Retro Reflections: Apocalypse (PS1) – More Than That Weird Bruce Willis Game?

Look at the weird digital Bruce Willis.

Bruce Willis apocalypse

In 2019, there’s little surprise when a celebrity signs on for a hot new game, but it was a big deal when one of the top action stars did just that back in 1998. Apocalypse is a game from the original PlayStation starring Die Hard’s favorite son, Bruce Willis. That fact is prominently placed at the top of the case, in the off chance someone didn’t recognize that handsome face. No matter what else I talk about concerning this title, that’s what the few people who remember it know of Apocalypse: it’s the one with Bruce Willis.

A multi-million dollar deal was forged to have Willis lend his voice and likeness to Apocalypse. That one addition made this game stand out much more than it would have. It also meant the game needed to come out sooner. Behind the scenes, a lot had changed and meant that Willis’ role had been lessened. Willis was still playing the same character, Trey Kincaid — don’t bother learning that name, everyone just calls him Bruce — but his role had morphed.

Apocalypse began with the idea of an action movie plus a buddy cop film still set in a futuristic science fiction world, where Willis’ Kincaid would be the partner to the player. Those lofty goals had to be reeled in when there were small hardware limitations and the aforementioned timing crunch, so the decision was made to cut that out and make Willis the main character. This may have been part of the problem as much as it was a solution. Even though Willis gave insights and suggested dialog changes for his character that the studio went with, his lines were most likely recorded with him still as the partner character.

Bruce’s face was “cyberscanned” into the game, which looks alright for the time, and he performed a good bit of motion capture for the adventure. The dialog and one-liners, however, are not so great. Not only is there a ton of repetition, but several of the reads feel flat and don’t fit the scene. I imagine this comes from the developers having to work with what they had as getting Willis back in the studio was likely going to be tough.

Apocalypse is a third-person shooter with decent controls, as long as the player is using a DualShock controller, because those analog sticks make a difference. It plays like Smash TV but with linear pathways and jumping. The platforming feels out of place, but it isn’t horrible. Most of my needless deaths came from the “intelligent camera movements” the game boasts about. The view is constantly shifting to try and give a cool, cinematic constantly changing angle, which is a great sounding idea that just doesn’t work in some areas.

Combat is fun overall: Easy to jump into and deaths don’t feel too punishing even when it gets tough. The bosses could be a bit daunting but they do such a good job of breaking up the normal action. This is definitely a game I would go back through again with the cheats on, so there is some replay value. I think what helps here is the weapons, how they feel and sound, as well as being effective and providing glorious violence. It’s all very satisfying.

Neversoft were the developers behind Apocalypse and it was a huge project for them, not just because of Mr. Willis — and being their first fully original game — but what it allowed them to do as well. The engine would be used to help make the Tony Hawk games as well as Spider-Man (2000), one of my favorites. The early builds of Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater apparently even had Willis’ Trey Kincaid riding around on a skateboard.

I think the engine was definitely improved upon for those games. The build for Apocalypse works great and does some things to push the PS1, but it can still be choppy at some points and suffer from slowdown. The stages aren’t bad, though I would have preferred some more color to help sell the sci-fi aesthetic. As is, a lot of them are just dark.

The setting was a big selling point for me. The world they created is hard science fiction and there is a nice science versus religion theme. Apocalypse is a little crazy story-wise, but I enjoyed reading up on it more. Trey Kincaid has been thrown in prison and needs to stop The Reverend, who has used his scientific knowledge to generate the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. The manual doesn’t go much more into it, but all of the core ideas are there for something good. If Willis wasn’t so expensive, I’d say they should give Apocalypse or something like it another shot.

Willis wasn’t the only star to appear in Apocalypse, as Poe would lend her voice and likeness to the role of Plague. This isn’t someone I was familiar with and apparently I have missed out. Poe is also a singer who appeared alongside Snoot and System of a Down in the game, having their live action music videos projected on large screens in the game world. This was a fun distraction and went along with the rest of the game’s audio, which is good.

I remember getting Apocalypse on a demo disc I had picked up to try Tomb Raider 3 but ended up spending more time with Bruce. It was an unexpected hit for me, even if I wouldn’t pick up the game until much later. Apocalypse is fast-paced, tries to change things up, and feels like a dynamic action movie. That was the point and they made it happen, even if it had to be shifted from the original idea. We often say that games were ambitious, too much so even, but this time I found one that managed to live up to a lot of what it set out to create. I think most could find a little bit of fun with the end of the world, but to me Apocalypse genuinely succeeded, mostly because I was never bored.

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