The wilful damage to public property is a common theme amongst video games these days. Whether from a tank, military helicopter or stealthily planted explosives, bringing down a tall, man-made structure comes with a certain catharsis. Now you see a proud representation of mankind’s ability to assert itself over other beings on this Earth… BOOM… Now you don’t.
George the Gorilla was an obvious King Kong knock off, Lizzie was a downsized Godzilla-like lizard.
But before the open world destructible playgrounds of GTA, Saints Row and even Battlefield, there was a game where bringing down buildings was more visceral, more raw. Like the giant lizard that terrorized Tokyo, Rampage was about beasts beating their chests and bringing down cities all over the continental U.S. Note this is not Brian Provinciano’s awesome 8-bit Retro City Rampage, though there was likely a reference to this 1986 arcade game in his masterpiece somewhere.
First gracing the arcade and later the NES, Sega Master System and PC, Rampage saw up to three players (two on the consoles) take the role of mutated humans that had morphed into giant beasts, ready to destroy everything in their path. None of the characters were terribly original; George the Gorilla was an obvious King Kong knock off, Lizzie was a downsized Godzilla-like lizard; the closest to a fresh character was a grey werewolf named Ralph. There was little need for any introduction or story building in those days, Rampage went from title screen to character selection to gameplay in three short key strokes.
Once you were let loose in a city, the aim was to bring down all the buildings as fast as possible. The authorities were all there trying to stop you, starting with soldiers shooting rifles and dropping dynamite out of the windows, and later to helicopters and tanks. There was a method to the madness, after experimenting on my friend’s Amstrad IBM compatible (as they were known in the early nineties), we found the quickest way was to scale a high-rise, then climb down whilst punching holes in the building.
Once the structure began to crumble, you had to jump off to avoid taking fall damage. But you had to be careful of the hazards, and not just of the military twerps trying to gun you down. TVs and air conditioners could electrocute you, though helpful items like food and money could also help heal your monster or help clock up points. You always had to be careful of the photographer, too, as his flash would startle your beast and let them fall to the cold, hard asphalt below. There were some strange rules to grabbing people as well, which awarded extra points. George could only grab women (a la King Kong), Lizzie could only grab men (maybe because she was originally a woman before mutation?) and Ralph could only grab businessmen. Go figure.
The best moments in Rampage were when you crowded two, sometimes even three pairs of hands on the keyboard and went at it together. Beating each other up, knocking each other off buildings or imploding a building before someone was done demolishing it was all par for the course. But to get to the hardest stages, cooperation was necessary, if only so two players could play pong with a Chicago trolley, punching it from one side of the screen to the other, over and over.
The beasts were far from invulnerable, though. The constant barrage of bullets, explosives and artillery slowly wore them down with little chance of recovering hit points from eating the various food items or helpless humans. When the damage bar reached zero, they would revert to naked human form, cover their genitals and sheepishly walk off the screen, sometimes to be consumed by a fellow monster enroute.
I never played the various sequels (Rampage: World Tour and Rampage: Total Destruction to name a few) but I still remember Rampage as being pure, unadulterated mayhem. Awkwardly crowding two or three players around a QWERTY keyboard (only one player was lucky enough to have the arrow keys) is a first world problem the kids don’t need to worry about these days, but man did we have some fun razing the metropolis.