A mission-based driving and combat game developed by Activision
and released in 1996
. One of the first Windows 95
-native games. Interstate '76
is a very original
game, which was met with mixed critical
response, largely due to technical teething problems
which were only laid to rest in the Gold Edition
, and the subsequent Interstate '76 : Nitro Riders
standalone expansion pack. In its original incarnation, the game ran very slowly and looked pretty ugly. With the advent of 3D acceleration
things improved dramatically.
The game puts you in the shoes of Groove Champion (voiced by Tom Kane), a man who looks like a porn star (white flared suit, big shades and David Soul moustache) and was formerly a racing driver. He has recently learned that his sister Jade has been murdered, and prior to her untimely demise she had been living the life of a vigilante.
Groove hooks up with her partner in crime-prevention, Taurus (the coolest video game character of all time, voiced by Greg Eagles) and the two of them hit the road to avenge Jade's death, with the aid of their gun-laden muscle cars and an inbred mechanic called Skeeter. Their journey eventually leads them to crime boss Antonio Malochio (voiced by the Q himself, John DeLancie). As you might have gathered from the title and the somewhat unique plot and characters, the game is modelled after 1970's action TV series such as Starsky & Hutch.
Each mission is interwoven with CG FMV sequences that advance the story. Unlike most game cinematics, the cutscenes in I'76 are produced in a style which matches the in-game graphics. The characters are constructed from flat-shaded polygons a la Virtua Fighter (or Dire Straits' Money For Nothing video), and animated using detailed motion capture. One way of describing this style might be how someone from the late 1970's, who'd seen Battle Zone and Tempest, might imagine games to look like in the future. It works brilliantly - whenever you are outside of the setup screen, you feel immersed in the game world.
This immersion is aided by the great use of sound - the thrum of the engine (and flapping punctured tyres), the CB radio chatter (you can even get Taurus to recite poetry as you drive between waypoints), and most of all, the vibrant funk soundtrack (by Bullmark, who clearly know their stuff when it comes to wah-wah pedals).
The gameplay, in a nutshell, is like Wing Commander in a car. There is a fairly wide range of mission types, with plot twists and changing objectives adding to the variety. The game uses a terrain engine somewhat similar to MechWarrior or Tribes to simulate areas of the American Midwest criss-crossed with highways and dirt tracks. These environments seem rather sparse, but do the job adequately, and can be extremely large.
You can configure your car exactly how you want it (choose the paint-job, the weapons, the tyres and tons more), and have about 40 vehicles to choose from (including a School Bus and a VW Beetle). In each mission you have to destroy or disable some enemy cars at some point, which you can do by ramming them, shooting them, dropping breezeblocks, oil, caltrops and mines, or if all else fails driving along side them and capping the driver in the head. There are also racing and stunt elements in many of the missions.
In a way, the games developers have attempted a plate spinning act with this game. They try to pull of a cinematic story with lots of dialogue, stylish animation and a strong plot. They took a large gamble creating an engine unlike anything seen before, that was at the time considered very hardware-intensive. And to make their lives even more difficult they put the game in an original and detailed setting that is far removed from the usual sci-fi and fantasy fare. And amazingly, they pull it off. The only place where it really falls down is the multiplayer mode, which is fairly dull as it shows the game stripped of all its single-player structure and only offers deathmatch.
The game was eventually followed by the far inferior sequel Interstate '82. They game universe is the basis of Luxoflux's Vigilante 8 console games, which are similar in style.