Sunday, 28 July 2013

Operation Wolf - a true story - By Andy Pryer

In 1987 I was ten years old and already a seasoned gamer. Not only had I cut my teeth on the rubbery 48k spectrum, but I’d also upgraded to the breathtakingly powerful 128k +2 model too. Several of my friends who put brain before heart had C64s (controversial!) and if I didn't already have my Amiga, I’d have already earned my wings on my friend’s machine by now.

One summer, we holidayed in Dawlish and took an apartment directly opposite a large Amusement Arcade. Each morning I was awakened by an an electronic Speak & Spell type voice loudly and repeatedly exclaiming ‘PLACE YOUR BETS NOW PLEASE!’ followed a simple monotone ditty attempting to attract punters to a mechanical horse racing game. The sound is deeply engrained on my brain as the background ambiance of pure and carefree pleasure.

Whatever we got up to during the day, we’d invariably gravitate to the arcade in the evening as there was little else on offer. As I patrolled the arcade interior, waiting for my mother to deplete her generous supply of 2p pieces on the ‘tuppenny waterfall’, I regarded the rows Jamma cabinets with an unimpressed air. ‘Joystick and buttons? Do me a favour, I have that in my bedroom!’ I wasn’t about to be suckered into parting with my hard earned coin playing a game I could play at home, regardless of the marginally better graphics. A veteran like me had seen it all before. (What I wouldn’t give for an evening in that arcade and a wheelbarrow of 10p pieces now though.)

‘But wait a second... now there’s something I don’t have at home’... Introducing Operation Wolf: the game you play with a goddamn GUN! Not a wussy bright pink, plasticy approximation of a gun, but a black, chunky, gratifying, throbbing, death-dealing Uzi. I’d seen that gun on TV! It’s a real gun!

The attract mode was an enormous tease: Commando with Arnie had came out a couple of years before and the scene of him preparing for battle was - I’ll be kind and say ‘homaged’ here with some nicely detailed graphics and oh-so serious music. Unlike many of the games around at the time, this one had a particularly sober and mature feel, which, when combined with the deep bass generated by the cabinet, gave it real gravitas and demanded attention.

Unlike the namby-pamby kids of today, boys of the 80’s were encouraged to play with toy guns, fight in the dirt and watch programs in which large men were routinely punched square in their faces. The chance to dish out some hot-lead was the realisation of all my childhood playground games. I just couldn’t get my cash into the machine fast enough.

The machine acknowledged the drop of the currency with a satisfying chime and as I caressed the weapon, finger itching on the trigger, I eagerly awaited some targets.

The cut-scenes were blessedly short, giving only the briefest exposition: We’re here to rescue some hostages. Who cares? Bring on the badies.
First play and the gun was so gratifying to use I became drunk with power and exhibiting a thousand yard stare, I hose down everything in sight with white hot lead, unleashing mayhem on those poor schmucks who never know what hit ‘em. I expend all my ammo too quickly and I’m captured - doomed to a short life covered in lice and starving. I was even treated to an glimpse of my future self; pale, gaunt and weakened by dysentery. The shame! I should have saved at least one bullet!

Having purged from my system the urge to loose off all my rounds as quickly as possible, I have another attempt. This time, marksmanship is the order of the day and it pays off in spades. Not only is it more satisfying to place individual shots with surgical precision, making one feel like a true professional and the right man for this job, but on the occasions when the enemy squadies obligingly line up, it’s immensely gratifying to mow them down with a short, controlled burst. The heft of the gun and the impact of the bullets is palpable and for the moments you’re contained within the game you’re convinced that your wielding real power. Windows shatter, bushes twitch as the rounds tear through their delicate leaves and missed shot kick up clods of dirt - even cockerels aren't safe from your wrath, as blasting their indestructible bodies yields essential supplies. And for those pesky helicopters and trucks which are a drain on resources to deal with conventionally, there's the handy grenade launcher which makes short work of them as long as you use the grenades sparingly. To cap it all, the action is punctuated by little incidental sound cues, a nice touch which really helps to give it the action movie feel.

Some care is required to protect the non-combatants who stray into the line of fire. There’s a skinny chav who runs unpredictably through the mayhem panic strickenly screaming, a pair of stretcher bearing nurses who I assume must be twins with some vital mental link since if you shoot one they both die with a dismayed ‘NO!’. In the later stages there are the hostages to avoid, snuff them and even if you do make it home Mr Prez won’t be throwing you any parties, the hundreds of enemies of the state dead by your hand will count for nothing if you come home alone.

It wasn’t long before I’d burned through my meager supply of 10p pieces and my eyes had become dry from not blinking. As I reluctantly turned away from the machine, I found I’d drawn a small crowd of spectators, mostly bored middle aged men, none of whom had the cojones to step up for some trigger-time for fear of looking foolish. I must admit to being rather pleased with my performance.

That evening back at the apartment, I must have been very tiresome indeed. I was so excited by my discovery that I insisted to recounting my adventure in every detail, listing the various nuances, features and enemy types in the game. It must have been very tedious for my parents, but at least they knew how to keep me occupied in the evenings now, I couldn’t wait to get back to the Arcade. Over the following week, I honed my skill further and became pretty accomplished, although the cash always gave out before I could get to the end.

Once I got home again and the balmy summer evenings of the holiday gave way to more mundane routine all I had were the various home system ports. The game was available for all the home platforms, but I only really had access to two, neither of which impressed me greatly. Without the gun there was just something missing.

The spectrum version was just an insult to the greatness of it’s arcade heritage. For one thing it took ages to load - even for a spectrum game. I seem to remember timing at it a patience-testing 15 mins! How can it possibly take that long to load 128k? The payoff for the loading ordeal left much to be desired. Gone were the vivid colours of the arcade which were replaced by monochrome graphics. There was also a complete lack of animation of the sprites an the constant and annoying beeps and chimes masquerading as sound effects were pretty annoying. I don’t think it was even light gun compatible, at least my gun didn't work with it.

The Amiga version faired little better despite the graphics, which were as faithful as they could have been. The music could have been handled much better and is a little too cheery in places, although some of the arcade original’s samples made it. As for the game itself however there are more enemies to     shoot at, which doesn’t sound bad like a bad thing, but it just means you simply hold the fire button and move the mouse around, which detracts enormously from the sensation of being a professional picking his shots. It also causes a constant cacophony of noise. Gone are the subtleties of the sound design present in the arcade version. The mouse control method is an improvement of the keyboard but can’t make up of the lack of a gun. Completing this game is a simple test of endurance rather than skill, a challenge which can be made easier simply by turning the volume down.

Andy Pryer in full Operation Wolf mode!

Another great Blog story by Andy Pryer

READ the GamesYouLoved Review of Operation Wolf - the Arcade.
Click here


  1. excellent game. Had this for the CPC and to be fair thought it was a good attempt!

  2. Yeah it had all the feeling of going to war and the Uzi to match!


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