Interstate 76 comes full force with a generous dose of funk. I 76 mixes hardtop hammer-down driving with wild gun-slinging shoot-em-up action. Parliament meets the Road Warrior in this trash-talkin' tour de force.
Do the Hustle
In a parallel universe where the mid-'70s gas crisis now dictates criminal activity in the Southwest, you're on a mission to avenge a fallen comrade--your sister, who was gunned down by a very pimplike polygonal dude named Antonio Malo-chio. Also helping out with vigilante duty is Taurus, an old-school braggadocio with an outrageous 'fro and an acidic tongue. Every barb from Taurus is a treasure in this game, and most of it is pretty adult.
The Shaft Hits the Fans
You pilot a souped-up, heavily armed muscle car loaded with amenities like rockets, machine guns, mines, and more as you travel through 17 missions. Some mission objectives are no more than simple car chases, while others require shooting and driving skills. Although some of the driving is extremely intense and fraught with obstacles, sadly there are no strategic or puzzle elements to Interstate 76.
Graphically, the game is no more dazzling than disco was. Although laced with cool cinematics, the otherwise bland polygons don't do the game justice. Little detail in the backgrounds and washed-out colors also make the road a little bumpier on this Interstate.
The game's control also stalls the muscle in these muscle cars. You often veer off the road, and will find the steering A.I. a little frustrating. Another problem is that you must learn to aim and shoot while driving. Although the game does have an auto-targeting measure, it's hard to implement.
Pimp Up the Volume
I 76's redeeming factor is its funkified soundtrack. With a little bass, it will have you fingersnapping and foot-shuffling quicker than a player gets his groove on. Other sound effects, like the disco-era voice-overs, are well done.
Who'll get their kicks from I 76? If you want to keep on truckin' with this righteous blast from the past, you should be a '70s child with tons of patience and an ear for funk. Otherwise, sucka, you'd better do the hustle elsewhere.
- When salvaging items, anything not used is left in the field. Since you get two forward-mounted and one rear-mounted weapon, discard any duplicates.
- When nearing vehicles on tight turns, blast them to run them off the road. You might score a lucky hit and send them into a ditch, taking them out of the race for good.
- Aim just ahead of the vehicle so it runs into your shot.
- When Taurus tells you to meet him at the water tower in Scene 2, try to roll just ahead of the tower to get a head start on him.
- Always try to keep a 30-caliber machine gun in the forward compartment. Although it takes many more hits to destroy vehicles, it contains almost a thousand rounds of ammo.
- Lay oil slicks or blox droppers in a zigzag pattern, but beware--they harm you as well, so remember where you left them.
Download Interstate 76
Interstate 76 is a wicked automobile combat game where the Road Warrior meets Funk-adelic. In a weird alternate 70s universe, auto vigilantes cruise the highways with funk playing in their 8-tracks and weapons under their hoods. You drive classic 70s muscle cars as you face off with a fierce gang of auto terrorists bent on destroying the largest oil reserve in the U.S. You can drive 25 vehicles armed with racks of customizable weapons systems, which you use to waste bad guys across 25 missions spread throughout the Southwest. Activision's goal is to meld a vehicle combat game with a high-end driving sim, but we can't wait to hear some groovy 70s tunes!
The other day three of us were sitting around the GameFabrique office talking about how we score games -- what made the difference between, say, an 80 and a 90. "It's the games that keep you awake at night," said Chad, "the ones where even after you close your eyes you still see the tanks rolling, or the other guy charging at you with a shotgun."
We laughed about that, because we'd all been there; suddenly noticing that 10 p.m. has turned into 3 a.m.; swearing at the other guy, even though he was across town on the modem; pounding on the desk because it wasn't fair the way that your buddy just juiced an 0-2 slider over the left field fence.
So tonight I find myself up in the wee hours writing about Interstate 76. I've just finished playing a three-hour session against a guy from England and a guy from Florida over the Internet. And I know that when I shut my eyes in another hour and try to fall asleep, I will see a beat-up red-and-white pickup come careening out of nowhere with machine guns ablaze.
It's one of those games.
To understand why, let's start with the level of reality here. If you've read any of my other driving reviews, you'll know that I don't like the hard sims but prefer the Need for Speed level of realism -- enough to look great without needing a Ph.D. in gear ratios just to get out of the pits. Interstate 76 hits the ground running (literally) and is a cakewalk in terms of picking up the basics of driving (and shooting). Score that a big plus.
Then there are the graphics: Activision began by seriously revving the Mechwarrior 2 engine for use with faster moving cars and more diverse scenery -- and what a job! When you hit a car, it takes visual damage. Same for houses. Road signs. Cactus. You name it. It runs smooth, offers on-the-fly graphics options to keep you in the game while you fine-tune on slower systems, and gives you a choice of more than a half-dozen perspectives from which to play. Also, the landscape is truly 3D -- cliffs are real dropoffs that, when traveled over at excessive rates of speed, are fatal. If you are high on a bluff overlooking a valley, you can see your opponents as they wind their way toward you, all the while leaving a trail of dust as they approach.
