Another year, another LucasArts classic spruced up and spit-polished for the benefit of fans new and old. With Grim Fandango and Day of the Tentacle out of the way, this year Double Fine turns to 1995’s oft-overlooked motorcycle adventure Full Throttle.
Those who’ve played the previous remasters should know what to expect by now. It’s Full Throttle, warts-and-all, but with reworked graphics and an optional developer commentary for the diehards. The problem? Full Throttle has a lot of warts.
Born to be wild
Story- and setting-wise, Full Throttle is still an excellent tale. Drawing equally on Mad Max and Easy Rider, Full Throttle takes place in a wild and lawless land of motorcycle gangs, demolition derbys, and decommissioned military aircraft.
You play as Ben, no last name, leader of biker gang The Polecats. Hanging out in the local bar, you’re approached by the corporate stooges at motorcycle manufacturer Corley Motors to escort the founder to a shareholder meeting.
Valuing your freedom, you of course turn Corley—particularly the weaseling assistant Ripburger—down, at which point you’re attacked, thrown in a dumpster, and left for dead. Your gang is convinced that you went on ahead, they drive off with Corley and Ripburger, and all that’s left is for you to go after your crew and reveal Ripburger’s nefarious ways.
It’s a fun little story with some excellent characters and some hilarious pop culture references. Surprisingly timeless references, actually—although Full Throttle release in 1995, it still holds up pretty damn well from a writing perspective. Better even, at points, than Grim Fandango and Day of the Tentacle. Full Throttle leans into the biker gang pulp, the action movie one-liners and macho man bravado, and that idea of the gruff Bruce Campbell archetype hasn’t changed much over the ensuing decades.
Unfortunately it’s the game that doesn’t hold up that well.
For starters, I’ll level the same complaint against Full Throttle that was leveled against it in 1995: It’s short. Like, really short. I finished it in a hair over three hours.
Now, I finished Day of the Tentacle Remastered in the same span, but that’s only because I knew the solution to some of the more arduous puzzles. A normal first-time run through Day of the Tentacle would probably be closer to 5-7 hours total. And Day of the Tentacle feels like a bigger game, besides. The environments are more varied, the characters better utilized, the story more self-contained.
Full Throttle feels like the proof-of-concept for a larger adventure. It stands alone, the story (mostly) wraps up, but it’s hard to shake the feeling you’ve been given a whirlwind tour of a setting that deserved a much grander story. This is particularly true of the side-characters, most of which simply disappear as the tale goes on. Your entire crew, actually—all squandered, even though they’re your motivation at the beginning.
And of all the LucasArts games, Full Throttle’s puzzles are the most straightforward. In some ways that’s good—you shouldn’t need to resort to a walkthrough. Or if you do, it’s out of impatience instead of being completely lost. The game is pretty good at prodding you in the right direction, though there are a few puzzles that are timing-based that can be maddening.
Easy puzzles don’t help the game feel any meatier, though. Often Full Throttle is a case of knowing what the solution is, then tediously navigating to area after area in order to painstakingly put your solution into place. And then watching a cutscene, which is where all the best moments happen.
Mostly Full Throttle feels like a relic, torn between two eras. On the one side is Day of the Tentacle, a masterpiece of quirky 2D point-and-click LucasArts. It’s got that trademark off-kilter humor, the absurdist puzzles, the weird characters. It’s SCUMM at its SCUMM-iest.
Then there’s Grim Fandango and the legacy Tim Schafer-helmed Double Fine picked up afterward with Psychonauts, Brutal Legend, and the like. There’s a focus on the environment, on building worlds around a theme and then conforming everything else to that ideal—Day of the Dead, summer camp, heavy metal.
More important, there was a focus on how the games played in that latter era. Starting with Grim Fandango there was a break with the SCUMM-style point-and-click, a move towards 3D adventure games and more action-heavy experiences.
Or rather: Starting with Full Throttle, there was a break. The problem is that Full Throttle is still a SCUMM adventure game, but layered with bizarre action sequences that have aged like a tuna sandwich someone left in the back of the fridge for two decades. A few motorcycle fights mid-game are awkward but bearable, but a late-game demolition derby sequence is just about as obnoxious and unplayable today as it was 20 years ago.
There’s also the Grim Fandango Remastered issue where the early-days 3D graphics layered over 2D backdrops looks awkward and ugly. Double Fine’s done what it could to spruce up those old 1995 models with a sharper, more modern art style but in many cases the newfound crispness actually looks worse, the CGI elements sitting awkwardly on-top of the 2D background and looking woefully out of place.
I don’t think there’s much else Double Fine could do, though. Full Throttle is a curiosity, a souvenir of a time when games first really crossed the 2D/3D tech boundary, of a time when designers needed to learn (or devise) a new set of rules for how to both make and interact with games.
The end result: It’s rough, playing it today. Does that mean you should skip it? Absolutely not. It still packs some solid laughs, excellent music, and a setting that deserves to be revisited. It’s three hours well-spent, and those who played it in the past will find the same game they loved all those years ago.
Just realize this remaster isn’t as smooth or seamless as what Double Fine’s done before. Nothing from that era could be.