Written by  :  Unicorn Lynx (181363)
Written on  :  Aug 29, 2003
Platform  :  DOS
Rating  :  3.67 Stars3.67 Stars3.67 Stars3.67 Stars3.67 Stars

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Cinematic cartoony bikes can be hazardous to gameplay

The Good

Full Throttle was created by Tim Schafer during an uneasy period in the history of adventure games. Comedy adventures were beginning to feel stale in the age of multimedia, and demands for more mature content eventually resulted in such works as Sierra's horror- and occult-themed Gabriel Knight and Phantasmagoria series. LucasArts never really responded to that tendency; indeed, until the very end of their creative output they haven't made a single adventure game without comedy elements. That said, Full Throttle at least attempts to shift the attention away from time-traveling hippies and mentally unstable rabbits to present a gritty - if somewhat cheesy and B-movie-like - tale of biker gangs, rough romance, and corporate injustice.

Full Throttle is very cinematic, more so that any previous LucasArts adventure. Cutscenes are more numerous than ever, and they are very well-done in the same cartoony, yet serious style that later also distinguished Outlaws. All the ingredients of teenage-oriented "coolness" typical of the 1980's are there: you have the impossibly cool, low-key unshaven protagonist with an attitude; the backdrop of constant cheerfully presented violence manifested in "manly" biker brawls; the caricature of a villain with an evil square face and sinister plans hinting at the general evil of capitalism; and so on. This stylish presentation is complemented by cartoony, edgy visual design and a metallic soundtrack.

I liked two things about the gameplay: the "Kick" command and the biker fights. Those are pretty much the only things in gameplay that adequately reflect the stylistic traits of the narrative (though the fights could have been better executed). The rest, sadly, is a row of singularly unimpressive "puzzles" devoid of wit and challenge. The part where you cross a minefield with the help of pink electric bunnies was certainly funny and quite original, but it was an isolated spark of brilliance rather than an indicator of the game's puzzle design. It also revealed a deeper weakness of Full Throttle: it tried to deal with more mature content in its story, but utterly forgot to do anything with the familiar light-hearted inventory puzzle system besides toning it down.

The Bad

Sometimes it's enough to play a game for a couple of hours, without even finishing it, in order to know it's going to stay with you for life. And sometimes one full playthrough can be deceptive: you return to the game after several years and suddenly discover it isn't as great as you thought it was.

The problem is that, with all its coolness, its cinematic flair, and its dramatic narrative, Full Throttle is a stunningly ordinary adventure game. I don't want to sound like a pompous ass, but I do prefer games that focus on gameplay above everything else - and, sadly, Full Throttle is not such a game. It gives you a cool protagonist, it gives you stylish visuals, it gives you cutscenes - but it doesn't give you what has always been the foundation of LucasArts' design philosophy: lively dialogues and challenging inventory-based puzzles. It's like a meal consisting only of a great sauce and spices, but without the actual main course.

Most reviewers state that Full Throttle is too easy and too short. I fully agree with this evaluation - it's just that I probably feel more bothered by that than the others. It's true that Loom was also too easy and too short - but it had such unique gameplay that it almost didn't matter. Full Throttle, however, is just a vanilla adventure game. It mainly consists of harmless object-manipulating activities that feel like pale shadows of the brain-twisting, wacky and witty schemes of Day of the Tentacle. With the exception of the bunny-hopping puzzle, I don't recall a single task in Full Throttle that was truly interesting. Simplified interface, reduced interaction, and narrow, confined spaces complement the bleak picture.

Ever since Monkey Island, abundant branching dialogue has become a trademark of LucasArts' adventures. Those humorous, well-written interchanges are almost completely absent from Full Throttle. There are only a few instances where you can talk to people and actually choose your answers - most of the conversation in the game is handled by cutscenes. The game has about as much player-controlled dialogue as Zak McKracken, if not less. But that game had a vast world, non-linear progression, multiple puzzle solutions, optional content, four different protagonists, and what not. Full Throttle has you completing linear tasks in small areas, without an actual world you can explore. That structure would be much more appropriate in a Sierra adventure, where gameplay was tight and dramatic, ripe with hazards and sudden deaths. It doesn't fit a game that follows a certain "hands off" philosophy, where rough edges have been removed and where the player begins to feel too safe, artificially guided to the happy end.

The Bottom Line

I know this is not a popular opinion, but I'll have to state it, and I'm doing it as a big admirer of LucasArts' work: Full Throttle is a nice game, but it's a far cry from the company's acknowledged masterpieces. It's refreshing to play through once, but lack of any gameplay depth essentially makes it a typical "rental". To me, Full Throttle is a symptom of crisis in adventure game design in general and in LucasArts' oeuvre in particular - one they would hardly recover from, despite the magnificence of Grim Fandango.