Asphault and Trouble
Welcome back, Retro-enthusiasts to another edition of LucasArts Retro! This time we’ll be talking about Full Throttle, yet another gem in LucasArts’ line-up. Since I realize that I say "Full Throttle" and most people immediately start to think about the energy drink by the same name, a quick run-down of the story is in order.
Full Throttle is all about a quasi-post-apocalyptic future that’s incredibly dark. Unlike the previous games we’ve been discussing, Full Throttle is grittier, darker, and more violent in every sense. But that doesn’t make it humorous or incredibly entertaining. We take on the role of Ben, the leader of a biker gang known as the Polecats. The story is all about a setup involving the Corley Motors Corp, who is the last remaining motorcycle-making company in the country – namely that the VP of Corley Motors murders the CEO and pins the murder on the Polecats. Ben, now a fugitive, has to do something to clear the gang’s name, and, like the bard always said, "therein lies the rub".
Along the way, the gamer is taken from old-west looking locales all the way to the airplane the Vulture gang commands and all sorts biker cliches put into the future along the way. The environments take cues from the futurist ideas of the 90s, but also pay homage to the biker culture surrounding the game. Most interesting is the idea of Malcolm Corley, the CEO that’s murdered; he goes around talking to the bikers like in the old days, even though he’s the head of an immensely successful corporation. The sub-characters aren’t as memorable as previous games, but Ben has found his way into the hearts and minds of gamers with his rugged character model and voice, both of which are unmistakable.
The game was a critical success for its time and critics praised the direction it took as well as the darker atmosphere. However, the game is incredibly short for such a complex story and in that sense, it has always been closely related to Loom (another LucasArts game) which was also short, but immensely successful. Unlike the previous LucasArts game which gained momentum and gamers of all ages enjoyed, Full Throttle is a niche game, having found success in its cult following.
I hate labeling the game as "niche" because people tend to have a deep aversion for games in niches. The reality is that it really is an amazing game that deserves to be played by anybody for its story as well as its social commentary. Unlike previous games, LucasArts decided to really go all-out with the commentary (much in the same way Wall-E recently did for Pixar). The future where everyone drives hovercars and forgets all about the motorcycles which paved the way for exploration and love of the road closely mirrored landscape of the adventure genre for the time, when games stole conventions from Monkey Island and DoTT, but moved into other more successful genres. Then again, maybe that’s just reading too much into it.
Like the other games in the LucasArts Archive, this one utilized SCUMM – however, there is a memorable part of the game involving side-by-side motorcycle fighting that utilized a new engine for real-time combat. What seemed like a step in the right direction actually turned out to be the game’s weak point, as fights on the motorcycles usually got reduced down to frustration and luck.
The game also employed a new interface mechanic, wherein the player controlled Ben’s actions by commanding a skull on-screen with the click of the mouse. The interface innovation was definitely a high point in an already great game as it allowed for more precision in choosing what exactly you wanted to do.
All in all, the game does things pitch-perfectly, but that’s what you can expect from Tim Schafer at this point. The darker atmosphere actually led to Shafer dreaming up a scene where Ben smokes peyote (something that never made it in the game) and goes into his own mind. This idea translated into Psychonauts, Schafer’s most recent game (more on that later).
This post is part of the series: Commentary on LucasArts
- LucasArts Retro Part 1 – A Primer
- LucasArts Retro Part 5: Outlaws
- LucasArts Retro Part 4: Full Throttle
- LucasArts Retro Part 3: The Curse of Monkey Island
- LucasArts Retro Part 2: Day of the Tentacle