Interstate '82 Thoughts

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This is a piece I wrote shortly after the release of Interstate '82. At the time, I was pretty disappointed with the game and a similar sentiment seem to float throughout most of the I '76 community. I'm not sure if I still feel the same way about the game today, but time and aging will have that effect. Without futher ado:

I'm sure anyone who's played Interstate '82 has asked themselves this question at one time or another: "What the hell happened?" Interstate '82, at the start at least, seemed to have a lot going for it. There was a strong I '76 community waiting for a sequel that would bring back Interstate '76's mix of action and simulation elements and improve on them to make an even better game. That didn't happen. Instead, Interstate '82 arrived as a watered-down version of I '76 with a slew of design problems that would severely handicap the game.

Nitro Pack had been made as a stand-alone add-on pack to Interstate '76, offering new missions and multiplayer modes. However, while all this was welcome, there were still many flaws and bugs that weren't fixed before the game came out. As expected the designers set to work on a patch and people in the I '76 community signed on as beta testers. Unfortunately, nothing came about after that. Activision left the game in it's buggy state and decided to focus on more important products. This seemed to be foreshadowing what would happen with the release of Interstate '82. Activision has continued this trend in many of its game series, including the dreadfully buggy Mechwarrior 2: Titanium Editions and the hard to find Heavy Gear 1.2 beta patch.

Interstate '76 was not a great seller, even though it received more than it's share of good reviews and awards. Instead of choosing to market the product and get the word out on their newest game when it was time, Activision chose to dumb down the control scheme and other simulation aspects of the game. The goal was to make the game more accessible to the mass market that seemed to ignore Interstate '76. Unfortunately, in the end, this is is probably the one major factor in the games demise.

The new control scheme no longer makes it necessary to switch between reverse and drive gears. You just push your joystick forward to move forward, back to move in reverse, and left and right to turn. The driving view defaults to the outside of the car with a HUD, a la Twisted Metal. The lack of a dash in the in-car view ruins the feeling of actually being in a car, but it seems that the developers weren't counting on people to use it, anyway. All this is in stark contrast to driving of Interstate '76 that required you to shift gears between forward and reverse and would even allow you to drive your car like a manual transmission if you so pleased.

The combat engine is even worse. Your damage is now based on a single bar, much like Quake. The closer that bar goes to the left, the more likely bad things start happening. The majority of the bar is green. This represents your armor. Yellow is for the internals. After it's gone, you're dead. This kills much of the strategy and tactics delivered in Interstate '76. No longer can you take a hit on your right side and defend it. Any time your car is hit, points come off of the total bar. That also means you can't drill into a section of your enemy's car or exploit bad designs with weak spots. You can add armor amounts to reinforce your car, but there is nothing as deep as allocating where you will put your armor and chassis reinforcement in Interstate '76.

There are a few new weapons that are decent, but some of them are completely ridiculous. I'm really not into the whole idea of a giant beam coming out of the sky trying to fry my car. Even it Reagan did propose the Star Wars defense program in the 80s, it doesn't have to be in Interstate '82. Karpoons seem to be an interesting new idea, with the abilities to disable cars or force the driver out, but the low ammo count doesn't help them carry any weight over another weapon. The paint thrower is just sadistic. There's nothing worse than being blinded with no way to counter. Unlike Interstate '76, in which everything could be countered with driving strategies, Interstate '82 requires you to add things to your car to accomplish this, eating up valuable space in cars. The only problem is, in the case of the paint thrower, they forgot to include window wipers. Karbide Kutters are interesting, designed to eat out chunks of the enemies armor with their spinning blades, but seem almost worthless in the end. Some weapons, like the returning oil dropper, work in mysterious ways. When you run over oil, you're car stops revving up and the wheels stop spinning. That's clearly not how it should work, but that's the way it is in the game. Fire weapons now set cars on fire, but can be countered with a fire extinguisher. There's now a chaff system that attracts missiles and a new device called a SuCCLeR, that allows your car to get airborne with the push of a button. Interesting, but now moving towards science fiction, rather than the militaristic weapons of I '76. When your engine is shut off, you can't fire weapons, one of the main strategies used in I '76. At the end of the day, I would much rather have Interstate '76's military-based weapons rather than I '82's 'cooler' weapons.