And if the promised 3Dfx optimized version comes true, this game will have the look and feel of the best driving movies. Remember Bullitt? Interstate 76 is every bit as much a pure adrenaline ride.
If you feel I'm overstating that, all I can say is go grab the demo and see for yourself (be warned that it's a HUGE demo -- 21 MB -- and depending on how much you pay for Internet access, it may be cheaper to just go buy the game). This is honestly the first car combat game to find the right mix of driving feel, scenic realism, and frenetic gameplay, period. It feels like you're driving -- no wimpy 3rd-person views, no overblown arcade graphics, and no oversensitive physics models to mess up the gaming experience. When you skid, you really slide; go over a jump and the car does exactly what it should. It is truly awesome -- the programmers at Activision have managed to visually recreate the experience of driving a souped-up muscle car across an apocalyptic American Southwest while shooting heat-seeking missiles, 50 mm machine guns, and dropping land mines, and still coming out of it alive. Who wouldn't want to do that?
But wait! That's not all (don't worry, I'm not about to sell you a Ginsu knife), there's the music and audio too. Activision's promo line for the game is "Funk Will Even the Odds" ... I wondered what they were up to with that until I heard this game. Included on the 2-CD set are 16 enormously cool funk tracks. If music isn't of much interest to you in most games, or ambient sound at best, you have to hear what I76 has to offer. If you've ever cranked the stereo to a really cool song while driving at entirely illegal speeds in your own car, you will know what I'm talking about when you hear the tracks that accompany the mayhem in I76. And the other audio in I76 is similarly striking -- each car's gearbox sounds different. You can hear the wind blow. When you talk over the CB or listen to the radio it sounds very realistic. Heck, even the audio for the installation is interesting -- a series of '70s news items being read on the nightly news to set the tone for the game.
Now, what's the game really about besides mayhem? Well, while mayhem in itself has drawn many millions from all of our collective pockets, I'm happy to report that I76 does indeed also have a storyline. I'm doubly happy to report that you have lots of pure melee options sans any storyline except total and unequivocal destruction. That's not to say I don't like the storyline; it's just that I have great respect for game creators that have the foresight to realize that there are a lot of different kinds of gamers with different ideas about what makes a good game.
So ... you play Groove, an apprentice road warrior tagging along behind Taurus, a not-too-distant cousin of Samuel Jackson's character Jules Winnfield from Pulp Fiction. Not too much is clear at first, except that you're basically the good guys trying to save the honest shopkeepers, school kids, and other innocent bystanders from the several nogoodniks in the Four Corners area. You do this, naturally, by decking your car out with various pieces of hardware usually only available to owners of Abrams tanks and various survivalist groups, and then going out and kicking butt. Your mission is pretty straightforward -- listen to Taurus and do exactly what he tells you to do until you've gained his trust and get sent out to do some solo work.
What is coolest about the story aspect of the game is the interaction between the characters. In most story-based action games, you get a briefing on your objectives between missions and that's it. In Interstate 76 you get an ongoing dialogue with Taurus -- he'll tell you to follow him over to such and such a town to defend Joe the shopkeeper, and then he'll fill you in on other details along the way, give further instructions during the battle, and, if necessary, discuss back-up plans with you if the mission falls apart -- e.g. "You go see if you can find Mike while I make sure the rest of these guys don't get back to Phoenix." It adds a very interesting dimension to this genre and, to me, adds a great deal to the immersion in the game -- you find yourself caring about what happens to the characters. That's rare in even an adventure game where the characters are the center of the game.
All that being said, if you're like me, the real value in a game like this is to be able to go out and make your buddies eat lead. Activision has built in a very thorough set of multiplayer options, including a pair of free Internet sites that they themselves serve. Also included are LAN play, modem, and IPX options. We had some difficulty with the modem hookup, but just plugged into the Internet site and went from there. The interface for multiplayer is a bit confusing, but once learned isn't too bad. Latency over the Internet seems to be minimal in most cases, even with a 14.4 modem.
Required: Pentium 90, 16 MB RAM, 1 MB SVGA video card, 4X CD-ROM drive, 80 MB hard disk space, Windows 95, mouse
Reviewed on: Pentium 133, 64 MB RAM, Matrox Millennium, 6X CD-ROM drive, SoundBlaster AWE32, Microsoft SideWinder Pro joystick
People will be talking about this game in the future as a standard by which other games of the genre are judged. It has a fresh storyline, a combat model that really will blow you away, and some of the best music I've ever heard in a game. The biggest question mark for I76 is the hardware requirements. Activision says a P-90 with a 1 MB SVGA video card will do the trick, but if you want to really experience this game the way it was intended to be experienced, I'd recommend at least a P-120 and a 2 MB, 64-bit graphics card. And as in the game, the more horsepower, the better. Bottom line: expect Interstate 76 to be one of the landmark titles this year, and perhaps in years to come.