• Film: 1991, Silver Pictures 
  • Game: 1991, Ocean 
  • Review here, cover art and adverts here 

Here’s a real novelty: an 8-bit computer game that was actually better than the Hollywood original.You’ll remember Dick Lehberg from part one a few weeks ago. He said that it was very difficult to tell how a movie was going to turn out based on the original scripts. Hudson Hawk lived that publisher’s nightmare to the extreme, with Ocean Software looking across the pond in horror as the action film they’d started making a game of changed beyond recognition. The problem was that Ocean didn’t like just tagging the film’s name onto a generic game. Take Batman, f’rinstance: nobody who lived through the summer of 1989 will forget Michael Keaton, Kim Bassinger and a Joker turn from Jack Nicholson that – at the time – you’d never have thought could be beaten. With the script in stone from the beginning, the Manc softies were able to create an adventure that recreated the story still fresh in everyone’s minds. Load one was Batman and the Joker in a chemicals factory (begging to be a platform sequence…which it was). Load two was the car chase, and load three involved the Batwing. You saw the film, then played the highlights in the game. 

You start the game on top of a New York museum. If you avoid the dog (throw him a ball – or just chuck it directly at him), it’s a quick bit of abseiling and avoiding the birds when they crap. Yep, plenty of that sort of humour here. The cartoon graphics aren’t what you might expect, especially Bruce Willis’ squat sprite, but he’s brilliantly animated and can do lots of things. He looks rad against the looming backdrops (the city, the Vatican, a big ol’ castle) too.

Ocean started work on Hudson Hawk in the same spirit, identifying set pieces that would work well on microcomputers.“I recall getting the script”, Gary Bracey says in The History Of Ocean. “It was probably the best I’d ever read. It was funny, it was exciting, and it had Bruce Willis – a hot action hero of the time.” But it wasn’t long before things started to unravel on the US side.“Bruce Willis’ ego got the better of them. They changed the film as it went along. The end result was unrecognisable from the original script. I was really upset. We were constrained by what we could do…it was difficult to extract key scenes that we could develop.”

A basic Google and you’ll find a lot of the old Ocean crowd calling Hudson a “turkey” or a “flop”, but the reviews of the time for the Commodore 64 version don’t agree at all. It was produced for the 64 by Special FX, who’d done a monumental job the year before on the epic arcade rampage Midnight Resistance.

Set off the alarms and lasers pick up their game and become difficult to avoid. Here’s what happens if you get unlucky. No idea what that enemy on the bike is, by the way. Seriously, what is going on in this game?

The story itself is a confusing mess involving alchemy, Leonardo Da Vinci and crystals but all you need to know is that Bruce Willis is a cat burglar and your job is to quietly break in to places and steal cool stuff. Your first gig, for example, is to nick a statue of a horse from a ten floor high New York museum. Immediately, you’re required to throw a ball to distract a bum biting rotweiler and abseil across a roof before tackling a small puzzle using crates to haul yourself into the museum’s window. It’s all very Rick Dangerous, with an element of strategy thrown in when you find yourself avoiding burglar alarm sensors or the salivating jaws of another dog. If you set off an alarm, the windows illuminate with flashing lights and the game’s pace notches up. It is a clever and effective bit of design, forcing you to be quiet and become the cat burglar instead of rampaging towards the prize. Later, you find yourself beneath the Vatican and then at a castle. It’s in these later stages, almost certainly produced chronologically, that the game seems to openly mock the film’s confusing story degeneration. The puzzles are replaced by parachuting nuns, angry priests and, erm, kangaroos.  But it’s still super intense fun, with the game’s second enormous labyrinth of tunnels and ladders – not unlike Switchblade – reaching a size, challenge and intensity rarely seen on the Commodore. “The lavish backdrops overshadow the film”, said ZZAP! 64. “It has great animation and a polished, console feel. It’s really enjoyable and at times hilarious.” Over at Commodore Format, Andy Dyer agreed. “The sprites are great, the transportation sequences between levels are gorgeous, and it’s packed with original and well implemented ideas. It’s nice to have a departure from the beat ‘em up and sliding puzzle cocktail.” 

Our hunch is that Ocean’s disappointment wasn’t in the final product, but lingering thoughts over what might have been – and who knows what long deleted scenes they had earmarked for the game? If we separate that issue from what was published, Hudson Hawk is one of the biggest and most satisfying platform adventures you’ll find on the Commodore, regardless of what isn’t there. It has a bunch of unexpected twists and it’ll actually make you laugh, which is more than the film will. The C64: better than Bruce Willis (ah, that classic playground debate – Ed). CF