Ground Zero Texas is a full motion video game shooter developed by Digital Pictures for the Sega CD. It was released in 1993 at the height of the FMV genre. It features over a hundred minutes of footage directed by Dwight H. Little who had previously worked on a number of major feature-length films. Gameplay consists of pre-recorded action sequences engaging the player in gallery-style shooting with a host of live actors variably designated as enemy targets. These scenes are tied into an overarching storyline of a "body-snatcher" type alien invasion.
The story centers on the random disappearances of locals in a sleepy Texas border town. This prompts an enigmatic military organization to send in operatives to assess the situation resulting in the uncovering of a clandestine alien takeover. The player is sent in as a tactical expert to assist in rooting out aliens in disguise and neutralizing them. Most of the action takes place in a hidden monitoring room that receives camera feeds from key locations around town. Each camera, called a battlecam, is armed with a laser gun turret capable of initially stunning the alien invaders and eventually dispatching them outright.
Ground Zero Texas adopts the fixed shooting gallery gameplay mechanic in the vein of early light gun shooters such as Wild Gunman. The player moves a floating crosshair across a static backdrop as enemy targets pop out and open fire from behind some form of cover such as a clay barrier wall or a gas station pump. Every target typically fires once, then retreats.
A white reticle pinpoints enemy targets and turns red when the crosshair is moved over it signaling the shot will connect. If the shot lands successfully, a brief cinematic shows the alien reeling in slow motion. Depending on the scenario, an alien in human form may emit an audible "Squeee!" noise as it collapses. The battlecam receives damage if the player misses or does not take the shot.
The amount of damage each battlecam can sustain is limited to fifteen hits indicated by a meter that monitors its condition represented by five horizontal bars. In perfect condition, all bars are bright green. If the battlecam gets hit, each green bar changes to yellow one by one. As the battlecam withstands further damage, the yellow bars turn red. Once the second top-most bar turns red, there is a noticeable degradation of visual quality - the scenery takes on a monotone hue, the targeting reticle (not the crosshair) disappears, until finally the entire scene is distorted by a prism effect which limits the player to barely be able to discern moving objects.
Scenarios and Camera Switching
Scenarios are generally presented in two ways: straight gallery shooting of randomly generated targets comprising the bulk of the game, or event scenes moving the plot forward or depicting various activities around town like patrons enjoying a card game at the local cantina. In the latter case, any person in the crowd is potentially an alien undercover. The perpetrator ultimately reveals itself as the scene unfolds, although there are occasions when a scene concludes without incident. When firing at the alien, the player must be wary not to accidentally shoot too many innocent bystanders. Otherwise, the game ends.
Nearly the entire game is viewed through four strategically mounted battlecams aptly numbered 1 through 4. As scenarios unfold across town, the player constantly switches between cameras when the corresponding number flashes. Such scenarios, in order of importance include major plot points, random events (e.g. a holdup), or pesky aliens firing relentlessly at the camera (straight gallery shooting). It is not uncommon for two or more numbers to light up simultaneously, compelling the player to prioritize depending upon the urgency of a given scenario.
However, most of the player's time is spent straight gallery shooting. A looping soundclip indicates when aliens will continuously pop out and attack, encouraging the player to remain and fight until the area is cleared. The looped sound ceases eventually, signaling that aliens are no longer present on the scene and it is safe to switch to another battlecam. This discourages camera switching immediately just as another number begins flashing. This can be countered by raising a protective screen, temporarily rendering the battlecam impervious to blaster shots, then switching to another camera. However, the shield can only absorb a very limited amount of damage before it deteriorates.
There are five main characters who lend their support throughout the game. Reese is in charge of the operation and gives a briefing on the situation as well as monitor the player's actions. The other four operatives - DiSalvo, Pike, Breen and Matthews - are assigned to specific areas in town where battlecams had been installed. They collectively play a crucial role in obtaining a secret code early in the game and can repair any battlecams taken out of commission up to three times.
- Reese - The commander of the operation.
DiSalvo - The second-in-command. She is assigned to the Hotel.
Pike - Assigned to the Plaza Square.
Breen - Assigned to the Cantina working undercover as a patron.
Matthews - Assigned to Main Street working undercover as an electrician.
The setting is El Cadron, a small town along the US-Mexican border where a number of mysterious disappearances have been reported. An organization known as SAT COM sends in agents to investigate only to discover aliens are kidnapping townsfolk and assuming their identities. The player is flown in as a tactical expert to operate laser gun cameras, known as battlecams, mounted across town to protect both the operatives on the ground and civilians. If the situation cannot be contained, SAT COM has a B2 bomber in the air awaiting orders to drop a tactical nuclear weapon.
There are four main operatives on the ground, not including the officer-in-charge, Reese. As aliens are being uncovered all over El Cadron, all four of the ground operatives eventually need saving themselves. If the player is able to shoot the alien attacker of each of the operatives, a dogtag etched with a number and symbol is found on the body. When combined, they form an inexplicable code.
SAT COM sends reports of possible locations of alien activity which could lead to their base of operations. After the player selects which location to investigate, Reese dons a specially outfitted helmet equipped with battlecams and heads out. Once Reese reaches his destination, the aliens in their natural form fight to defend their base. The pieced together code from earlier comes in handy when Reese discovers a vault that requires four numbers paired with symbols to unlock.
Within the vault, the missing townsfolk are found trapped in suspended animation along with a considerable stockpile of alien weaponry. If any operatives were captured earlier, Reese cuts them loose.
Their base compromised, the aliens launch a devastating offensive employing robot stormtroopers to exterminate El Cadron and all its inhabitants. Reese and the other agents evacuate all civilians and try to fight off the aliens' advance on the ground with standard-issue weapons, but quickly realize their ineffectiveness. Only the battlecams, now outfitted with alien technology capable of disintegrating robot stormtroopers stand a chance of hampering the invasion.
The stormtroopers press harder as they level entire buildings. The SAT COM team sets up a defensive perimeter relying on battlecams to protect them from the aliens' frantic assault. Each area, from the Cantina to the Hotel needs to be secured before pushing further. Once the aliens have been beaten back, the player is summoned to the outskirts of town.
The second-in-command, DiSalvo, awaits carrying a heavy rocket launcher retrofitted with advanced alien components. Reese has been captured and taken up to the mothership. The only chance to save him would be to fire at a specifically vulnerable area of the ship. DiSalvo hands over the rocket launcher and orders the player to fire before the mothership flies out of reach. The rocket is launched with careful precision and finds its mark. In one fell swoop, the world is saved.
Back at SAT COM headquarters, the general offers his congratulations. DiSalvo is promoted to the rank of Captain for her brave actions, and Reese appears in relatively good health apparently having escaped with only an arm injury.
Dwight H. Little, director of Ground Zero Texas is also director of the 2009 movie adaptation of the long-running fighting game franchise Tekken.
Scott Lawrence, the actor who plays Pike, has done extensive voiceover work as Darth Vader for a number of Star Wars video games including Star Wars: Rogue Squadron II - Rogue Leader, Star Wars: Galactic Battlegrounds, and Star Wars: Battlefront II. Recently, Lawrence has lent his voice talent to the Command & Conquer 3 series of games, namely Tiberium Wars and Kane's Wrath.
One of the writers, Edward Neumeier, is the executive producer of the 2005 Starship Troopers video game and provided some of the voice work. He also developed some of the characters for the 1988 side-scroller, Robocop.
Rick Aiello, the actor who plays Matthews, did some voiceover work for the horror action game Manhunt as Wardogs #2.