The streets were filled with thugs, dealers, armed robbers, and other scum (even ninjas), and only two hard-nosed lawmen had the guts and the skills to take out the trash. They were Lethal Enforcers, stars of a breakthrough 1992 Konami shooting game, and they didn’t take no guff from anybody.
Lethal Enforcers brought the first-person shooter into the age of digitized graphics, carrying players through scrolling scenes of fairly realistic danger and destruction. At the start of the game, our two trigger-happy detectives (or one in a one-player game) crashed in on a bank robbery, where they foiled the bad guys by filling them with hot lead. The lethal tandem had to be careful with their shots, however, because innocent citizens and fellow lawmen were also on the scene, and a stray bullet could lead to a tragedy (and a demotion).
After chasing the robbers outdoors, the lethal enforcers took off on a high-speed chase, returning fire as the criminals blasted away from their moving cars. Once that situation was under control, the action shifted to Chinatown, where a gang of thugs and evil ninjas were carrying out a reign of terror. Once again, lethal force was the only way to restore order.
From there, the detectives went on to foil an airport hijacking, bust a drug shipment out at the port, then put down a violent uprising at the local chemical plant. All in a day’s work for our heroes…
Obviously, patrolling these streets was no easy task, and sometimes that little six-shooter just wasn’t enough to handle it. Sympathetic programmers at Konami threw in a few power-up weapons to help the enforcers out—shotguns, rifles, Magnum bullets, automatics, machine guns, and grenade guns. Aside from the limited-use machine gun and grenade gun, each of these weapons could be reloaded by firing off-screen, a quick and clever way to keep the action moving.
Although ammo was usually unlimited, it paid to be a careful shot. Bonuses were awarded for shot accuracy, and a high score was the only way to secure a promotion from Detective to Sergeant, Lieutenant, Captain, and Commander. But once again, bad shooting (killing innocents) got you busted down in rank, possibly even below Detective to Patrolman.
Lethal Enforcers may have played like a standard shooter, but it looked and sounded better than any that had come before. The digitized graphics and speech samples created an aura of realism, and the effect was heightened by having your gun’s bullets actually smash glass, and leave holes in walls.
The revolutionary look and classic gameplay helped turn Lethal Enforcers into a smash hit, and Konami followed up two years later with a sequel, Lethal Enforcers II: Gunfighters. This second installment shifted the action to the Old West, where the gun-toting enforcers tried to keep the peace in a frontier town.
Once again, things began with a bank robbery, but from there, the game moved to a stagecoach holdup, a gunslinging duel, a train robbery, and finally a showdown in a haunted mine. Both this game and the original Lethal Enforcers also included between-scene bonus stages, where players could hone their shooting skills for extra points.
Aside from the setting, little changed from the first Lethal Enforcers to its sequel. The digitized characters and backgrounds still drew admiring crowds, and power-ups were still available, this time with a Western theme: shotguns, rifles, double rigs, Gatling guns, and cannons. The game’s only real change was a new gun recoil system, which heightened the illusion of reality even further.
The Lethal Enforcers series ended after the second game, but its influence continued to be seen through the rest of the decade, in games like Area 51, Maximum Force, and other shooters.