Full Throttle Remastered is like a tiny, video game-shaped time capsule. It combines corporate scheming, biker feuds and the intricacies of projecting film into a game that still feels unique two decades later.
The original Full Throttle, released in 1995, has all the hallmarks of the adventure game design of its time, up to and including third-person camera movement, clever writing and esoteric puzzles. The remastered version is exactly that: a prettier, better-sounding version of the original with a wider screen. There appears to have been no significant reworkings of the gameplay other than some quality-of-life improvements to the controls. Flicking back and forth between the non-remastered version and the 2017 one is like traveling through time to a period of pixelation and lo-fi audio.
That itself is enjoyable. There’s a lot to love about the way Double Fine has brought the game back to life, but the shambling skeleton inside is always just out of view, ready to remind you of the jankiness and out-of-date design goals from yesteryear.
The plot of Full Throttle Remastered centers on the conceit that the biker way of life is dying out in favor of gravity-defying futuristic vehicles. Protagonist Ben and his gang, the Polecats, are in dire need of cash, and the owner of the last company that makes the kind of motorcycles Ben and his buds ride, Corley Motors, needs an escort. A match made in heaven. But then antagonist and second-in-line Corley Motors executive Adrian Ripburger unleashes a plan to frame Ben and the gang for Corley’s murder.
As expected from a Tim Schafer product, the writing of this goofy premise shines. "I’m not putting my lips on that," a default phrase the protagonist Ben utters when asked to interact with objects in ways other than punching, grabbing or kicking, became a common refrain that I grew to love. Mo, the mechanic and most important secondary character, comes across as cool and reliable, but also kind of like she’ll punch your teeth in if you say the wrong thing.
It’s not just the characters that drew me in, but the world they live in. Full Throttle Remastered borrows liberally from Mad Max, creating a part-biker, part-alternative future aesthetic. There’s a lived-in feeling to the world, a sense that this place has history, despite the relatively brief glimpse I was given. The game’s six-hour runtime doesn’t provide a lot of room for world-building, but even that short look is packed with intriguing odds and ends, like buildings crammed on top of the roof of older, sunken structures to the Cavefish gang and their special brand of highway robbery.
Because the art has arguably the biggest influence on selling players on the aforementioned world, I feared the elements that came together to make for an enjoyable experience in 1995 just wouldn’t translate with a new, smoother look. While Full Throttle Remastered’s revised graphics aren’t the exact same style, it feels like a fresh coat of paint lovingly applied to an antique by someone who knows what they’re doing. More precisely, it feels like someone knew when not to paint over the old visuals. The backgrounds are gorgeous, the character models convey a limited, but powerful, set of emotions, and the visual gags land. It feels like this is how Full Throttle was always meant to look — as if it were being made for the first time in 2017, with all the technology we now have. This is exactly how it would end up.
While the shift in art works, there’s still an old visual language to the design that can be difficult to parse. If you’re like me and haven’t played a ton of adventure games, the controls and general puzzle mechanics can feel incredibly awkward at times.
More than once I found myself scratching my head as to the solution of a puzzle, only to realize that the actionable areas extended beyond the screen. If I went just a bit further to the right, the painted backgrounds would move as well, and I could continue on with solving the puzzle given the new information. This eventually led to me walking everywhere I could on any given screen before attempting to solve any obvious problems — a tactic that may be common knowledge to adventure genre veterans, but wasn’t immediately obvious to me.
Full Throttle Remastered attempts some concessions for newcomers, but it’s inconsistent in execution. The game makes it clear from the beginning that points of interest can be highlighted using the D-pad on the PlayStation 4, but there were several instances where objects I could interact with were not highlighted, no matter how many times I pressed the button. As I became more and more familiar with the controls, I made sure to highlight every single screen in this way, and the few times where I was unable to determine what I could and could not interact with — like in the game’s bar, The Kickstand — stood out like a sore thumb. I’d learned how to navigate, only to be stripped of my figurative compass.
Despite these annoyances, I had little trouble with Full Throttle Remastered’s puzzles. Just about everything could be solved with some careful attention, a little trial-and-error and some mental effort on my part. Once I learned how to reliably highlight objects, it became a simple matter of combining the right actions and objects in the right order.
The game isn’t all walking around solving puzzles, however. A very small portion of it is devoted to actually riding around on a chopper, and most of that time is spent fighting other bikers. Rather than moving around a painted background horizontally, Ben and his bike traverse the world vertically in an endless runner style. It’s a bit jarring at first, and it didn’t mesh particularly well in my experience, despite the obvious narrative necessity. How could you have a game about bikers, but not spend any real time on the bike? It makes sense.
But the Mine Road section about a third of the way into Full Throttle might be the most frustrating experience I’ve had in a game this year to date.
Maybe I’m just really bad at vehicular sections of games, but I spent an inordinate amount of time rumbling through the Mine Road — a curvy section that circles the larger highway at that point in the game — trying to successfully fight other bikers. There’s even an NPC called Father Torque that spouts off some tips before you get to the Mine Road proper, but nothing helped. After over an hour in the same area, I caved and looked up how to do it online. I’m not proud of my failure, but neither do I regret the decision to look up the solution.