DEVELOPER: Seibu Kaihatsu (port by Sega)
RELEASE DATE: 1990 (US), 01/90 (EU)
Dead Angle gives gangster shooting a bad name. For starters, the game feels like it should have Light Phaser support, but it doesn’t. And without Light Phaser support, that means you control the crosshair and shoot with the Master System controller. Typically, this decision would be ok, but you don’t just control the crosshair with the D-pad. You also control a giant silhouette of the main character along with the crosshair. In other words, you can’t move the silhouette without moving the crosshair, and vice-versa. Neat, sure. Technologically amazing for 1989, maybe. Cumbersome, you bet. The needless decision to tie the crosshair and the silhouette together, along with the silhouette’s all-encompassing presence, weighs down what should be a straightforward gangster bloodbath.
You play as George Phoenix, a private detective whose girlfriend has been stolen by the mob boss, Robert King. Naturally, Phoenix wants to get her back, but King’s legions of zoot-suited yahoos have other plans. Each level takes place in a different locale – streets of Napoli, New York hotel, etc – and gives you a specific amount of thugs to kill. Dwindle down their numbers with your standard gun or find a tommy gun upgrade and give ’em the true definition of “what for.”
The color of the gangster’s suit dictates both their movement and how strong they are. For example, in level 2, when the red-suited gangsters’ bullets hit you, it counts as two hits instead of one; thankfully, each gangster only needs one bullet from you to call it a life. Once you’ve gotten their numbers down to bupkis, the mob boss of that region will emerge, full guns blazing. A few hits (they’re swarthier than the others), and they’re black coffee with toast.
As previously mentioned, you control both a silhouette of Mr. Phoenix and the crosshair at the same time. Your silhouette is large and takes up a good portion of the middle of the screen; viewed from a different (dead) angle, Mr. Phoenix looks like a monster ghost that’s terrorizing the poor gangsters. If Phoenix gets shot three times anywhere in his silhouette, he’ll say “Ouch!” in a particularly unmasculine voice and die. To counteract the gangster’s sheer numbers and advanced mobility, you are able to float above the ground and terrorize your victims from above. But because the crosshair and the silhouette are both connected to the same control input, and because the gangsters are constantly moving and shooting, you will always have to move around the screen and shoot at random to not get hit.
Dead Angle‘s style might be distinct, but it also causes some of the worst slowdown I’ve ever seen on the Master System. The combination of Phoenix’s large silhouette with the gangsters that leap and frolic across the screen brings stuttering in ways not seen since Space Harrier 3D. With an awful framerate comes general confusion. You’ll never know when or how you were shot, especially if your silhouette doesn’t appear to be in the gangsters’ line of fire.
Thanks to the slowdown and the lack of lives/continues, Dead Angle‘s five levels are as intimidating as a gangster’s steely-eyed gaze. The only way to stay alive is to never stop moving your silhouette and fire constantly. But if you keep moving and firing constantly while the gangsters are doing likewise, you have a choppy mess of a shooter that’s ambition is its downfall. If you really have an urge to shoot gangsters, check out Sega’s Gangster Town. The latter shows that class, style, and top-notch level design beat ambition any day.