First posted on 15 November 2008. Last updated on 11 August 2009.
|Ben pops a wheelie!|
|The dumpster is no place for the leader of the Polecats.|
|A couple of trailers, a junkyard, and a water tower filled with fuel: welcome to Melonweed!|
|Rock beats scissors. Paper beats rock. Chainsaw beats 2-by-4, right?|
Tim Schafer has certainly earned his place among the most respected American video game developers. His playfully dark style and penchant for witty dialog give the games that he works on a feel all of their own. This is certainly true for his first game as project leader at LucasArts, Full Throttle.
Full Throttle takes place in a vaguely post-apocalyptic future; although aside from the prominence of hovercrafts, it is not obvious that the game does not take place in the present day. The player plays Ben, the "tough as nails, cold as steel" leader of a biker gang called the Polecats. The game starts when Malcolm Corley, founder and patriarch of Corley Motors, the last motorcycle maker on Earth, and his scheming lieutenant, Adrian Ripburger, spots Ben unceremoniously jumping over their limo and crushing it without prejudice while riding down a highway. Curious at Ben's fearless demeanor, Malcolm tracks Ben down in a local bar and is quick to befriend him. However, when Ben refuses to sell out the Polecats to do Ripburger's corporate bidding, he is knocked unconscious by Ripburger's thugs and left for ruins in a dumpster. When Ben wakes up, he learns that he has become a fugitive from justice after being been framed for Corley's murder. Now, it is up to Ben to clear his name, get the Polecats out of jail, and stop Ripburger's evil plan to take over his beloved Corley Motors.
Full Throttle is a game that shows off the great production power of LucasArts. The animated cut scenes are lively and engaging, and the interactive environments look as good as or better than those of the company's other games of that era. As with previous LucasArts titles, there are a fair number of in-jokes and inside references to the Lucas dynasty, such as the use of both insignias of the Galactic Empire and the Rebel Alliance as tattoos in the game. The game's sound is truly among its most memorable features, especially the voice acting. For the most part, the voicing in the game is topnotch, with Mark Hamill voicing the sinister Ripburger (without a trace of Tattooine farm boy whine) and longtime cartoon actors Kath Soucie, Maurice LaMarche, and Tress MacNeille also lending their voices to numerous characters for the game. Although the spoken dialog does not always seem to match what the writers' intention, the vast majority of the dialog is believable, natural, and fitting. The incidental music fits the atmosphere, including a little country ditty heard on a radio in a trailer that, if you pay it any attention at all, will likely stay with you for a long time. The sound effects are equally satisfying, with metallic clanks and deep throated engine roars adding to the experience.
The vast majority of the game is played out as a traditional point-and-click adventure. The player is presented with a graphical layout of the area Ben currently occupies, and the cursor's appearance changes depending on whether or not it is over an object (that is, a hotspot) with which Ben can interact. Clicking on an interactive object will bring up a picture of the Polecats logo, which functions as a graphical menu of actions. The eyes in the logo's skull can be selected to look at whatever the player clicks on, whereas the mouth can be selected to either place Ben's mouth on an object or speak to a person. Other options include handling and kicking. Full Throttle is the first game to use such a system for interacting with the environment; the only other is The Curse of Monkey Island released 2 years later. The game's puzzles are more logical and less outlandish than other LucasArts adventure games. While this tends to somewhat take away from how interesting the puzzles are, it also makes them far less frustrating to solve. Furthermore, pixel hunting is kept to a minimum, with all of the necessary objects reasonably distinct from their environments.
While the point-and-click adventure gameplay is of good quality, if unmemorable, the few times when the game deviates from this mode are definitely more memorable, but not in a good way. In the middle of the game, Ben is tasked with procuring items from rival gangs, which he acquires through a series of melee fights while riding his bike. This change of pace is hampered by controls that are less than responsive, and dealing with bikers whom you do not need to fight but who, perhaps, can defeat you, before you are able to take on the gang member with the precise item you need at the moment, can be irritating. This portion is easily the most frustrating part of the game, especially since an enemy you face has the ability not only to beat you senseless but also to steal the item you are wielding, thus setting back your progress. There are other deviations from traditional point-and-click adventure gameplay, including a section near the end of the game where it becomes possible to die, though the only consequence of death is to try again from a slightly earlier point.
All in all, Full Throttle is a good, though flawed, adventure game, full of character and atmosphere. An experienced gamer familiar with the genre can play through it in about 6 hours, the majority of which will be spent enjoying puzzles rather being frustrated by them. Full Throttle can be credited as among the few classic games that have worked to raise the bar on storytelling and production quality in adventure games, a bar that Tim Schafer goes on to raise again 3 years later with Grim Fandango.