There are a few genres that simply don’t age well. A good JRPG is timeless, as are platformers, brawlers, fighting games and SHMUPs or side-scrolling shooters. Sports games and FPSers, however, don’t. With FPSers, if you strip the nostalgia out of even the mighty Doom or Duke Nukem, I would imagine that it’s very hard for anyone who doesn’t remember growing up with these games to find the appeal in them. Zero Tolerance, meanwhile, is even less fortunate. This was a game that very few people played, and even fewer would have a nostalgic hankering for today.
That’s not to say that retro FPSers are inherently bad, it’s just that this is a genre that is so reliant on technical innovation to sell the experience. You go back to Goldeneye 007 now, and even if you can get your hands around the archaic controls (it’s really hard), what passed for intelligent AI and intense, mission-based stealth action is almost impossible to see when we look at it through the lens of what the genre takes for granted now. To again make the comparison: Final Fantasy VI’s strengths – the characters, the aesthetics, the narrative and the turn-based combat – have not been superseded as they are unique qualities to that one particular game. Meanwhile, the strengths of Doom, as a balls-to-the-wall hard action, “metal” game about putting bullet holes in the legions from hell have been superseded by the modern Doom interpretations. They do all that the original Doom did, but bigger, louder, more violently and, as far as that series is concerned, better. I have a deep fondness for that original Doom, but the one and only reason to play it today is nostalgia.
So, to bring the conversation back to Zero Tolerance. The biggest problem that this collection of games faces is that they’re functionally unplayable in 2022. If you’re one of the few people that played them to death back on the Mega Drive, then you’ll probably find muscle memory kick in, and you’ll be able to clunk your way through it again. For the rest of us, though, the clumsy and inconsistent speed of the turning arcs, coupled with the speed in which enemies can move past you, and even the lack of usable strafe buttons (they’re there, but also worthlessly clumsy to use) means that it’s not just frustrating to play. It’s infuriating.
For its time, the Zero Tolerance game was a technical feat. The game has up and down stairwells, night vision goggles, flashlights, and a wide range of weapons, including flamethrowers. It is a genuine first person shooter with a high quality take on that fake 3D movement of early shooters, and indeed it is one of the earliest examples of the genre. The sequel, available in the selection, even has this neat train station level, with trains that leave the platform and, when a new one shows up, you can jump on it and walk between the carriages. It won’t move until you get off, but nonetheless it’s an impressive bit of level immersion for the time.
But the key phrase here is “for the time,” because absolutely none of that comes across as impressive, as it would have to people playing it back then, and the more critical flaws, such as the aforementioned control issues, as well as the brain-dead enemy AI and tiny viewing window that makes the action harder to follow, immediately dominate the experience in 2022. Finally, though the collection is surprisingly lengthy, thanks to the overwhelmingly shallow nature of the action you will have done everything that Zero Tolerance has to offer within the first level, making the dozens that come after it exercises of repetition with only the most superficial differences to distinguish them (i.e. enemies that scale in difficulty and look slightly different but still just rush at you and wait for you to blast them away).
Now, in fairness, Zero Tolerance would be an excellent title to remake for a modern audience. The dark sci-fi atmosphere is delightfully pulpy, and even today, you can see the kind of creative vision that the developers were aiming for. The narrative, limited as it is, establishes an idea that would make for excellent co-op, too, as you’re playing as a squad of soldiers, each with their own specialities, that has been tasked with dealing with the threat. This could easily work as a big action multiplayer boom boom game, and that would have been a far better way to preserve the legacy of Zero Tolerance.
I’m sure that there are people out there that have fond memories of Zero Tolerance and will appreciate having the collection available on modern consoles. Far be it for me to criticise the developer and publisher for preserving more niche art like this. However, beyond being a curiosity of the era and something worth experiencing, briefly, for people who are interested in the history of video games, there’s no modern entertainment value to Zero Tolerance. Once, it was probably impressive. Today, it’s impossible to have any tolerance for it whatsoever (yep, of course I wasn’t going to resist the temptation to make that pun).