Game Over [Maximum Surge] (2003)

It’s one of those things that happens far too often in our modern business world.

That Laser Disk Game company just collapsed and you bought out the big game they were working on before they went under, along with a bunch of other bits and pieces of other games.

So, what do you do with them?

Well, as we are talking about the type of game which was actually filmed in live action, with a handful of recognizable B-Movie stars in major roles, so the answer was obvious:  stick them together into a movie.

However, just to make things harder, these extra bits and pieces came from a football game; a jungle game with zombies; a black and white, Raging Bull-esque Boxing game; a Chopsockey Kung Fu game with a period setting; and, primarily, from a science fiction game set on a dusty planet, with a tough female soldier working with the hero.

And, even worse, all these bits and pieces were shot from a first person shooter point of view, without the main character in sight (well, mostly).

But it really wasn’t quite as hard as it sounds.

Not, that is, if you make a virtual reality videogame movie.

As a result, we have a movie with appearances from an impressive collection of familiar stars: classic Eighties weirdo Vincent Schiavelli (how I miss him!) plays the voodoo cult leader/mad scientist in the jungle game; Corman alumnus and frequent cameo-maker, Dick Miller, shows up as one of the boxer’s cornermen; legendary Football coach Mike Ditka appears as a football coach; and none other than Walter Koenig is the evil genius Drexel.

Well, at least when he is in human form.

So we have the usual computer genius hacker type, Steve Hunter, who is currently a computer game designer at the company run by his college girlfriend.  However, the NetPolice are after him because they think he is a massive cyber criminal (but can’t prove it), and a mysterious “therapist” is concerned about his mental health and wants his boss to help persuade him to participate in an experiment involving a brand-new self-contained, armor-plated computer called Drexel.

Mind you, this is all a lie, and the reality is that Drexel is out of control.  He loves Steve’s games and wants Steve to play against him in the games Steve designed.

Which, yes, is going exactly where you think it is.

I realize, when I look at this film, that my attitude towards it is very much based on its rather curious origins.  I find myself saying, wow, that wasn’t bad (for a film made out of junk).  I suppose it’s like judging a dog show for three-legged dogs.

You know what I mean: “Wow, what poise, what grace, what a fine stance!”

For a three-legged dog.

And I’m even willing to admit that a lot of these leftover bits do more or less work as a movie, despite the POV format.  The digital effects look very digital, even for 1996 when the game footage was shot.  But then this sort of game always tended to have rather poor VFX.

And that takes us into an entirely different three-legged dog show, I guess.

The production values on these games are actually fairly high, with a bit of location shooting and some rather obvious, but not terrible zombie and mutant makeup.  I’ve heard that the demo version of “Maximum Surge” which was released on the Windows 95 Demo disk looked quite promising, and the final version might have proven to be one of the better games of the mid-Nineties had it ever been released.  I’ll admit that I’m just a touch skeptical, as it had a series of multiple quests, all leading to identical locations, with identical computer rooms, where they fought identical mutant warriors.

At least, judging by what we see on screen here.

Plus, I remember seeing a live action quick draw videogame in an arcade many years ago (it was a brief craze back in the Eighties and Nineties):  it introduced each new gunman with a nicely cinematic little clip but, if you missed one of the gunmen and died, there was a massive programming glitch.  On the next round, when you faced a new gunman, if you managed to shoot him, the machine showed the footage of the previous gunman dying instead — and it would keep showing them out of sync until the game ended.

Which leaves me wondering how well any of this would have worked.

Another rather curious detail is that Walter Koenig’s voice has been dubbed over, with the childish voice of the computer.  Now this makes sense as Drexel is supposed to be effectively a newly born being, as willful and rude as a child.

Only with lots and lots of power, enough to take over or destroy the world.

But this voice sounds really, really weird coming out of Walter Koenig.  It’s easy to see why they made this choice: the original dialogue didn’t necessarily fit in with the new, bigger story, and it would have been more difficult — and expensive — to hire Walter to record the new dialogue.

Which doesn’t make it any less weird.

And it does leave you wondering why, when the dialogue did line up with the original, they didn’t allow Walter’s voice to come through for a moment or two before the computer intervened again.  I really think that would have helped.

Apparently, the game sequences were borrowed from the films made by Maximum Surge‘s creators, Digital Pictures (several of which had been released before they collapsed): Prize Fighter, Quarterback Attack with Mike Ditka, Corpse Killer, and Supreme Warrior.  These were called FMVs (full motion video) or interactive movies.  From what little I can find, the Maximum Surge game had about ninety minutes of footage.

However, as it was supposed to be playable as a game, I have to wonder how much of this was story related, and how much was little bits and pieces necessary to create the illusion that you could play a movie, like fragments of motion from a fight scene.

We certainly do not get anything like that much footage in the film.  The total footage used from all six games is only half an hour out of a ninety-minute film.   Even worse, a large part of what we get is either somewhat repetitive; or a jumble of nearly random little bits that might have been played when the game character got killed; or unclear as it was probably a response to some particular action; or may have been meant to mark a new part of the story.  Nor does it help that the game version of Supreme Warrior had a pair of digital hands superimposed on the film which the player controlled when he fought.  Nothing like them was added to the footage when they recycled it in this film.  I suspect that all these games probably had something similar, whether hands, or boxing gloves or perhaps a gun or knife, and their absence just makes all this footage look that much stranger.

Nor is there a lot to the framing story, when you get right down to it.  There are hints of subplots and a larger story behind the events, but nothing much of this is ever revealed.

Oh, well.  It is a bit of a mishmash, it is rather silly, and there are a lot of things in it which just do not work.

But it still isn’t entirely bad.

At least, not for a three-legged dog…

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