The hand gun was one of the most devastating weapons in I '76, if used correctly. Online, this was, as with many of players, my preferred choice of killing. But there's no chance to do that in Interstate '82. Due to a bug in the game, the handgun won't allow you to kill other drivers.

The new car set up interface is completely different. Now, there are a certain number of boxes on a car, and you can only throw on weapons and specials that will fit into these boxes. Increasing the ratings of the engine, chassis, suspension, or brakes will eat up one of these boxes, furthering limiting your weapons. Different weapons require differently numbered and shaped boxes, requiring a little bit of thought. I don't mind this system, but the problem is, it all cars of a certain class are the same. All small cars can hold the same number of boxes, all mediums can hold the same as other mediums. Cars lose their identity, basically making each car in a class the same, with a different body style. Combine this with the lack of different handling between cars, and it really seems like there are only a few cars in the game. In Interstate '76, each car had a different amount of total armor, different weapons hard points, and every car had subtle nuances that made them handle different.

"Never get out of the car," or so was the golden rule of Interstate '76 and it's Nitro Pack. Getting out of the car in Interstate '82 is a nice feature that could've been a lot better. Once your out of the car, it feels basically like your driving a human-shaped car. You're armed with your pistol and you can try to shoot other people on foot, other drivers, or carjacking. Regardless, you don't stand much of a chance. When you die on foot, there's a delay and some awkward movements before you finally hit the bucket.

The game has a few interesting multi-player modes. Hot-potato, being the newest. Basically, this is a game of tag in which the potato explodes after a minute or so. In addition to standard death match, there is also capture-the-trout, which is basically capture the flag with a fish.

Customizable paintjobs are a welcome addition. Load the .tga files into the Photoshop and edit away. A bug in the game means you can't touch the DeLandau's (DeLorean) paintjob, but other than that, you can have a field day with the paintjobs.

Interstate '82 is based on the Dark Side engine, which was developed in conjunction with Heavy Gear II. Heavy Gear II was, in my opinion, an awesome looking, as well as playing, game. Unfortunately, the same can't be said for Interstate '82. The graphics, are nice, but nothing special. The cars look great, except for the polygonal wheels. They shine and sparkle as reflections bounce of them, but should these cars look like that? In Interstate' 76, the cars were gritty and looked like they've been driving around the desert for a while. Also, the cars don't seem to take damage like in the original. Contrary to popular belief, there are deformable frames, but you have to almost be trying to get something screwed up to get them to show. Once again, part of this is due to the non-regional damage model. You can't have one fender mangled without the rest, therefore you can't have a section of your car with damage while the damage bar is still green. The rest of the graphics in I '82 don't seem to hold up as well. Water reflections are nice, but drain the system. Guns don't hold up visually. The scenery is bland. The Las Vegas level doesn't deliver the feeling of being in a city, but instead a deserted ghost-town with neon lights.

The sounds are alright, if not because some of them are recycled. The karpoon sounds come straight from Heavy Gear II. The game comes with all objectionable dialogue filtered out. Activision was supposed to release a downloadable patch to enable the original dialogue, but it never happened. The explicit dialogue is still installed, but you have to rename the files by hand to hear it in the game. The music, well... if you don't like New Wave, you're not going to dig it. Funk fit I '76 perfectly and enhanced the game. New Wave may be the perfect match for I '82, but unless you're a Devo fan, the music sucks.

The story is entertaining, not in the dark way of Interstate '76, but in a goofy way. It's got some attempts at humor, with a big spoof of the Reaganomics of the time. Most people seem to enjoy the story, but Interstate '76 was better, no doubt.

As one reviewer said, "Interstate '82 is much like the 80s, a lot of style, but little substance." This pretty much sums up the game. On an odd note, I'll leave this with the poem on the last page of the Interstate '82 documentation. Maybe it provides some insight as to what happened to what could have been a great game in a great series.

It's never too late for them to rip
Into the fruit of our labor.

Their ink tipped claws tear and shred
Leaving the juiciest of juices

To desiccate amid the dust and spilled oil of the
Cold concrete garage floor.

They do it in the name of profit.

Each hiding behind the others carving into the
Most succulent with the casual ease of

Seasoned smiling surgeons without the vaguest taste
for the fruit they cut.