Ah, Me Memories
Many of you may remember the original game in this series, Interstate '76. While its 3D engine was a little dated even 3 years ago, it developed something of a cult following for its hip 70's culture and time capsule humour.
That and the ability to tear around in fat-ass American muscle cars with roof-mounted rocket launchers, blowing the crap out of everyone and everything.
So it was with great anticipation that I opened up the box to the sequel, Interstate '82, that Activision have sent me.
I first saw I'82 as a work in progress at ECTS back in 1998. It looked promising - using a modified version of the Dark engine that was powering Heavy Gear II (which was also looking tasty), I was lured by the promise of a 32-bit rendering, environment mapped, 3D card only version of I'76.
So 18 months later, what has changed?
The Decade Of Excess
Firstly, I'll set the scene for all those who haven't played I'76.
The year is 1982. I am 4 years old, and any reader under the age of 18 hasn't been born yet. Our hero from the first game, Taurus, has trimmed his Afro and borrowed his wardrobe from Miami Vice.
The "story" has you pitched against a mad Englishman named Rank Dick - don't ask. The "game" involves you driving around in your car and shooting the bad guys' cars until they blow up.
Those of you on this side of the Atlantic will detect the note of sarcasm in the paragraph above, and I'll explain why. In between each of the 17 structured missions you are subjected to a slice of the 40 minutes of FMV "story", where you find out more about the characters and the plight which faces them.
Except it's not especially well acted, and the 80's-isms are just lame - it somehow lacks the "hipness" of the 70's [That's the 80's for you - Ed].
Anyway, although I needed to watch the FMV to find out what was going on, I just felt held back - who cares about the story, let's just get on with the action... I think Quake has damaged me forever.
The problem is that the action will leave you feel wanting as well.
Man On A Mission
You are given several objectives within each mission, most of which either consist of "Find the switch to open the gate" or "Kill all Dickies" (bad guys).
The former is gameplay from 1993, and reduces to just driving around until you find it, and the latter involves an initial head-on shoot out which rapidly degenerates into lots of driving around in cicles until you get a clear shot to finish them off.
You have various weapons at your disposal, including machine guns and rocket launchers. You tool your vehicle up in between each level, using the cash you got for killing various bad guys. You can upgrade your mechanicals for better performance, or add some extra armour for better protection from enemy fire.
This is tried and tested stuff, but it works well through a combination of different mounting points (the 360 degree machine gun can only be roof mounted, so you will need to move or sell other bits to make way) and extra weight, which effects handling.
The physics model is reasonable - each car lunges and lurches over bumps in that characteristic American way, and it is easy to get the back out in a juicy power slide. It's not as satisfying as Driver, but makes the tedious driving through the barren landscapes a little more fun.
Graphics Over Gameplay Then?
Um, no. As you can see from the screenshots, the graphics are certainly not worthy of 1999, or even 1998.
In fact, the huge flat polygons everywhere reminds me of the original Tomb Raider, which came out in 1996. The cars have seemingly been carved from solid blocks, and the buildings are flat and lifeless.
The scenery is sparse, though you don't get to see much of it because the render depth is so close. I own a TNT2 - I want to see further than 3 feet in front of me damnit!
The one feature that impressed a lot of people from early development screenshots is the environment mapped water. Yes, doesn't it look nice. Wow I can see my reflection in it. What a shame that it looks like I'm driving on a big mirror.
There is absolutely no transparency to the water, and it just looks silly. Nice try, but it would have been better to have just plain blue water and use the extra graphics power to spice up the rest of the game.
Generally the textures in the game are bland and low resolution. Switching to 32-bit mode doesn't really make them any nicer, as I suspect the textures are only 16-bit to begin with. This doesn't have the same effect as, say 32-bit textures AND 32-bit colour in Quake 3. You can also easily spot the seams where one texture joins another, which is just down-right poor.
The sound is fairly average - an 80's soundtrack might fit the game, but that doesn't make it any good, and the engine note is clearly synthesised. The sound effects are reasonable, and there is support for A3D positional audio which works well as usual - you can actually tell which direction you are being shot at from, and instinctively turn and shoot.
The fact that A3D 2.0 support is just about the most advanced feature of this game really says something - the market has moved on. If Activision had released I'82 a year ago maybe it would have been more acceptable, as the gameplay is strangely addictive.
The sad fact is that there are so many changes from the original that even the original game's cult following are panning the sequel, and the graphics and gameplay are not up to scratch compared to what a gamer new to the series would expect for such a recent game.
It you are able to see past the inadequacies, you find yourself mysteriously compelled to complete whatever mission you are stuck on, but probably only because you refuse to be defeated by such an old-school game.
There is a multiplayer feature, as well as "bot-matches" where you drive around large maps shooting individual players for frags, but it just isn't much fun.
Unfortunately, if I'82 fails to sell well it might mean the end of the franchise, which would be a shame. The original game was innovative, though its sequel fails to capitalise on past successes (and is even inferior in some aspects).
So if you've played I'76 and are looking for more, be wary. If you're new to the series, look elsewhere - buy Driver if you want an exciting 70's driving experience, and if you want to shoot stuff try Quake 3 or Unreal Tournament. Release Date - available now
Download The Demo
Try before you buy! Download the I'82 demo (28 Mb) now!