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Interstate '76: Nitro Riders (Windows)

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100 point score based on reviews from various critics.
4.0
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Written by  :  Roedie (5226)
Written on  :  May 15, 2002
Rating  :  2.71 Stars2.71 Stars2.71 Stars2.71 Stars2.71 Stars

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Summary

The absence of a story line really hurts this game.

The Good

Let me start my review by saying that the original Interstate '76 is one of my favorite games. It successfully mixed realistic car handling, combat, muscle cars, cool music, a decent story line and memorable characters with an unusual seventies setting. Interstate '76: NitroRiders is a stand-alone add-on to the original Interstate '76. It offers the usual add-on stuff: a bunch (20) of new missions, several new cars (and some new paint-jobs/skins for some of the cars that were in the original), a few new weapons and a couple a new multiplayer/botmatch maps. More importantly, Interstate ’76: NitroRiders finally supports 3D acceleration and has two new multiplayer modes: racing and capture-the-flag (besides the standard deathmatches).

Here are the things I liked about this one:
  • Nitro inherits its car handling from the original and it still is amazingly good. In his review of the original Tony Van wrote: "The best part was the feel of the game. Driving FELT great... ..I remember each time I loaded it up I felt like pulling on driving gloves." I couldn't agree more. At full speed the game gives you a real sense of speed. You can make some really big jumps and skidding with the handbrake is a lot of fun.
  • Large (more than 30) selection of different cars. However cars with about the same weight & size feel almost identical. A Ransom Marshall drives basically likes a Dover Lightning or a Picard Piranha when you install the same parts (engine, suspension etc.).
  • Great music. I76 had a soundtrack with 16 tracks, the Nitro soundtrack has only 10 songs and half of them were also on the soundtrack of the original. Nevertheless, it's still a very cool & soundtrack. All the new songs rock!
  • Great voice acting. I especially like Greg Eagles as Taurus but the voice acting for Radiator Mother, Natty Dread, Skeeter and Jade is also very good. Sometimes it's a bit hard to hear what enemies are saying, especially when you're also firing your machine guns.
  • Cool intro movie (although from a technical perspective it's far from perfect). Too bad it's the only movie you get to see.
  • New weapons, especially the gas mortar and the caltrops (causes flat tires, which makes driving a car a whole new experience).
  • Keyboard layout and the fact that Activision shipped the game with a handy key-sheet.
  • The new missions include some novel concepts, some stuff that wasn't in the original. Besides the usual escort missions and the ”visit nav-points A, B & C and kill all baddies” (Wing Commander on wheels), there are some racing missions. There's also a mission in which you have to stop a bus with your car (like the movie Speed, except the car is not allowed to go faster than 55 miles per hour). In another mission you have to stop 3 cars that drive in different directions within in certain period of time.
  • After you complete the regular missions (in which you play as either Taurus, Jade or Skeeter) you get some bonus missions in which the player takes on the role of the creeper Natty Dread. As always it's just more fun to be the bad guy!
  • Runs stable under Win 98. Even serious alt-tabbing doesn't freeze the game. Installation is also flawless which really is a rare thing for games in the Interstate series :-). Actually it's rather sad that I should mention this as being “good” isn't it? Also, you can play the game without the CD. Nice for multiplayer games with a friend.

The Bad

Interstate '76 had a campaign with an interesting story line (told in several cut scenes) to tie the missions together. The first missions were you faced relatively weak foes. As you progressed you fitted the parts & weapons you salvaged from the wrecks of your enemies on your own car and turned your sister's Picard Piranha into a real killer. Although Skeeter could repair & replace some parts, the car with which you ended mission A, was the car with which you started mission B. So it was important to keep the damage to a minimum.

Unfortunately Nitro lacks a story line to tie the missions together. You basically can play any mission with any car at any given moment. Gone are the cut-scenes and the upgrading of your trusty Piranha. This makes the game way to easy because you can play any mission with a big 4x4 equipped with the best parts and plenty of radar-guided missiles. This is so cheap it kind of feels like cheating. The developers seemed to have realized that the game would become too easy and have tried to counter this by outfitting almost every enemy car with a turreted weapon (auto-lock) and a bunch of heat-seeking missiles. So forget about completing the majority of the missions with a regular car with medium weapons. Combat just isn't that much fun anymore when everyone is firing missiles at each other, it requires less skills.

More bad stuff:
  • Very rigid mission scripting, missions rely almost completely on triggered events. If you try to complete a mission in a different way than the developers envisioned, you can really confuse the program. Sometimes you can gain a serious advantage by driving around a target and attacking it from another side (catch enemies off guard). More often however creativity is not rewarded and you'll have to replay the mission when you leave the "main path". Another problem concerning the mission scripting is the fact that conversations or remarks are often triggered by certain events although sometimes these remarks are not relevant anymore. Also, when you attack an enemy during an argument and kill him, he sometimes keeps on talking after his death.
  • Some bugs. The game has a tendency to forget settings (especially when setting up an instant melee battle, selecting computer opponents etc.). Sometimes cars are being pulled up a hill by a mysterious force when driving near a steep wall; there's probably something wrong with the collision detecting. Colors are often messed up in the hi-res software mode.
  • Bad graphics. While the car models are kind of OK, the surroundings are definitely not. The game suffers from an enormous amount of pop-up. Explosions are simple sprites (sprites in 1998!). Unlike the original NitroRiders supports 3D acceleration, but don't get too excited. It supports the Power VR and Rendition chip-sets but most people will select the D3D graphics. To be honest, the D3D graphics are a big disappointment. The game is often way too dark, there's a lot of texture-ripping, shadows appear to be solid and there's only one resolution available: 640 x 480.
  • A.I. is a disappointment. By accident, enemies will drive off cliffs or over their own land mines. The A.I. often appears clueless when it needs to judge height & distance. One day I did a little test, I started an instant melee battle against several bots on the Grapevine map (this one comes with the game), drove my car up a steep hill and parked my car near the edge of a chasm. Then I left to have lunch. Half an hour later I returned and my car was without a scratch! All this time the bots had tried to climb the steep wall of the ravine, none of them ever came up with the idea of driving around the mountain and taking the main road I took. Another problem with bot-matches is that the bots all attack at once, don't attack each other and the game doesn't really keep the score. You keep on fighting until the bots have managed to kill you. Why not adopt the more common "first one with 8 kills is the winner gameplay"?

The Bottom Line

A mediocre add-on to one of my favorite games. Already looked dated in 1998. The best thing about it? There's not that much like it, I don't know any other vehicular combat game with realistic car handling. There aren't that many games with a seventies theme either.

Once there was a great Interstate community, they made some great maps and came up with some new multiplayer events (like the long-jump). Unfortunately I never really got a chance to play the multiplayer part of the game. By the time I got cable the only people still playing the game were a bunch of fanatics in the U.S. and I'm not gonna stay up till 4 o'clock in the morning just to play a computer game. More recently Activision has been shutting down their Interstate '76 & Nitro servers, the final nail to Interstate's coffin.