Zero Tolerance is a 1994 video game developed by Technopop and published by Accolade exclusively for the Sega Mega Drive console. It was one of the few first-person shooters for the Sega Mega Drive, besides Bloodshot and the Duke Nukem 3D port.
Sega Genesis was not known for its ability to create first-person shooters, but that didn’t stop four different attempts from getting a commercial release. Zero Tolerance was released by Technopop in 1994, so it wasn’t the first attempt at a console shooter (that honor belongs to Core Design’s Cyber-Cop game) nor was it the last (that honor belongs to the Brazilian exclusive Duke Nukem 3D), but it remains the most creative of all and has gained cult popularity as a result. These days it is too archaic and tedious for most, but its ambitiousness in itself is particularly commendable.
Zero Tolerance Game Plot
In the future humanity has made great strides in interstellar travel and subsequently colonized the solar system. Extrasolar settlements, research outposts, mines, commercial colonies, spaceships and stations throughout the solar system are protected by a powerful interstellar military conglomerate called the Planetary Defense Corps.
When Europa-1, the flagship of the Planetary Defense Corps, is attacked by an unknown but deadly aggressor of apparently extraterrestrial nature, the Planetary Defense Corps summons Zero Tolerance, an elite strike force of five specially trained commandos, to help. A recording of the last transmission from Europa-1 shows the warship badly damaged by fire, almost everyone dead and the otherworldly beings preying on the few survivors of the attack. In addition, Europa-1’s nuclear cooling system is damaged by small arms fire, and a core rupture caused by overheating would destroy the starship in a matter of hours.
As a member of the Zero Tolerance squadron, the player character is ordered during a crisis briefing to infiltrate Europa-1 before it explodes. Their mission is to destroy the mysterious alien aggressor from within, as well as the transformed humans from Europa-1 that they have “infected,” within the next few hours to erase all evidence of the attack and the alien invaders.
Game Areas, Enemies
Zone One: Planet Defense’s Europa One Space Station
The first area of the game is Planet Defense’s Europa-1 Space Station. Most levels in this area are generally wide open, although later levels become maze-like. Greenhouse levels, because of the vegetation and moisture in the air, have limited visibility.
The player encounters people armed with guns and giant crabs that attack by biting the player. The boss on the last level is a man in a blue mech suit with a flamethrower as his weapon.
Zone Two: The Rooftop Highrise
The player begins on the top floor of the Planet Defense Core building, then descends down from floors 164 to 151. The first few floors (not counting the roof) consist mostly of large rooms connected by long corridors, but most of the subsequent floors are spacious, although visibility is limited on some of them due to raging fires.
In this area, the player encounters fast-moving robots with laser sights. They also tend to team up with other robots or other enemies. Humans are also present, but armed with laser-guided pistols and hand grenades. There are also red dog-like creatures, which usually attack in packs: if the player chases one, it is likely that at least one more will attack the player from the other side.
There are also warnings about approaching guards: if the player gets too close to one of them without destroying it, it will emit three warning beeps and then sound an alarm, causing the adjacent doorway to open and all the enemies inside to fall out.
The boss of this area looks like a giant lizard in an exoskeleton using a pulse laser.
Zone Three: Planet Defense Core Basement
The alien forces have retreated into the basement of this building, which has over 10 levels. Many of the levels are solid mazes, although some of the last levels are similar to the first levels of area two, where there are several large rooms connected by long corridors. Again, several areas are foggy because of the fires.
Humans, red dog-like creatures, and crabs have returned to the area, and the only new enemy is the giant locust-like creatures with appendages protruding from their heads, with which they attack the player.
The boss is a giant insect-like creature with a pulse laser.
Characters of the game
Major Thomas Gjorup – code name “Basse”
Gjorup is not a very good shot, but he is an excellent fighter. He is the toughest member of the team, which explains his refusal to follow orders and disciplinary actions for insubordination. If the player starts the game with this character, he will be armed with a shotgun and a bioscanner.
Captain Scott Hale – code name: “Psycho”
Hale is an expert in detonation, ballistics, bomb disarming and counter-bombing. There is little information about him, as his biography and profile are top secret. Haile begins the game with a pistol and two mines.
Captain Satoe Ishii – codename “Soba”
Ishii is the best marksman on the team, able to shoot perfectly anywhere from any distance using pistols or other long-range weapons, although she is terrible at hand-to-hand combat. She starts the game with a pistol and a bulletproof vest.
Major Tony Ramos – code name “Weasel”
Ramos is the best at hand-to-hand combat, as he is excellent at martial arts, and very cunning. He can run faster than other characters and takes less damage.
Maj. Justin Wolf – codename “Jjwolf”
Wolf earned many medals during his time in the service. He is an excellent marksman and is also medically trained, so when he is wounded, the medpack returns 20 health points to others and 25 to him. At the beginning of the game he is armed with a pistol and a bioscanner.
Zero Tolerance consists of 40 levels covering three separate areas: the Europa-1 warship, an abandoned merchant cargo ship, the heavily fortified central command building of the Planetary Defense Corps and the basement of that building. The goal of the game is to kill all enemies on the level and then make it to the exit, which is a staircase or elevator leading to the next level.
However, nothing prevents the player from heading straight for the exit without killing all the enemies. In this case, the player will simply not be given any passwords until the entire area has been passed.
