As fans of the genre (and maybe gamers in general) know, graphic adventure games have seen their heyday come and go… and then come back with new forms, like the trademark Telltale style, and new delivery methods like touchscreen devices. But back in the ’90s, things were starting to look pretty dire for this genre, and as a fan from back then, I’ve always felt like the blame lay on the games. They were getting too weird for their own good with puzzles that didn’t make sense, created in an attempt to keep experienced gamers from claiming that the games had become too easy.
But on the other hand, those games were being made with the benefit of experience in every area, and it showed in the production and technical aspects of the games. Developers sometimes took risks, and as is the way with risks, sometimes they paid off, but not always. Such is the case with Full Throttle — risks were taken, some didn’t pay off; some puzzles don’t make sense, and yet there are things about it that are great and worth seeing, even 20-some years later.
In Full Throttle, you play as Ben, the leader of the Polecats biker gang. The game is set at an unspecified point in the future when only one company is still making traditional motorcycles: Corley Motors. One afternoon, Corley’s CEO stops in at a bar where the Polecats are hanging out, and after they chat for a while, the VP secretly knocks Ben out and tells the gang that they’ve been hired to provide Corley with an escort to a big shareholder meeting. Why knock Ben out? Because the real plan is to kill the CEO and frame Ben and the Polecats. When Ben wakes up, he’s too late to stop the killing, but he’s still got a chance to clear his name and expose the real killer in a game that you can finish in one marathon session.
Ben is somewhat unique for a graphic adventure protagonist, in that he’s a man of action. Thus, when you click on something, you don’t get classic options like “use” and “look at.” You get a skull with eyes and a mouth, a fist, and a boot. The eyes aren’t immediately obvious — I didn’t realize they were an option for a while after I started playing — but they and the mouth work as you’d expect. The fist punches, picks up, or uses things, as appropriate to the situation. The boot… well, the boot kicks things, and that’s all. Hey, sometimes, things need to be kicked!
Unfortunately, what you need to punch, kick, or put your mouth on is sometimes extremely unclear. Even those who haven’t played Full Throttle may have heard of its infamous wall puzzle, in which you need to find the exact rock to kick to open a secret door. It’s bad enough that the in-game dialogue points out how vague the instructions are on where to kick. And very late in the game, during a puzzle that will kill Ben if you don’t solve it quickly enough, there’s a small point you must click during a window of time that’s well under second long, and to make matters worse, you’d never know to do so unless you happened to mouse over that exact spot during that very small window. Fortunately, since the puzzles haven’t changed since the original release, it’s easy to find walkthroughs online for those moments when you have to cry uncle.
Despite my complaints, the game isn’t non-stop frustration. I played it back in the ’90s and remembered it fondly enough to request the chance to review the remastered version. And now that it’s been a day since I finished, I’ve still got those positive feelings for it. The puzzles that aren’t frustrating are fun, as is the humor, and it’s entertaining to switch things up by having a tough guy as the main character rather than the bookish, thin guy protagonist we typically see in this genre.
The real star of Full Throttle, though, is its presentation. The remastered version looks great, both its backgrounds and its animated characters, and you can switch to the original visuals on the fly at any time if pixels are your preference. Oddly, when I played, the remastered visuals sometimes looked like I was suffering from framerate issues, but given that the sound still synced up perfectly, I believe that it was just programmed that way to match the speed of the original game.
And that voice acting! It’s an amazing cast, with Mark Hamill, Maurice LaMarche, and Tress MacNeille, as well as some folks whose names you may not have heard but who really hold their own alongside some of the all-time greats. The voices weren’t changed from the original game, and thank goodness for that. The incidental sound and rare musical tracks are good as well, providing the appropriate background for Ben’s adventures in revenge and wrong-righting without getting in the way.
Full Throttle is one of very few biker-themed games I know of. They’re rare enough that when I heard of 2016’s Kathy Rain, Full Throttle came to mind immediately. And while I have aired some grievances here, my complaints don’t make me sad that I played this game again. It can be completed in something like six hours, but as of this writing, it’s only $15 on Steam, and that feels fair to me. If you enjoy LucasArts’ games, you should definitely play Full Throttle after so many years of not having the option to do so. If you haven’t played their games but enjoy the genre in general, I’d still recommend it, as long as you’re willing to accept occasional help from the internet when you can’t find the right stupid rock to kick.