As someone who proudly calls himself a movie-nerd along with retro-gamer, I find the FMV craze of the mid-90s to be extremely fascinating. The data storage of CD-ROMs allowed for compressed video files to be part of the narrative. Many failed, falling into the trappings B-movies had learned to stay well away from but others had Hollywood in their sights. In 1996, Cryo Interactive took on an ambitious project called Hardline, a bombastic on-rails shooter with minor adventure elements that boasted over 2 hours of footage and 200 special effects.
You play as Ted Irvine, a stereotypical 90s action hero played by David Gregg who you may know as 'Constipation' from Flesh Gordon 2 or 'Random Swat Guy' from Leon (aka The Professional). As a lone mercenary in the futuristic year of 1998, you are tasked with rescuing any surviving civilians from a Detroit warehouse taken over by The Sect. This terrorist cult has become so powerful, they've taken over the world to an extent that they exceed the might of the US military. Anyway, after a chance encounter with the local rebels (and some sexy time with one of their members), you develop telekinetic powers and save the world.
When you consider the alternatives for such games, Hardline should be commended for at least trying to be cinematic. The video is full-screen and as clear as can be for the time, with some nice explosions and effects showing off the relatively high budget. The cut-scenes do drag on a little though. By having a focus on story, they also take the time for the quiet moments that result in character building or sex scenes. It's created with an attempt at the maturity found in movies, but still somehow manages to play out like a teenage fantasy.
All of the characters are one-dimension. The only real attempt at a character arc is with our hero. Throughout the game, he'll have some over-saturated flashbacks that hark back to the halcyon day of when his brother died. This is a ham-fisted way to explain Ted's self-imposed isolation and the constipated look on his face (he was made for his role in Flesh Gordon). Add to that the Deus ex Machina of his sudden super abilities and you have a half-hearted story with half-hearted execution in a product that's half a movie.
So what about the game itself? It's essentially your typical on rails shooter. Video footage plays in the background while digitized actors flail around waiting to be shot. It's actually somewhat impressive from a technical standpoint. The sprites don't overlap the moving scenery, coming out of the doorways in a way that seems true to the setting. They still look super-imposed and the bodies disappear after a second, but this is 1996 folks! At least I'm impressed.
In between action sections, you'll be required to do some adventuring which gives you some time to relax before the next shootout. The crosshair will turn into traditional adventuring icons when positioned over something you can interact with. There's not much to explore or do so it's not going to light up those point-n-click sparks for adventurers. The puzzles are little more than use the key on the door or remembering numerical door codes. Occasionally what you collect will be important to the action scenes too, and not just in your choice of weapons. Progress is often halted by poisonous gas or absolute darkness requiring a gas mask or flashlight to advance. You have to scour your surroundings to fine these items or suffer the deadly consequences. It's basically a game of treasure hunt, except the treasures are not exactly well hidden.
In the end, the three distinct elements of Hardline - the action, the adventure and the movie - are separate from each other. If you want action, the adventuring cuts into that. If you're an puzzle solver, the twitch-based shooter segments may not be for you. If you want a game, the movie scenes will infuriate in their length and frequency. Yet for me, it all strangely works. None of the three personalities the game has are done well, but together there's an enjoyment akin to watching something like Troll 2. You know it's bad but it's just so much fun. That could just be me in my curiosity in gaming trends of the past but I'm sure you can all make your own mind up.
To download the game, follow the link below. This custom installer exclusive to The Collection Chamber uses the DOSBox Daum build of DOSBox 0.74 to bring the game to modern systems. Manual included (UK manual thanks to christianknight). Tested on Windows 10.
Hardline is © Cryo Interactive
Review, Cover Design and Installer created by me