Cyber Cop

Game Review

Game: Cyber Cop
Rating: F

Heading into the late 1980's after having worked on a number of successful games for Gametek, CBS Software, and more, Roger Pedersen attempted going out on his own with a handful of games published under the Pedersen Systems, Inc. banner. It's been a while since I've posted a game review, so let's take a look at one of these games. This time around it's Cyber Cop, an amazingly awful action game. Thanks to a decent idea and CGA graphics that aren't too bad, this one can almost look good if you squint; but, it's not...

The goal of Cyber Cop, such as it is, is to locate and terminate all rebel units and their hoard of robots, or something like that. Players control the Cyber Cop, a Transformers-esque robot which can switch between different forms which vary depending on the location. There are three locations (a.k.a. realms) in total, each with a rebel that needs to be located and destroyed (the rebel, by the way, looks identical to the Cyber Cop in one of its forms). The realms consist of an Air World, the Geosphere, and the Aquatic World. Once all three rebel units have been dealt with, the final step is to return to the starting location and enter the starship funnel. The Cyber Cop begins the game equipped with two solar blasters holding numerous energy units; contact with enemies depletes energy, and if all energy from both units is gone before completing the goal it's game over!

Cyber Cop, at first glance, does appear to have some potential and could be a good game (maybe not spectacular, but at least good). The idea behind the game may not be groundbreaking, but a decent execution could make it fun. The blocky 3D appearance of the artwork on the box cover isn't attractive but stands out and is somewhat unique for the era, and the entire instruction manual is in full color throughout making the game appear as if they were trying for something higher quality than the many budget titles of the 80's. Sadly, the game does not deliver on any of it's ideas and ends up being all around terrible.

The starting location of Cyber Cop; also, should you complete the mission, you'll need to return here.
The starting location of Cyber Cop; also, should you complete the mission, you'll need to return here.

Let's start with the visuals; from looking at static screenshots you might first suspect Cyber Cop has some decent graphics. And as 4 color CGA graphics go it isn't too bad. Being CGA only in 1988 was not a great move though, especially if you were trying to make your game look like more than a budget title. By this point in time all of the first-tier titles supported at least 16 colors with EGA and Tandy and as a bonus worked well with Hercules monochrome, so being CGA only already starts to make the game look outdated. But that could be forgiven if the gameplay was stellar. The real graphical issues become apparent when you see the game in motion. The sprites are very flickery with a constant draw, erase, draw process quite noticable. The lines for laser fire are particularly troublesome making it difficult to determine if you even did fire a shot or it leaves you caught off guard as your energy suddenly plummets from nearly invisible enemy fire. The laser fire does works better on real 8088/8086 hardware or emulators with speed closer to a real 8088/8086 system; if you run this on a faster system or in DOSBox with the cycles set too high, you'll really miss a lot of the laser fire lines. But overall this flickering gives the game an appearance of having been written in BASIC, although apparently it is a machine language program. There are also a limited number of screens; as your cyber cop travels off the side of one screen he often reappears back at the other side of an identical screen making it look as if you merely wrapped around. Or maybe you did go somewhere and it just looks the same? There's no way to tell! This is worst in the geosphere realm where there is only one screen; in this realm you can optionally transform into a tank in order to drive off the path and go up or down, but there is seemingly no point in doing so. Or if there is a point, the repetive scenery hides it. The air and aquatic realms have a little more variation although the screens are still all too similar in appearance. Cyber Cop also has no explosions or other indicators that an enemy was hit; the target just simply disappears. This becomes frustrating when an enemy is near as there isn't a way to determine if the reason for an enemy disappearing is because your shot was a success or if the enemy crashed into your cyber cop and depleted some energy.

Sounds in Cyber Cop aren't that notable. As might be expected for a CGA only game, only the PC's internal speaker is supported as a sound device. In 1988 there wasn't yet a wide variety of commonly supported sound cards, so this certainly isn't a surprise. Sounds range from pretty decent to downright annoying, and are pretty typical for a PC speaker game of the era. The worst sounds are the sometimes high pitched shrieks that are almost constant in the background as certain types of enemies fly or run by. Luckily, if you get tired of the noise sound can be turned off.

