(Note: I actually wrote this post a couple of weeks ago, but just now got around to making the screenshots for it. I am still kinda terrible at blogging)
Shortly after my last post, I hit a brick wall. I had previously decided to play I’76 on the game’s middle difficulty, Champ, after breezing through the first couple of missions. I am also a glutton for punishment and am known to play games on harder-than-optimal difficulties for the greater sense of accomplishment and to prolong the experience artificially. I know this sounds counterintuitive, but I honestly get more enjoyment out of finally getting through a tough section of a game. But that’s the topic of another post entirely.
The point is, Scene (the game’s name for the single player campaign’s missions) 7 was kicking my ass. I read through a little bit of strategy for the game as a whole and the mission itself, and remembered that one of the game’s great keys (which you can totally ignore) is a sidearm mechanic where you can pick off a car that’s in the red by aiming your .45 out the side window of your car. If done right, it can drastically diminish the amount of time and ammo spent on each opponent, and once the mission’s over, you’re more likely to get undamaged loot to add to your own car, because you didn’t literally blow every car up to complete the prior mission.
One thing I had never even messed with before was my car’s armor and chassis distribution. After many deaths at the hands of Scene 6, I finally made it through by armoring up as much as possible and killing enough of my corrupt cop opponents in a short enough time to limp through their removed roadblock. I also had to regularly shut off my engine to avoid the radar lock of a helicopter overhead.
I’m spending so much time describing this one mission because it’s honestly where I spent a pretty good chunk of my total time with the game. None of the game’s other missions provided nearly the level of challenge this one did, thanks to its leap in difficulty coupled with my own poor strategy in the first few scenes resulting in less capable gear than I otherwise could’ve had. Once I made it through that, things were pretty smooth sailing to the conclusion, despite the fact that I was less than halfway through the game at that point.
The game’s developers tried to vary the mission structure as much as possible, providing a number of different escort missions, protect-this-building objectives, and even a brief (and kind of silly) stealth scenario, but generally the goal was to shoot the other cars without getting blown up myself. There are a couple of mazes and a few light puzzles (like a water tower that blows up into a ramp to jump over the wall of an otherwise impregnable fortress) as well, but I think when all was said and done I spent maybe 5 hours with the single player campaign. If this were still 1997, I could hop online and blow up the cars of some strangers, but as it is, I’m kind of sad it’s over already.
I should take a minute to talk about the game’s music. Though the funk soundtrack that accompanies every mission can feel a little dissonant sometimes, for the most part it adds to the late-70s atmosphere of the game. One track in particular has a pretty perfect “shit just got real and you need to fix it immediately” urgency to it, and it’s no surprise that the game’s final cutscene uses it to good effect. I actually had trouble getting the soundtrack to play during the game’s missions, so I manually queued up each mp3 (originally Redbook audio that could be played in any CD player) and set it to loop before I started each new scene. I put a couple of hours into trying to get it to work properly, and the expansion that comes with GOG.com’s downloadable version of the game works as intended, but for whatever reason, I had to settle for a workaround in order to get the complete experience.
Overall, I’m glad that I took the time to get it running (more-or-less) properly, because it brought back some good memories. I can picture being downstairs in my parents’ den, upstairs at my friend Bret’s, and in my cousin Matthew’s kitchen, all locations of computers where I originally played the game. Certain songs and line readings in particular brought me back to a time when afternoons and weekends were for video games, my parents’ disdain be damned.