Evil comes in many forms. Whether in the shape of a dark and powerful being from the eternal world of darkness, a killer computer gone mad, or an adorably cute forest creature with a secret taste for blood, you can usually get a sense of the sheer evil emanating out of them. However, evil has never taken a form quite as revolting as that which it assumes in Lucas Arts’ biker graphical adventure Full Throttle…
Here’s my review.
You remember the Apocalypse, right? You know, the huge and mysterious global disaster that wiped out 90% of the earth’s population and is slowly causing the planet to collapse in on itself into a fiery ball of death? Yeah, I thought you would. Well, ever since then, people have been trying to find meaning in life. Not through religion of course, or through meditation, or even vegetarianism. These people have found meaning in their bikes.
It’s all thanks to the efforts of Malcolm Corley. This one humble man built up a motor industry empire, Corley Motors, providing top-of-the-line motorcycles and motorcycle-themed-merchandise to the world at rock bottom prices. There isn’t a biker gang alive that doesn’t owe its existence to this kind, sobriety-hating man, and I think that as long as that company stays around, bikers will roam the streets bashing skulls, defacing property, and generally making the world a better place to live in. Yep, that Malcolm Corley is the true patron saint of hogs, and I even heard he’s getting a local biker gang to escort him to his next stockholder meeting! Even though the planet is a desert of pain and torture struggling to hold on to the empty practices of capitalism despite the general anarchy engulfing national and global politics, that guy’s just a beacon of hope.
What a shame it would be if something happened to him.
Full Throttle is a Lucas Arts adventure game that struggled to be fresh and original, breaking free of the bonds created for it by their past successes. In exchange for the paper-thin plot and simian slapstick of most LA titles, Full Throttle focused on telling a cinematic storyline and using a gameplay system that had never been seen by man or beast before. While they might have succeeded on the first point, they kind of fell apart on the second.
The storyline is surprisingly original and not half bad. You control Ben, leader of a biker gang called the Polecats. While riding down a decrepit stretch of highway, the Polecats are approached by Malcolm Corley and his obviously evil assistant, Mr. Ripburger. Ben is given an offer to escort the legendary corporate philanthropist to a chair holder meeting, but politely (for a biker) declines. However, things start to turn sour when Ben is thwacked in the back of the head by a pair of hired goons and gets tossed into a dumpster while the Polecats are tricked into coming with the fiendish Ripburger. Armed with only your bike and whatever it is bikers call “wits”, you must uncover a secret plot to destroy a corporate dynasty and betray millions.
The tale is told at a fairly quick pace, and a good mixture of action and plot twists help keep you intrigued. Even better, there’s even a bit of the classic Lucas Arts brand of humor thrown in (though not as much as you might be hoping) that helps build up an otherwise bland cast. You’ve got your stoic hero, your love interest, the hapless world leader, the villain, and a dozen or so supporting characters who show up for a few minutes before vanishing. To put it simply, you’ve seen all of these characters before, but this time they’re wearing leather jackets and disrespecting authority, a combination that works amazingly well.
Of course, the voice acting also holds its own when it comes to developing the characters. Ben’s deep and simple voice fits perfectly with the quiet, determined character he is, while Maureen (his true love/grease monkey) manages to match his gruffness with a caring, yet equally stubborn, nature. Of course, extra credit has to go to the voice of Malcolm Corley, a man who represents every over-the-hill idealist you’ve ever met, and to Mark Hamill who went over to the dark side in Full Throttle to play the sinister monster Mr. Ripburger. His work actually wasn’t that great, but it’s generally not a good idea to leave out the Jedi.
Anyway, the plot isn’t without its weaknesses. The first and most noticeable would be its length. I managed to take down the game in three days worth of light playing. That leaves little time for you to really get attached to anything, even though the hero will be a favorite of yours for quite a while. Don’t expect much more here than you’d get from a trip to the local movie theater. The other problem would be the fact that the pace comes to a screeching halt whenever you get stuck, which brings up all the issues there were with Gameplay.
Like most graphical adventures, you need to collect random junk along your way through the world and use it in creative methods to get past certain obstacles. For instance, a bag of marbles might be useful for booby-trapping a stretch of road for enemy bikers, or a big rock might be able to be used as a makeshift lockpick for opening a stubborn door. Also like most graphical adventures, you need to use your collection of actions to interact with your surroundings. Beyond that however, the gameplay is fairly unique.
Your collection of actions is amazingly limited. Instead of the usual list you can choose from of “push,” “open,” “pick up,” etc., you are given a new interface. Any object on the screen that can be manipulated will show up with red crosshairs when you drag your mouse over it. By clicking on it, you are then shown exactly what it is that you’re looking at and given the choice to use your Hand, Foot, or Mouth on it. This leaves you with fairly few options and limits the quality of the puzzles you face.
When you want to talk to someone, it’s obvious to use the Mouth option. When knocking on a door, the Hand option is the first thing that comes to mind. When you need to break into a reluctant person’s house, a good ol’ Foot option comes in handy. This is basically the only variety you’ll find in verb puzzles, and the only reason you wouldn’t do the obvious when given the chance is to hear the funny little side quips Ben says. No matter how many things he says it about, “I’m not putting my lips on that,” just doesn’t get old.
