Full Throttle: Remastered
US: 18 Apr 2017
The recent HD remaster of Full Throttle is an interesting package. In some ways, the game easily makes the jump from its origin in 1995 to the current day, but in other ways, the remaster fails to update the more frustrating design decisions of this 22-year-old adventure. This is actually less of a problem than you’d think. The frustrating things that remain in the game make it a kind of time capsule, a portal to an era when people played games differently.
On the positive side, the puzzles hold up very well. They’re all held together by solid logic, even if you might have to do some tangential thinking for a few of them. If a guy won’t open his door for you, just wait until the peephole goes dark and kick it down, that way you knock the guy down as well. If the cops chase you away every time you try to steal gas from a fuel tower, then just steal the gas from the cop car itself. These solutions might not be immediately obvious, but they’re logical enough that we’ll figure them out with a little bit of effort.
Even the confusing puzzles are still driven by this kind of grounded logic. Near the end of the game, you have to destroy a film projector. You’re supposed to stop the spinning reel and then up the intensity of the projector, that way the light burns the film. It makes sense. The issue comes from the game’s interface: There’s no indication for how to manage the light. You’re supposed to flip the same switch twice in row. Why would I think to do that?
Playing Full Throttle now, it still feels like a smart and clever game. Any lapses in logic may stem more from the UI than from any sort of poor design.
That holds true for the real frustrations, which have more to do with exploration rather than puzzles. In short, there are more than a few times you’re required to go to a certain screen in order to progress the game, but the screens seem to be purposefully hidden, and not hidden as part of any puzzle, but just hidden away in some corner of the world that you may never think to check.
For example, one puzzle has you distracting a junkyard dog by throwing some meat into a junked car. You then lift the car with a giant construction magnet, and thus the dog is safely trapped. However, getting to the controls of that giant magnet is horribly unintuitive. You have to retrace your steps back a screen, then click to “exit” in the upper-right, which is just a dark corner, it looks like empty shadows. Only after you click does the camera pan to the right to expose a tiny ladder to climb.
The main problem here is that the junkyard is constructed and displayed in such a way that you’d never think this was a possibility. There are no visual cues leading off the screen in that direction, nothing directing your eye towards this necessary exit.
Another example: You have to go behind a bar to meet a companion, but there’s nothing about the placement of the buildings that might suggest this is a possibility. Again, there’s a painful lack of visual cues.
It’d be easy to dismiss these annoyances as an old game being a bad game, but that sells Full Throttle short. It takes a lot of time and effort to make a game, these screens are constructed and displayed this way for a reason, even if the reason isn’t immediately obvious to your 2017 gaming mind. I think the screens are connected this way because the developer assumed that the player would just naturally drag the mouse across every inch of the screen searching for interactive objects—that we’d be pixel hunting. I assume this because the cursor changes when you hover over one of these exits, so they’re fairly easy to find… just as long as you think to hunt for them.
That’s the key difference between then and now. Back then, I would naturally assume I’d have to search for exits and items. Today, I naturally assume the game will point me towards exits and items.
This problem is not unique to Full Throttle, it’s common amongst point-and-click games, and especially common in point-and-click games from the same era. However, other remastered games (like The Secret of Monkey Island: Special Edition) have solved this issue by adding a button that highlights interactive objects as well as any nearby exits. The fact that this is a problem now says more about the quality of the remaster than it does the quality of the base game: The update fails to properly update the game.
However, I can’t be upset with this failure because it offers a fascinating window into another time. It’s an update that turns Full Throttle into a kind of time capsule, a window into a past in which players and developers were held to a different standard, and were guided by a different set of expectations.