It’s fair to say that the last few games in the Sega Ages series have been a little underwhelming. Not that they’ve been particularly terrible games, of course – we’re still dealing with classics from a legendary company’s archives – but the likes of Sonic the Hedgehog 2 and Puyo Puyo 2 are hardly providing us with journeys rarely ventured.
The series is definitely at its best when it focuses on Sega titles that haven’t enjoyed many home releases in the past, or even any at all: this is particularly true when we’re treated to arcade ports like Virtua Racing, Fantasy Zone and Puzzle & Action: Icihidant-R. Happily, G-LOC very much falls into this category; in fact, this is the first time the original arcade version has ever been available to play on a home system.
Although it was ported with varying levels of success to the Mega Drive, Master System, Game Gear and home computers in the early ‘90s, the original coin-op edition of G-LOC stands head and shoulders above them all because of how downright incredible it looked. It used Sega’s Y Board, an arcade board also used for the likes of Power Drift and Galaxy Force: this allowed for some nifty tricks, like sprite rotation and high frame rates. The result is a game that still looks pretty ruddy good to this day, despite its age.
At first glance, G-LOC looks like an advanced version of Sega’s other jet fighter classic, After Burner. Although it’s mostly played from a first-person perspective rather than that game’s third-person viewpoint, you’d be forgiven for thinking that it may as well have been branded with the After Burner name. In reality, there are notable differences between the two that arguably make G-LOC the more action-packed game.
In After Burner the main aim was survival; you had to make your way through its 18 stages without losing all your lives, and though shooting down enemies made this easier, it wasn’t essential. At the risk of being controversial, After Burner is a game where cowardice is a legit strategy because you can make your way through each stage by simply avoiding things.
G-LOC is different because it’s about attack, not defence. Each of its stages asks you to destroy a certain number of enemies within a time limit. The quicker you kill them, the more your time is extended for the next stage. In this sense, it’s closer to a racing game like Out Run than it is to After Burner. Rather than simply trying to make it to the end, then, you have to actively hunt down your enemies and kill them as efficiently as possible.
To do this you’re armed with two weapons: a Vulcan Gun (which is basically just a big machine gun) and an infinite supply of homing missiles. While the Vulcan Gun is okay for taking out some of the closer planes, it’s the missiles that make up the game’s main mechanic. Get an enemy in your sights for long enough and your cursor will turn red, locking onto them. A voice will shout “fire” and if you fire a missile at this point you’ll get a guaranteed kill. A good G-LOC player, then, is efficient at lining up enemies and firing off missiles in speedy fashion.
There are three difficulty levels to choose from, with the Beginner option limiting how much you can roll your plane and making you fly at a constant speed. When you bump it up to Medium or Expert your roll controls are completely unlocked – making your turns far wilder and letting you fly upside-down at will – and you gain access to a thrust and afterburners to give you a speed boost should you need to catch up to enemies. This makes things far more exciting.
That said, the more advanced control method does lead to the game’s most notable annoyance: the occasional stage where you swoop along the bottom of a winding canyon, avoiding the cliff edges. The sharp turns in these levels are just about manageable in Beginner mode, but in the harder difficulties simply navigating them with the extreme roll controls is a challenge in itself, let alone having to aim and lock onto enemies at the same time.
The difficulty levels don’t just affect the handling, they each represent a completely different set of stages: 9 in Beginner, 13 in Medium and 16 in Expert. This gives at least some replay value to a game that frankly doesn’t have much: since it’s an arcade game your main reason to keep playing is to try to beat your previous best score, which in this case entails trying to clear every stage with as short a total time as possible.
When it comes to extra features and options, the Sega Ages series generally offers a healthy selection, with only a few entries underwhelming a little. G-LOC certainly isn’t one of those disappointing ones: there are a number of interesting additions designed to both make the game more accessible to beginners and add new challenges for experts. In terms of gameplay aids, a faster lock-on is available, along with options to automatically fire your machine gun at all times and centre the screen whenever you’re aiming off-course.
Arguably the most appreciated new feature, however, is the Ages Mode. This is a whole new set of 16 stages with a single difficulty level, which starts off fairly easy and eventually becomes extremely difficult. It’s the mode we’ve found ourselves playing most and the addition of online rankings for both this and the standard arcade mode have ensured we’ve been playing for longer than expected.
In terms of presentation, M2’s quality shines through as always. As ever, there are a bunch of different display options, giving you the choice to play with a smoothing filter, scan lines, both or neither, as well as the option to scale the picture in a number of ways. It also adds a couple of fun cabinet-based viewpoints: the standard upright one probably won’t keep you occupied for long but the option to play in the game’s deluxe moving cabinet is genuinely great fun, and the ambient arcade noise accompanying it is a nice touch.
Sadly, though, there’s no option – at least that we could find after a lengthy playtest – to unlock the insane R360 cabinet. This insane construction made players strap themselves in and rotated 360 degrees, leading to some wild movements that turned you upside-down and made vomiting all but guaranteed. Only 100 of these cabinets were made – the Trocadero in London had one, Michael Jackson owned another – and since it’s unlikely many of us will ever get to try one out today, a simulated version would have been great. Fingers crossed it’s an unlockable we just haven’t uncovered yet.
This aside, we’ve been enjoying G-LOC. It’s nice to see another Sega Ages title dedicated to a game that never had a home release, and the fact that it’s an entertaining one means it’s more than just a curio that will only appeal to historians. It’s not without its issues – those canyon stages are a nightmare and unless you like beating your personal best, its appeal might be limited – but those points don't take away from the fact that it's yet another strong entry in the series.
An action-packed arcade title with a greater focus on offensive play than the likes of After Burner. G-LOC's first-ever home release is a welcome one. It's got a couple of frustrating stages and, as is the case with most arcade games, it has longevity issues, but as long as you don't mind playing the same short series of stages over and over again to edge yourself up the online rankings, it's a good way to pass 10 minutes at a time.