amount of health and your puny bullets are apparently made of cotton, as they barely do any damage. This leaves you with either fighting them with your bare fists, or running away (the smarter of things to do). Only dynamite seems to take out anything with one hit, including bosses. Also interesting is that, except for the final boss, you can run away from the boss fights without hitting them at all. You have to dynamite a hole in the room you are fighting them to fall down to the sewer below anyway.
But I shouldn’t rag on the game too much. This was Digital Pictures’ first game that was, well, an actual game. The music can be catchy, and actually fits the theme of the game and even adds campiness to the already bad scenes. While the awfulness of the cutscenes has been elaborated upon, they always get a laugh. It even has some great ideas, like the wrist communicator that actually makes you feel like you’re an agent. There may be some hiccups here and there, but essentially this is a freshman entry of a decent game made by people that are used to producing total garbage. If anything, this was made to be the perfect speed run game. With such a small time window to complete the game with set objectives, it was made to be played in short spurts and to beat it at record times. Unfortunately, bad level design and unclear goals hinder this game from being great.
For unknown reasons, Digital Pictures canceled the title and shelved it forever while they went out of business. But could you imagine if they did release this? I’m sure it wouldn’t have set the world on fire, but it could have been a turning point with the development studio being able to incorporate FMVs in creative ways while actually making an actual game. Unfortunately this was not the case.
The game finally did see the light of day when Good Deal Games purchased the rights and released it as a new Sega CD game. Good Deal Games labeled the game as still being a “beta” and cited that there is a missing scene (the explosion with the mime clown) and that it doesn’t affect gameplay. While that is true, there are still loads of glitches and weird situations like inaccessible areas, the first boss fight getting stuck in between screens and flickering, or places that want items that are nowhere in the game (namely discs W and B). Also, some areas aren’t well thought out, like the launch pad for the space shuttle. There’s a pair of pliers here, which don’t appear to have any use. The $20 they’re asking for this game a bit steep, but it’s still great that a company was able to release this.
Sega-16 A good review from Sega-16.
Whipassgaming Not a favorable review, but the only other one of this game.
Good Deal Games Where you can buy the game. Also has maps for the sewers that open in Powerpoint. Absolutely essential if you want to get anywhere in the game.