In my heart, I’ve been a biker for most of my life. While I got in the saddle later than most, there has always been an attraction to the idea of wearing leather and having something large and powerful throbbing between my legs. Much of that attraction can be attributed to one man – Tim Schafer.
Years before, he awoke in me something new and exciting and at that time not widely accepted, but as the newly-minted adult I was in 1995, he finally gave me something that allowed me to fully explore what had been initially stimulated in my adolescence: an abiding life-long adoration for point and click adventure games. The vehicle for that exploration was a defining moment in my gaming life – Full Throttle.
The mid-'90s were a golden period for gaming. The PlayStation was starting a revolution in the industry, but it had not yet begun to impact the PC market as it would in the years to come. CD-ROMs had given rise to full motion video, and the medium’s larger capacity gave developers more freedom to expand their scope and deliver much higher fidelity experiences.
Not all of these experiences were necessarily good, but nonetheless it was a period of innovation and experimentation. Gaming was on the rise, and future industry icons were releasing games that would soon become bona fide classics. LucasArts was one such icon, and in 1995 it gave Schafer his first lead designer gig off the back of the standout success of Day of the Tentacle.
The resulting game would in many ways define Tim’s career, and cement his reputation in the industry that stands to this very day (although he's taken some solid hits in recent years). Full Throttle was the eleventh point and click adventure game released by LucasArts, but also a significant departure from what came before. The story of biker-gang leader Ben is one of betrayal, murder, corporate espionage, and really big motorcycles, and it's a far more mature tale than any preceding LucasArts adventure. It was still as coffee-spittingly funny as any other Tim Schafer game, but its more adult themes and understated tone were a welcome departure from the wacky goings-on of peers Sam and Max and Monkey Island.
In the year 2040, Corley Motorcycles are the last motorcycle manufacturer in the US. Petrol guzzling, bone-rattling cruisers are a relic of the past, long since replaced by anti-gravity technology. Corley’s VP Adrian Ripburger (wonderfully voiced by a sneering, sinister scene-chewing Mark Hamill) has convinced CEO Malcolm Corley to enlist biker gang The Polecats as an escort to the Corley annual shareholder meeting. Events unfold that leave gang leader Ben (portrayed to gravelly perfection by Roy Conrad) unconscious in a dumpster, the Polecats missing, and Ben’s bike sabotaged. As Ben you must repair your bike, save your gang, beat up some rival gang members, and avenge a couple of deaths along the way.
While Full Throttle was not the first LucasArts adventure game to embrace CD-ROM technology, it was by far the best example of how to leverage the medium to create the best possible game. Unlike a lot of earlier games, there is not one bum voice performance. The voice-acting is exceptional across the board, but it’s Roy Conrad that carries the whole game. His throaty rasp and stoically dry delivery is exceptional, and while Mark Hamill steals every scene he’s in, its Roy that provides the perfect platform for every other actor to anchor to and build from.
The quality of the audio continues with a fantastic soundtrack, which ranges from The Gone Jackals rock to synth pop and southern-fried country, with a healthy dose of noir-themed keyboards to set a hard-boiled mood when required. The variety and quality of the music in the game was something rare during the infancy of the optical disc usage in gaming.
As Full Throttle is a point and click graphic adventure game, even the best audio in the world doesn’t count for much if the on-screen action doesn’t pass muster. Again, the game is a triumph. The stylised cartoon art style with an emphasis on dirt tones, chrome and bone do an exceptional job of giving grimy life to Ben’s journey across an alternative America’s desert highway’s, seedy bars, and industrial monoliths.
During the journey, Ben will encounter a number of interesting and some less than savoury characters, each of whom provides a roadblock of some description, or a tool to dismantle one. The puzzles in Full Throttle range from the inspired to the infuriating, but thankfully, nothing here elicits Monkey Island 2 levels of mouse-destroying aggravation. Taking the time to fully climb every dialog tree and examine every object will eventually lead to a eureka moment, making Full Throttle Tim Schaffer’s most elegantly designed game as far as the puzzles go. Each one makes sense within the world.
Full Throttle was a triumph in every regard, and this translated to universal critical acclaim and record-breaking sales. It was a success far beyond even the most optimistic projections from LucasArts, and it was a success very well earned. It was one of the best adventure games I had ever played, and a game I would come back to replay every few years. I adore this game, and like my well-worn bike leathers, it provides me exactly what I need it to, almost like it was made specifically for me.
Now that I have completed the most long-winded introduction of all time, let’s talk about the 2017 Remaster by Double Fine Productions.
Full Throttle Remastered is the third – and best – remaster of a classic LucasArts game. Every frame has been redrawn in high definition, and the audio has been remastered using the original recordings. The latter has never sounded this good, far exceeding the capabilities of the restrictive and archaic CD-ROM format of the original. The original game has not been modified outside of the improved visuals and audio, except for the extension of every scene from 4:3 to 16:9 to fill the real estate of wide-screen monitors and TVs that obviously did not exist in 1995.
The only new addition to the new edition as far as content goes is a very entertaining – and surprisingly insightful – commentary from half a dozen of the core creators of the game. This prompted me to replay the game a second time just to hear what this talented group had to say about it, the adventure game genre, and the industry. They also relay some very entertaining stories about the production of the game back in ye olde days of multi-layered flannel, spokey dokies, and tethered telephony.
Also added is a render mode key that elicited strangely compulsive behaviour from me. Pressing it switches between the game's last century primitive pixels and the new hotness of the high definition art. Every new scene compelled me to flick back and forth between the old and new, and marvel at how close the team kept to the art design of the original. I was also astounded at just how much detail my teenage brain was able to discern and interpolate from a shockingly low number of onscreen pixels. Screw 4K, this was 320x200 pixels of graphical perfection.
Full Throttle Remastered is as good now as Full Throttle was back in 1995, and that’s about as glowing a recommendation as I could possibly give. It may not provide the longest ride ever produced, but with a new coat of paint, a refurbished engine, and some sexy after-market exhausts, this is one retuned and restored beast I unreservedly endorse for one and all.