Funkier than your grandma's underpants...
"Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, disco junkies and square unfunkies alike, prepare to witness the unveiling of the funk. Out with the new, in with the old...straight from the ashes of your dad's roach clip rises a game that puts a bump in your rump and a swing in your thing, a dip to your hip and a glide to your stride. So throw on the high steppin' platforms, the polyester jumpsuit and the butterfly lapels - it's time to get funky. And oh, make sure you buckle up."
One of the most anticipated titles of the year, Interstate '76 raised more than a few eyebrows with its discotheque premise. It's been promoted as a funkified auto-death race, a frenetic mix of action and adventure that resembles the bastard son of "Shaft" and "Cannonball Run." Well, my fine feathery haired friends, the verdict is in. I '76 delivers some GREAT music, some baaaad plot twists, some far-out graphics, and some good action. Unfortunately, certain design flaws throw a bummer vibe into the operation, keeping this game from achieving some truly "high" heights.
But hey, why start to bad trip before you've even started groovin'? Let me dive in with some of the finer points in this extremely original experience.
The story is simple and effective. The year is 1976 (duh). A national gas shortage has produced a new breed of warrior: the auto-vigilante. Armed with impressive muscle cars decked out with advanced weaponry, vigilantes roam the plains and deserts of the Southwest are copping a "Mad Max" attitude. The name of the game is fame and money, and only the most skilled and intuitive roadsters will survive.
You play Groove Champion, the unlikely hero of the game. Your sister Jade falls victim to the sinister designs of auto svengali Antonio Malochio (the bad guy). Teaming up with Taurus (the wing man with the 5 foot fro and the baritone grumble) and Skeeter (the hick mechanic with a knack for turning scrap metal into useful weaponry), you set out to avenge your sister's death.
The intro sequence RULES. The characters are strictly polygonal; however, not many polygons are used. This creates a really authentic mood. Big, blocky polygons enhance the overblown attitudes and threads of 70's life. The shots are hysterical - Starsky and Hutch meet Pulp Fiction. All of the cut scenes use the same graphics, and are very well-directed. You actually feel as though you're watching a finely crafted blacksploitation epic. Oddly enough, someone forgot to include mouths. Yup. There are no mouths in this game. Guess that's one of those long lost quaalude side-effects (not that I'd know...).
After watching the intro, I must admit I had some seriously high hopes for I '76. I had hoped for an interactive disco ball, a funky version of the classic AutoDuel. I wished for depth, for choices, for non-linearity and multiple plot twists. What I got, however, was a very cool version of Twisted Metal. This is the essence of gameplay (and the game).
There are three play modes. You can Practice, take a Trip, or engage in brutal Melee.
Practice mode lets you get the hang of driving, and as the game relies on actual vehicle physics, this is no easy task. Learn how to drive well, because it gets much harder when other cars are around shooting at you. The control is fully customizable; you can assign any combination of keyboard, mouse, or joystick to any of the commands. I found the joystick to be a good choice for steering and firing (though not as good as a steering wheel...check one out right here) and I left the keyboard as the control deck. You can switch views on the fly, which you will definitely do as there are 11 to choose from. You can also look around, which comes in handy when you're driving next to someone and want to shoot them in the head with a handgun.
As this is a car game, it would be silly if you didn't have any cars. Well rest easy, baby, 'cause there are 30 authentic pieces of metal to choose from. Each of these muscle machines can be outfitted to your own preference and in accordance with the car's design (in Melee mode only, I should note). There's also a slew of groovy weapons to use, ranging from the always effective 50 caliber machine gun to the aptly named "EZKill Mortar." Certain weapons must be placed in certain places; you can't stick a Napalm Hose on your hood, for instance (it's like pissing up a flagpole).
The "true" game lies in Taking a Trip (thank YOU Timothy Leary). This involves the unfolding of the plot and fighting it out in a linear storyline. You see a cinematic cut-scene, drive around killing things to satisfy mission objectives, etc, etc. By salvaging parts from destroyed enemies, Skeeter can trick out your car more and more as the game progresses. Melee mode is, well, where you melee, much like the individual scenario scenes from Twisted Metal.
So that's the game (in a large nutshell). Sound like fun? Well, for the most part, it is.
The problem with I '76 lies in its one dimensionality. All of the action takes place from behind the wheel; you can't actually get out of the car and roam around. This limits the game to being mainly an arcade style racing simulation as opposed to a true interactive adventure. With such a unique and interesting premise, one would hope to see added depth. I kept wanting to hop out of the car and talk to the other characters - the dialog itself is thematic enough to create a potentially really cool interaction. Or a more RPG like mode where you explore a larger world and make your own plot, like the Apple II classic, Autoduel. It seems as though this game has a great idea that isn't quite fully realized.
This is not to say that everything is strictly linear. I '76 picks up where Twisted Metal leaves off by creating a limitless driving environment. You can drive anywhere: on the road, off the road, over signs, into gas stations, etc. The designers made sure that you would be immersed in the game by including nearly every object as a potential obstruction. They just forgot to include a door handle.
I now must take a moment to give huge props to the sound department. The sound is incredible. The FX are true to life, with clanks, revving, and gunshots crystal clear and correctly placed (i.e. sounds pan from speaker to speaker). You couldn't ask for much more, except for a groovin' 70's soundtrack....
...delivered! The music is the best I've ever heard in a game. I'd buy the soundtrack even if the game never existed. The songs are all originals, composed and performed by some serious funkateers from the Bay Area. Using authentic instrumentation (wah pedals, blaring horn section, etc.), the music is simply great. 'Nuff said.
I have one other beef, however. I ran the game on a P 120 with 16 MB RAM - not the most muscular machine, but it should have been more than sufficient. I found that even with the detail levels set to low, the game moved with a jerkiness and choppiness that doesn't do an action game justice. You can run the game in full screen mode or as a window, yet there's not much of a difference between the two concerning gameplay (though the movie cut-scenes look way better in Window mode). Be forewarned; I even tried using a Screamin' 3D graphics card (4 MB V-RAM, baby) and found little difference because currently there is no Direct3D support. Activision promises a Direct3D patch soon, which will help out those of us with 3D accelerator cards. You need some real computer horsepower to play this game the way it was meant to be played.
That said, I would definitely still recommend Interstate '76. The 70's theme is carried out brilliantly - you could tell how much fun the designers must have had making it happen. Some more depth would have been nice, and I'd be lying if I said that this is a perfect game. It is, however, a gas. Spend the dough, travel back 20 years and relive the decade we'd love to forget. Dig?