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Starsky & Hutch

Wacka chak whugga digga driving thrills with everyone's favourite hairy '70s cop duo.

Being the only '70s child around these parts, I feel somewhat more qualified to check out Empire/Mind's Eye's attempt to make a mission based driving game out of possibly the most memorable '70s TV show of them all. After all, I had the big hair and the flares the first time around [some things never change -Tom]; although in those more innocent days, irony was something you pressed your big collared shirts with.

Come on Starsky, they're getting away

Fast-forwarding a scary number of years, we've finally taken possession of preview code of the Starsky & Hutch game, a "story-based police driving action game, taking place in a truly 3D world modelled after the series location of Bay City." We say "finally", as the game itself was announced over three years ago, and is already a year late from its original release date. We guess they've been playing a certain Rockstar game that you might be familiar with…

The main mission based part of the game itself is split into three 'seasons', each with their own episodes, of which there are 19 in total. At the start, the mission briefing is introduced with nicely stylised static cartoon illustrations and rather hammy voiceovers. From the five episodes we've played through so far, they basically involve a series of timed car chases, with Starsky driving and Hutch shooting at the bad guys out of the window. Apparently there will be light-gun and steering wheel support for co-operative play, although we managed just fine with a joypad.

While you're busy trying to destroy their vehicle (which seems to take about 200 shots), a 'Viewer Rating' (VR) ticks down, requiring you to attempt to perform as many stunts and wild antics as you possibly can. Generally, just staying close enough to the criminals and shooting them furiously is enough to boost ratings, but a series of floating icons can also be targeted to increase your VR, as well as providing power-ups to briefly give your 'Red Tomato' increased traction, speed boost, siren or even double damage. Special scripted events will also kick in if you drive into cop badge icons, from cinematic jumps over passing juggernauts to dramatic explosions and so on.

RenderWorn

Should your target(s) manage to give you the slip (not an uncommon occurrence in Bay City), the VR will begin to count down, and if it ticks down to zero, it's Game Over. While all this is going on, the game's soundtrack is suitably wah-wah fuelled, whilst Starsky and Hutch chip in with regular comments (usually about the standard of the driving or shooting), lending it an appropriately cheesy ambiance to chuckle away at while you're busy giving yourself RSI in the pursuit of these evil do-ers.

Being developed with the aid of RenderWare and the Havok physics engine, the visuals are nothing especially inspiring. Mind's Eye has done a fair job of digitally stylising our heroes, dispensing with any attempt at realism. Throughout, everything's bright and cheery, with plenty of variety in the scenery as you charge around the 10 square miles of Bay City, but in comparison with the best that the PS2 and Xbox has to offer, it's not going to challenge the likes of Burnout 2, which is a shame given that it's clear that RenderWare is capable of far better than what's on offer here.

The handling's a bit all over the place though, with the sponginess of driving a gas-guzzling car such as this taken a little too far. In general, you're never allowed to go that fast to lose total control, but in this preview build there's a certain amount of inconsistency as to what you can and can't drive through. For example, driving through trees seems perfectly acceptable, whereas other objects remain indestructible, and bring you to a grinding halt. Our dreams of being involved in a stupendously fast driving/shooting game have largely remained unrealised; as it stands it's just too damned slow and doesn't feature enough gameplay variety to warrant your attention for very long.

Unoptimised

After a couple of hours in the company of Starsky & Hutch, it's certainly a well-presented game. The intros to the missions capture that 'Grange Hill' circa-1979 look perfectly, and the main game engine is presentable enough, if a little generic. The game itself threatens to provide a decent challenge, but it's hard to provide a more definitive verdict before we've had a chance to plough through the latter missions. There's certainly tons to unlock, and the various sub modes and multiplayer modes may yet provide a saving grace. Whether you'll want to put Vice City to one side is something we'll be keen to find out once we get a more stable and optimised build of Empire's big summer hope.

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About the Author
Kristan Reed avatar

Kristan Reed

Contributor

Kristan is a former editor of Eurogamer, dad, Stone Roses bore and Norwich City supporter who sometimes mutters optimistically about Team Silent getting back together.

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