Once a character is killed, he will be listed as “dead” and will become unplayable. The player can choose one of five different characters; when they all die, the game ends.
The game supported multiplayer mode for such a game would require two Sega consoles, two televisions, and two copies of a cartridge. Originally, a cable was supposed to come with the game. However, this was changed at the last minute and a coupon was added instead to order a free cable.
The player can accumulate and use up to five different weapons and items simultaneously, which are displayed at the top of the screen. The item in the middle or weapon is the item currently in use, as the player can cycle through his inventory. The main screen simultaneously displays the player’s health, ID, part of the map and view area from the player’s eyes, as well as the entire map of the current level, which is displayed whenever the game is paused.
It starts out promising at first, as Europa-1 has decent variety, but once you get to the Planet Defense Core building, the game becomes repetitive to the point of absurdity. Each area establishes a pattern, which is then practically replicated throughout ten or more levels. Almost every floor of the Planet Defense Core building is a wide, dark room packed to the brim with attack dogs and random robots, and the basements, which make up the last area, are solid, confusing mazes with the same three aliens chasing you at every corner.
There are no sets, cards, puzzles, or anything to alter your actions, so the game often boils down to turning a corner, shooting everything there, and repeating until you make it to the end. At least the map is great because it shows you the exact terrain with no indication of enemy locations or exits,requiring no effort on your part to explore.
Some really great visuals are present, like the way the blood splatters on the walls and slowly runs down them, but the game itself keeps going at an uncomfortably slow pace. Your character turns too slowly compared to how quickly you should react to ambushes because of the short shooting distance, resulting in punishing misses. It also takes a second for the character to start running at full speed, which is even more annoying when you have to get far enough away from pesky aliens crawling on the walls.
Using some weapons, such as a flamethrower, or fighting in a room full of aliens, also lowers the frame rate. The game also uses a strange effect in which your character jumps up when taking damage, which only adds to the disorientation.
The user interface is also a prime example of the compromises necessary to make the game work, as it limits the view to half the screen, while other elements, such as the useless ID card and the much more useful radar, take up significant chunks of the screen. The abundance of visual splendor speaks in favor of ingenious programming skills, but it also makes you wonder if Technopop should have tried releasing the game on a more powerful platform like the 32X or the Sega CD.
Technopop’s ambitions weren’t limited to the game itself, and they did go out of their way to create a one-of-a-kind game on Genesis. If you can get two TVs, two Genesis consoles, and two copies of the game together, you can play in co-op with another person by using a connecting cable to connect the two consoles to each other. This is the only game on the console that allows this feature, so you had to send a coupon to Technopop to get the cable. If you want to try this these days, Technopop’s website has diagrams that you can use to make a homemade version of the cable.
GamePro gave the game a mostly positive review, noting that “First-person games like Zero Tolerance do put pressure on the system’s CPU, but Accolade did a good job: The anxiety caused by an enemy flying out from around a corner or the twitching body of a shot spider is strong.”
They also praised the large and maze-like levels, the cooperative multiplayer option, and the limited but spectacular sound effects, although they criticized some elements, such as the slow character turn. Four Electronic Gaming Monthly reviewers reacted differently to Zero Tolerance, but generally agreed that the game was an effective replacement for Wolfenstein 3D and Doom on Genesis. They gave it a score of 7.5 out of 10.
A sequel called Beyond Zero Tolerance (or Zero Tolerance 2) was being developed by Technopop for the Sega Mega Drive/Genesis, but was canceled. A letter-writing campaign was launched to Accolade asking them to release the game, but to no avail. ROMs of the game and its sequels were offered by the owner for free download later.
Zero Tolerance was released on Steam in August 2020 thanks to Piko Interactive, but this version is essentially identical to the Genesis version. In 2005, Eidos Interactive was working on a game called Zero Tolerance: City Under Fire for PS2 and Xbox, but they received a rejection and ban from Randel Reiss, former president of Technopop, and were forced to change the game name, leading to the creation of Urban Chaos: Riot Response. The ban was filed on the grounds that Technopop was working on a PSP version of Zero Tolerance, but that project was never completed.
Beyond Zero Tolerance
A sequel to Zero Tolerance, called Beyond Zero Tolerance, was in development for Genesis, but was never completed. A prototype of the game was posted on the Internet by Technopop and is still freely available. The game was supposed to take place after the events of the original game, and it was supposed to feature a new batch of Zero Tolerance members who would lead a fight against an alien world.
The game itself is surprisingly playable for a prototype, and several levels seem to be completed. Most of the visuals and music are taken from the first game, and some things don’t work as intended, such as the missing sound of gun shots. New enemies keep appearing, and the weapons you can find are also completely different, although they are identical in functionality to the existing ones and are even mentioned as such in the game’s event log.
The biggest change found in the prototype concerns the handling of the map. Instead of providing the player with the entire map, it appears empty and fills in as the player explores new rooms. This was probably meant to encourage players to mop up the levels rather than run past everything, but without any evidence of more variety in the levels, this choice seems questionable.
There were also some other changes to the mechanics, including a greatly increased turn rate and the ability to see items on the map in discovered rooms, so it seems that some of the shortcomings of the original game have been addressed.