Any new LucasArts adventure is always eagerly anticipated and Full Throttle is no exception despite the limited appeal of its theme with its romanticised notion of biker existence. The graphics, particularly in the cut-scenes, have the unmistakable LucasArts quality that we have come to expect but, unfortunately, the game is let down by the limited amount of interaction and problem solving involved. The whole game can be played through in just a few hours and that includes watching the seemingly endless credits roll through to the bitter end. Not what I would call value for money, but others may disagree.
Full Throttle can best be described as an interactive cartoon of the sort you can watch on a Saturday morning. Whilst it is fun to play it is way too easy, and far too short. The game is very obviously aimed at a younger market, say boys aged ten to sixteen, and no doubt it will appeal greatly to the majority of these, but for the many more fans of LucasArts graphic adventures it will probably be a disappointment.
It is a cliché of the industry that graphics and sound, no matter how 'cool', cannot make up for a lack of gameplay. It is, therefore, sad to see that one of the industry's most respected names has gone down this path. Let us hope that this is only a temporary aberration.
On a more positive note I must admit that, for me, one of the more pleasant surprises in Full Throttle was the characterisation of Ben, the leader of the Polecats biker gang. Given all the fairly aggressive pre-publicity for this game I was expecting to have to play someone quite obnoxious, but Ben, for all his tough-guy appearance and mannerisms, was really a softie at heart. Much like Day of the Tentacle's Bernard on steroids. It was particularly significant that Ben let a woman fix his beloved bike while he ran the errands, and I especially approved of his concern that empty cardboard boxes should be recycled.
Briefly, the game is set in a vaguely Mad Max-like future and the plot revolves around the attempt by the mean and evil Adrian Ripburger to get his grubby hands on Corley Motors, makers of real motor bikes with wheels that touch the ground, as favoured by our hero. Ripburger plans to stop bike production and churn out minivans, but before he can do that he needs to get rid of Malcolm Corley, founder and owner of Corley Motors. Needless to say Ben and his gang are soon embroiled in Ripburger's dastardly scheme. Eventually, Ben is on the run, falsely accused of murdering Corley, his gang are in jail, and to clear his name he must expose Ripburger.
Much of the story is told in long cut-scenes that are cleverly animated. It is these scenes that give the game its cartoon/comic book feel. The rest of the game is a not wholly satisfactory mixture of adventuring and arcade-style action sequences. I say arcade-style because they involve movement and action such as trying to knock a rival biker off his or her bike or driving a car in a demolition derby, but in essence these scenes are largely an extended puzzle in that you need to use the right item at the right time in order to move on. Sure, you can click like crazy and hope for the best, but a well thought out strategy will serve you better. Even so, I suspect that many adventurers will dislike and become frustrated with this aspect of the game.
However, it is in the adventuring department that I found Full Throttle to be such a disappointment. There were very few problems to solve and most of these were fairly easy for an experienced adventurer. Even those new to gaming should have little difficulty here. There are only a few locations to visit at each adventuring stage and a couple of actions will see you safely through these.
To a certain extent the designers have recognised that the game is too easy and too short and have imposed a limit on the time you can take to solve some of the puzzles. They have, no doubt, done this in the mistaken belief that this simple expedient will add to the difficulty and therefore extend gameplay. Or perhaps they thought it would add dramatic tension. Once again, many adventurers will likely find this to be an annoying feature, but the saving grace is that you don't have to continually save and restore your game. If you fail at a potentially 'fatal' puzzle you are almost instantly returned to the start of it so that you can try again.
There is little that is obscure about the puzzles, except inadvertently, such as when you can do something before you know why you should be doing it - the fertiliser trailer is one example. Or, when the limitations of the interface become obvious and to ask about an item you actually need to LOOK at it rather than try to engage a character in conversation.
Not only were the puzzles a bit on the easy side, but you were frequently hit over the head with clues and often Ben explained what it was that you needed to do, just in case you missed them. Other potential 'problems' were conveniently 'solved' by the game. For example, I needed to modify my bike and this was done by merely collecting the necessary items, without any requirement to use them on the bike. Or, at one stage I knew I needed something, but was not sure what it would be. I had only three locations to search and in the second one I met someone who gave me what I needed to move on. I didn't have to give anything in return and I didn't even need to know what I wanted. All that was necessary was to talk to the person.
There seems to be a trend in recent times towards making games easy to play, no doubt to attract a larger audience, at the expense of solid gameplay. If this is the case here then LucasArts should look at resurrecting the 'easy' and 'hard' modes that they used in Monkey Island 2 and this would satisfy both those new to adventuring and their legion of more experienced fans.
Another reason that games seem to be getting easier is that other worrying trend towards a limited icon interface. This can lead to a serious lack of interaction and at the very least does not allow for subtlety of manipulation. The hand icon is used to pick up, operate, push, pull and generally use. One click does all and in this respect Full Throttle suffers from this limitation.
That said, the interface is very easy to use. Simply move your cursor around the screen until it is highlighted with a red square indicating a 'hot spot' and an item with which you can interact. Now hold down the left mouse button to reveal your action icons and choose from the usual look, speak and use and the unusual kick. That's right, Ben finds almost as much use for his boot as he does his hand. Ben's inventory is accessed by pressing the right mouse button.
As well as being probably the least challenging of all LucasArts' graphic adventures, I also found Full Throttle to be one of the least humorous. Although, there were occasional nice touches. Star Wars fans will probably smile in recognition at Miranda's line "Help me Ben, you're my only hope!" But overall, I thought, it relied too heavily on its over-the-top characterisations. The use of a chain saw as a weapon whilst on a moving bike should definitely not be attempted at home.
As I said earlier, the game will no doubt be hugely popular and successful with its target audience for reasons other than its adventuring component, but those of us waiting for the next Monkey Island or Day Of The Tentacle will have to wait a little longer I'm afraid.
Copyright © Gordon Aplin 1995.
All rights reserved.
486DX33, 4MB RAM, 2xCD-ROM, DOS 5.0, VGA, mouse