Developer: Midway Publisher: Midway Release: 1992 (arcade)
Progress: Beaten several times with the aid of far too many credits!
Modern games with their gentle tutorial stages, auto-saving and adjustable difficulty settings are all well and good but sometimes I find myself in that masochistic sort of mood where only a balls-out arcade game of zero mercy will do. Since I've already played and enjoyed (in a masochistic way of course) Robotron 2084 and Smash TV, I decided it was about time to take on the next spiritual successor in Midway's series of unforgiving, overhead twin stick shooters: Total Carnage. Released into arcades in 1992, Total Carnage was a clear successor to Smash TV and sported the same brand of humour, detailed visuals and daringly un-PC tone that made Midway Games' previous shooter such an endearing hit.
Whereas Smash TV played on the popular dystopian Running Man theme of deadly futuristic game shows, Total Carnage pokes fun at the (then) very recent Gulf War setting. The villain is a charming bloke by the name of General Akhboob (snigger) who possesses a nuclear bio weapons facility that the good guys are understandably eager to get rid of. What's more, numerous TV presenters and cameramen have been taken hostage or gotten themselves stuck behind enemy lines so it's up to the player to rescue as many as possible while they blow stuff up. Send in the Doomsday Squad!
|Who wouldn't want to save reporters like Candy Blitzer?|
Like Smash TV, there is no hand-holding here. Nope, the only hand is the hand shoving you headlong into a mass of enemies with little or no instruction. Thankfully, twin-stick shooters are wonderfully elegant and intuitive things - surely one of the best control schemes ever thought up for videogames - and so Total Carnage explains itself. You walk in eight directions and you shoot in eight directions, capiche? There's a button for placing bombs and that's it as far as additional inputs go. This is just as well too because the enemy onslaught is so relentless and unforgiving that time spent on grappling with controls or utilising multiple buttons would be time spent dying. Enemies pour in from all sides of the screen in frightening numbers: soldiers, giant flamethrower dudes, slime creatures, mutant spider things, turrets, trucks - all coming at you en masse. Most of the time, there's practically nowhere to go and so you'll be frantically heading for that tiny patch of enemy-free land or shooting a path through the hoardes so that you can keep your Rambo-on-steroids character moving at all times. If the enemies aren't enough then how about exploding barrels of waste that spray lethal projectiles across the screen? Timed bombs are also occasionally thrown in from off-screen and require making contact with in order to prevent a screen-filling explosion of insta-death...easier said than done while trying to hold off twenty or thirty foes. Mines, electrical barriers and other hazards are also present to ensure that the game isn't too easy.
It's great fun though, despite the insane challenge of it all. Blasting away at the legions of nasties while scooting about the screen is intuitive thanks to the twin-stick set-up and when you really get into a zone, it's possible to actually be decent at Total Carnage. The difficulty should not be underestimated however and playing it on the Playstation 2's Midway Arcade Treasures 2 with unlimited continues is a genuine blessing. A real life cabinet would likely suck your wallet and pockets dry of coins such is the ease of inadvertently dashing into your death or simply getting cornered with no escape.
|Enough enemies for ya?|
There are numerous power up weapons to aid your cause however and these can genuinely turn the tide most of the time. Flamethrowers, rapid-fire rocket launchers and the almighty spread shot are some of the sweet temporary upgrades that are great fun to use and give you a sense of empowerment during their brief lifespan. By far the greatest asset however are the standard bombs. Fairly damaging with a generous radius, the bombs are nevertheless not a form of screen-clearing 'smart' bomb that you may be familiar with in 2D side-scrolling arcade space shooters. They are powerful but the main benefit of the bombs is that laying one grants the player a brief second or two of immunity to damage. The timing for this positive side effect is reasonably strict but I found managing my stockpile of bombs and deploying them at the right moment was key to evading certain death or being able to sprint through otherwise deadly obstacles. Obviously you WILL still die (a lot) but playing through Total Carnage with an understanding of this mechanic definitely helped me use less credits.
|This screen is so 80's/early 90's...|
The design itself also really appealed to me. The visuals are bold and bright with special mention going to the enormous characters portrayed in the intro and interlude scenes including your Rambo-alike action heroes, the animated General Akhboob and the newsporter in the intro with strategically torn clothing to reveal generous cleavage (hey, you need a reason to be parachuted into hell right?). Total Carnage is also quite tongue-in-cheek and has a vague whiff of Duke Nukem about it with your macho one-man army rescuing scantily-clad girls and collecting points in the form of American flags but that's okay. I like stuff like that, stuff that doesn't pander to the politically correct types or concern itself with not offending people. It's just good old-fashioned fun that doesn't take itself (or anything else) too seriously.
Special mention must go to the enormous bosses of which there sadly aren't enough. The first boss for example is a giant mutated head/demon/monster thing that flies about firing with its gun arms, attempting to crush the player and shooting...tongues (yes, really) at the player. This guy takes some serious damage and goes through multiple stages of visible injury before doing the decent thing and violently exploding. Every time you're convinced he's dead, he just keeps on fighting with whatever he has left but you really do feel like you're dealing out a ton of damage when you're able to see his visual appearance degrading. The final boss takes on the form of Akhboob's giant head and there's three forms, the other two resembling Hitler(!) and the devil. Is there a subtle message here? Hmm...
I really enjoyed Total Carnage. It's hard - so very hard - and has no time or tolerance for crap players but it makes up for the cruelty with fantastic design, satisfying shooting action and endless visual treats for the player. I don't think I'd rate it higher than Robotron but I would certainly say that I preferred it ever so slightly to Smash TV. Midway's more famous twin-stick shooter seems to get all the love but with Total Carnage appearing on the previously mentioned Midway Arcade Treasures 2 and also the more recent Midway Arcade Origins compilations, there no excuse for not wanting to beat yourself up.