Full Throttle Remastered [official site] is the return of perhaps the most under-appreciated of the classic 90s LucasArts adventures. Double Fine's remastering will hopefully go a long way to seeing it gain a reputation among a new generation. Here's wot I think:
There's a temptation to take my review of Day Of The Tentacle Remastered, then Find/Replace "DOTT" for "Full Throttle". Double Fine are onto a good thing here, taking some of the best loved games of the 1990s, redrawing the art, remixing the sound, and releasing them in working condition for modern PCs. May they not stop at LucasArts games, and do the rest of the industry too. It can feel difficult to add much more to the discussion, because if you hate the new art but love the new sound, switch the first off and the second on. It's Full Throttle, it's the same great-but-flawed adventure, the same gorgeously detailed but far too short tale of biker Ben in a future world where cars no longer have wheels.
Then of course it occurs to me not everyone is ancient. While there's pretty much no excuse for not knowing about Day Of The Tentacle and Sam & Max: Hit The Road, it's far more feasible that someone not born before the 90s would have entirely missed Full Throttle. Not because it didn't succeed - it was one of LucasArt's most successful adventures, selling well over a million copies, ten times what they'd expected. But it's the one that's mentioned after DOTT, S&M, Grim Fandango, Fate Of Atlantis, and of course the Monkey Island series. It can lay claim to a greater place in people's memories than LOOM, sure, but it's fair to say it hasn't received the long-term adulation given elsewhere. And that's not really fair.
Schafer's '90 heydays saw his projects become increasingly meaningful to him, delving into a world or a theme in an intimate manner, and perhaps never better than in Grim Fandango. But Full Throttle was a loving look at the land of the grease monkey, setting the more usually villainous biker character as the hero in a near-future setting where cars fly and only one company makes motorcycles any more. A company that is being brought down from within with the intention of making minivans. Minivans.
The evil Adrian Ripburger (voiced by Mark Hamill, with an early demonstration of his penchant for growly-throated baddie types) murders Malcolm Corley, the founder and CEO of Corley Motors, and frames biker gang The Polecats for the crime. Ben, the gang's leader, is your character, now on the run from the police and aided by Maureen Corley, daughter of the now-late Malcolm. And so it is that you inventory puzzle your way through a beautifully painted, murky world of desert roads and run-down provinces, proving your innocence and saving the wheel.
On release, Full Throttle was perhaps the first sign of adventure fatigue from critics. It was 1995, and the flawless DOTT and S&M had in years past rightly received rave reviews from everywhere, inducing everyone else in the industry to try to copy. The press were perhaps looking to take LucasArts down a peg, and Full Throttle provided the opportunity. It was short, the puzzles were simpler, and it had some absolutely god-awful action sequences. It didn't receive a drubbing, of course - but it did represent the beginnings of the tedious decision that the time of the adventure was coming to an end. It was the turning point, from "YAY ADVENTURES!" to the incessant idiocy of "Adventure games are dead, apart from this one," on every release.
Length really was the issue most focused on - something that just seems bizarre today in our world of hundred-million-dollar six hour FPS games. But games were big back then, and Full Throttle's tale not taking so long to tell felt unusual. Something exacerbated by the other anachronistic notion from those Days Of Yore: puzzles.
It's impossible to believe today, but people used to get stuck on a game and respond by stopping and thinking about it for a few hours, maybe overnight. Impossible. Try to believe it... See? And yet it was true. Full Throttle wanted to move away from that, and in that ideology was deeply prescient of where the genre (and all of gaming) was heading. It wanted to offer challenges that could be solved there and then, with some hard thinking. It's completely bonkers that today the challenges in FT are FAR harder than anything you'd get in a present-day point-and-clicker, but at the time not needing to wait for the next issue of your favourite gaming magazine in hope that particular puzzle might be solved in the back pages was considered anus. And indeed sped up the process of playing an already shorter game.
As with last year's DOTT, Double Fine have done a really lovely job updating, especially with the sound. You can switch back and forth between the original mono monotony, and the superbly remixed version, and there's no contest - crisp, clear voices over unfuzzy music - it's a joy. And no more joyous than the late Roy Conrad's stunning performance as Ben. What a treat to hear his euphonious growling voice so distinctly. They've also made some neat tweaks to the interface, the contextual pop-up click menu no longer needing the mouse button to be held down, for instance. (Although you can set that back if you're mad.) The art is going to be far more in the eye of the beholder, but it's undeniably faithful to the original.
DOTT's remaster resulted in scenes that looked far better for being updated, and others that looked worse. I think Full Throttle sees a lot more of the latter, but because the original was just so beautiful. As I obsessively F1 between the original and remastered version in every scene, sometimes I wonder at how blurry and ill-defined key objects were on the screen, and am grateful for the improvements. But it never looks aesthetically better. The original pixel art was some of the best ever, and something is distinctly lost in the upgrading process.
I believe that's a result of the process, rather than a condemnation of the new art. In trying to remain faithful to the original design, the art is restricted in a way that means it just isn't suited. I imagine the same team given the freedom to draw the scenes to their own vision could do something lovely with the style, but for me, here, it feels less than the original.
There are, unfortunately, some elements that are rather shoddy. A new ability to highlight interactive objects by pressing Shift is poorly implemented, with key objects missed and areas showing highlights where there's nothing. Plus all the new menus look haphazardly thrown together, the instruction screens especially amateurish, looking like a late 90s Geocities site. It's oddly tacky, unreflective of the core game, and disappointingly slapdash. There's also a very welcome optional audio commentary, containing some lovely #bants about the game's development from the original team, but they've been put in really strangely.
Chatter for a scene is triggered by pressing A, but is sometimes peculiarly incongruous to that moment. And frustratingly, it doesn't bother to note if you've listened, so will prompt you to press A again on return only to hear the same thing again. Yet sometimes it may have updated, so you'll want to check. Nrrgghh. Weirder still, it'll sometimes come in uninvited over cutscenes, meaning it collides with the in-game dialogue for a bit of chatter you can't listen to again after. The audio quality for the commentary is also really poor, everyone at different levels, the sound hissy and untidy, with conversation abruptly cut off at seemingly arbitrary points. Such a shame, as what's being said is generally splendid.
The ability to tweak it to the version of Full Throttle you want (I'd recommend the wonderful original art with the excellent new sound and music) rules out most complaints you could have. It needs another pass for minor bugs mentioned above, but nothing is serious. In the end, this is Full Throttle made playable once again, and that's something to be celebrated. It's a really fantastic game, with a lovely story, and brilliant performances. And out of its original timeline it's free to just be itself, not compared to the last or the next LucasArts adventure to hit the shelves. If you loved the original, this is worth buying for the improved sound alone. If you never played it, then oh my goodness, hurry up!