The transition zone between the Geosphere and the Aquatic Realm.
This is the transition zone between the Geosphere and Aquatic Realm. You'll need to take advantage of a glitch in the game to reach here as noted below.

Limited graphical variations and sound aside, there are also some serious control problems that make this title annoying at best. Cyber Cop does support both joystick and keyboard, and you will most likely want a joystick. The keyboard controls unfortunately have the key repeat delay present; when you press a key down, it registers once then there's some lag before a second press and those after are registered. This feature is normally intended to reduce typos and make sure the user really did intend to type a letter twice, but for what's supposed to be a fast paced action game this is a major flaw that makes it difficult to respond to anything quick enough. Normally action games program around this issue by polling the keyboard directly, and of course this problem doesn't exist with the joystick support. Movement is problematic as well; the game only uses diagonals to move - on the keyboard, the 7 - 9 - 1 - 3 keys on the numeric keypad (not the cursor keys), or by moving the joystick to one of the four corners. Eight directional motion isn't possible, and I'm guessing this weird diagonal movement scheme was intended to match the diagonals in the 3D graphics, but besides being annoying it also doesn't even do that right and the alignment is off. What actually happens is that Cyber cop moves at different angles than the scenery, so to go straight and stay on the paths you end up having to alternate directions constantly. This is by far the worst on screens where the path is presented straight on as in the aquatic realm — there's no just walking straight across, you have to traverse up and down repeatedly as diagonal is the only movement possible. The difference in angles between scenery and the cyber cop also makes aiming difficult; it seems like you should be able to aim straight down the path, but that's just not possible.

One of the toughest parts of Cyber Cop is reaching the third, aquatic realm. This part is almost definitely a bug as no sane person would ever put this in a game. In theory, what should happen is in the geosphere realm you move off the right side while in cyber cop's robot form and you reach a transition screen. This isn't what actually happens, however, and you can end up going to the right almost indefinitely, at least until various robots drain your energy. The trick to actually reach the transition zone is you need to transform into the tank and position it such that it is half on, half off the right side of the screen while facing to the upper left. If you then transform back into a robot, you'll see a glitch where the robot appears to fall infinitely (it will automatically move from the top of the screen to the bottom along the right edge). You can stop this repeated motion by hitting the fire key a few times; after cyber cop is stopped and back on the path, moving off the screen to the right will usually take you to the aquatic transition realm (you may need to try a few times, it's not always the first try that works). Because the Cyber Cop moves different distances per key press when in tank vs. robot form you may need to transform back and forth between the two in order to eventually get the position right. Once you perform this trick once, it seems that you can then travel between the zones normally and you won't need to do this again until the next game you play. As far as I can tell, taking advantage of this glitch is the only way to reach the third realm; if there's another way it's even more obscure than this programming bug! Huge thanks to ripsaw8080 of DOSBox developer fame for figuring this one out; this glitch makes the game unplayable if you're not able to stumble upon it, and once you know the trick and can reliably replicate it playability really isn't improved all that much anyway. There's other bugs as well, although I haven't been able to reliably replicate these. Mostly it's been in the form of getting my Cyber Cop stuck in some part of the screen with no ability to move even though it appears I should be able to.

Where to position the tank to activate the glitch.
To trigger the glitch to reach the Aquatic Realm, you'll want to position the Cyber Cop in tank form roughly like this.

Attempting to complete the game just ends up being frustrating, nearly impossible even. The manual claims the game “is designed to challenge the experienced player, yet it gives the beginner ample opportunity to learn the game and advance to a higher level of skill”, but whatever design goals there were are overtaken by the numerous quirks and glitches.