Of course, the verb puzzles aren’t the only ones that get on your nerves. The inventory puzzles are always either blatantly obvious or impossibly confusing. You hardly ever get more than two or three items at a time, and anything unnecessary is dropped out of your pack automatically. This makes your path fairly obvious at times, such as when your only item is a tire iron and you need something to pry open a locked chest. Other times, such as when you need to get past a vicious dog, you can be on the right path but not notice another step you need to accomplish in order to move on. It gets irritating very quickly when you have no idea what you should do, but as long as you remember that you can never miss out on a vital item you’ll be fine.
Of course, nothing in the game was quite as annoying as the ending. ::minor spoiler alert:: Near the ending, you are forced to do some minor computer hacking to save yourself from impending doom. This consists of you clicking on literally every button you see until you manage to hit the right combination and save the day. There is no logic involved whatsoever. Even worse, the final puzzle you face once you manage to save everyone else involves you clicking off-screen to find an item you need to win. This last section of the game sickened me enough to get me to just open up a walkthrough on the game and follow it word for word until it was over. ::end spoiler alert::
Other problems plague the actual gameplay as well. One of the most irritating of these would be the fact that your mouse does not show the name of the object it’s on until after you click on it. This can make it very difficult to find a small item you need when everything else around it can be interacted with, and the borders on each item are never all that exact. You’ll find yourself clicking and reclicking on the same thing over and over again, just because you’re not sure whether or not the item actually exists or is just a background detail.
Of course, we can’t forget to mention the minigames that call Full Throttle home. The biggest would be the biker combat that pops up every so often. In this, you control Ben on his bike with your mouse by moving it left and right while clicking wildly on the left mouse button to use your equipped weapon, be it fist, foot, fertilizer, or flesh-shredding chainsaw. The object is to send your opponent flying out of his bike in order to swipe whatever gear he may have. There’s not much strategy involved here, but it’s great for getting stress out. Another minigame that you might miss would be the knife game, where you try not to stab yourself while rapidly thrusting a sharp blade between your outstretched fingers. It doesn’t affect the game at all, but it’s bloody and you get to hear Ben go “ow” whenever you miss.
Finally, there is one point where you are forced to complete in a demolition derby. This is without a doubt the STUPIDEST minigame I have ever seen. I’d like to comment further on it, telling you just how idiotic it is in detail, but I think it’d be best to just let you find it on your own.
In all, the game isn’t really that much fun to play. While it had a few new ideas thrown in, none of them were implemented effectively at all and there wasn’t anything all too innovative as far as the puzzles went. The minigames only provide a few minutes of entertainment before getting monotonous (just wait until you try the Old Mine Road Gauntlet) and it just isn’t a game you play for the game’s sake.
Still, the music helps set the atmosphere for it pretty well, boring or not. Almost the entire soundtrack is a mixture of country and rock provided by a band called the Gone Jackals, a group I had never heard of before and doubt I will hear of again. No songs ever manage to get on your nerves, fortunately, and you’ll notice that a few interesting techniques were used in order to reflect the environments you’re in. Say you’re outside of a house with a radio inside blaring music. Outside the house you can only hear it faintly, but once the door’s opened the volume jumps up a bit. Of course, there’s one point in the soundtrack that deserves special notice.
One song, entitled “Chitlins, Whiskey and Skirt,” is performed by a band that is also entitled “Chitlins, Whiskey and Skirt”. This one song appears at two points in the game being sung in a yodel-riffic southern accent, and while your first reaction will probably be to wonder why they would bother to include this in the game’s musical score, you should probably stop playing for a minute and just enjoy the song. The tone-deaf hillbillies responsible for this masterpiece proved to me that there is a place for country music in the world, and should you be vehemently opposed to the stuff yourself, Full Throttle may convert you too. As for the sound effects, these are top-notch and really bring to life the various acts of destruction you commit.
The graphics also manage to shine quite well, despite their heavy aging. The areas you explore are all mildly cartoony, but still depict the post-apocalyptic desert theme the artists were trying to portray. Attention to detail in each area was exceptional, as were the occasional bits of foreground and background in such areas as the junkyard and the Corley headquarters. The animation was smooth, the characters weren’t too blocky for their time, and in general, the game held its own compared to its competition. There was even some primitive CG thrown in to boot during some cut scenes and the bike battle mini game.
Finally, there were the controls. Aside from the pesky gameplay interface I described above, there were also issues with control during most minigames. These relied almost entirely on your mouse for movement, and it just wasn’t very precise. Also, Ben might want to learn how to run a bit faster. Some areas were designed so that you have to wait for up to fifteen seconds for our protagonist to simply walk across, and unless I’m mistaken, that’s a lot of waiting.
Full Throttle isn’t the worst, or the best, graphical adventure out there. Lucas Arts has pumped out so many of the blasted things that you can probably find something else from them that you’d rather play, but if you do manage to pick this game up it’s not a total loss. My recommendation is that FT is for those gamers seeking to own every Lucas Arts title ever made or for those looking for a low budget midlife crisis. To all others, consider yourself warned.