The documentation included with the game is in full color, reasonably complete, and looks decent enough with simple geometric drawings of characters. It even has color screenshots, however they aren't quite up to date with the actual game shipped and some of them are missing the true CGA colors the game uses (notably the background color) — I'm guessing they used shots from an earlier revision of the game before those colors were introduced, or maybe they even left them out intentionally to improve visibility in the manual, I'm not sure. But that's a minor quibble, slightly less minor is that the manual isn't particularly well written in some sections. The biggest part where this drawback is noticable is the description on how to find this third aquatic realm I mentioned above that requires the glitch to reach. It merely says "Exiting the Geosphere, you will enter the second Transition Region: the Land/Sea Transition Region". While the directions to reach the first transition region are better, it's not made clear how to leave the Geosphere no matter how many times I read through the instructions, a confusion that becomes worse by only having one set of screen graphics used for the Geosphere section. Having an editor clean up the manual a bit would have been nice; it's a good start and while mostly complete is lacking from time to time.

Cyber Cop enters the Aquatic Realm.
This is the Aquatic Realm; Enter that hole to the right to dive into the ocean.

Cyber Cop was advertised as being available for the Apple II, Commodore 64, and IBM PC. The Apple and Commodore versions were, however, never released and it seems development work hadn't even begun so there's no incomplete prototypes available or something similar. The game sold poorly so I'm guessing no one saw a reason to follow through on the planned ports. All of the Pedersen Systems games seem to be quite rare and difficult to find today due to the poor sales making this definitely one to avoid putting effort into finding; I'd only suggest trying it out if you're curious about how not to do PC games, want to see a rather obscure title in action, or collect games for the rarity factor. This is not a game that's enjoyable to play, so don't get it if that's what you're after! Overall the game appears to me as one that was rushed near the end of development to hit a deadline. The odd way it uses a loop in a .bat file to allow repeated playings of the game, the lack of menus or even a game over screen, missing explosions/hit indicators, no way to skip the title sequence, the above mentioned glitch, and more make it look as if the developers ran out of time and stitched together whatever was completed in a great hurry. Whatever the reason for its state, there's no doubt I'm giving this one a rating of F.

If you should wish to try out Cyber Cop, here's a few things to note. If you do have a joystick and prefer to use it over the keyboard, you can do so by pressing the “J” key to toggle between joystick and keyboard versions. However, you need to do so each time you restart the game; when it's game over, nothing happens and you're simply presented with a black screen; the game then quits to DOS and the batch file used to start it simply starts it again making your previous control selections lost. The opening sequence in the game is rather long, not a problem really except for the fact that you can't seem to skip it. If you don't want to sit through the whole thing every time you start the game, it can be skipped manually. You'll find normally the game is started with a .bat file; this runs PSI_CYBI.EXE and then repeatedly runs PSI_CYBP.EXE, presumable the Cyber Cop Intro and Cyber Cop Play. Skip the batch file and just run PSI_CYBP.EXE to avoid the intro (or comment out the line in the .bat file if you like). And don't forget about the bug I mentioned above! Making it to the Aquatic Realm requires taking advantage of that glitch. So far there's only one other review of this game that I've found, and it's in the August 1989 issue of Video Games & Computer Entertainment magazine; they're a lot more generous to the game than I am, and I actually wonder if they played the same version (or even played the game at all). Part of the review pretty much paraphrases the official game copy, and they mention the Aquatic Realm without the glitch so I wonder if someone actually got there of they just assumed the manual and/or official description was accurate.

And there you have it! I actually rather liked the Pedersen Systems and related staff games that were published by other companies; even if CGA and PC speaker only the PC version of Press Your Luck and other board game / game shows they worked on were overall rather fun for simple budget titles. Pedersen Systems, Inc. never worked out, but all was not lost, as the team dispersed and went on to much better things with companies including Villa Crespo Software, Acclaim Entertainment, and much more. And with that, I bid you adieu until next time! Take care!

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Cyber Cop running on a Tandy 1000 with a monochrome monitor