Even back in 1995, Full Throttle felt like an odd cousin to the zany, wisecracking graphic adventures that LucasArts were known for, like The Secret of Monkey of Island and Day of the Tentacle. Rather than playing everyone’s funny bones, project lead Tim Schafer aimed to be more cinematic: the CD-ROM had just launched, FMV sequences were possible, and LucasArts had lost money on their last few adventures. They needed something that more people would swing a leg over and ride, and Full Throttle was the dramatic bet they chose to make.
Hindsight is 20-20, and Full Throttle was never going to reverse their financial fortunes. It wasn’t quite the thigh-slapper that the audience had come to expect, and brash bikers and rock-and-roll weren’t as mainstream as Tim Schafer believed them to be (Brutal Legend would only ram home that fact). At the time, Full Throttle also received muted reviews of being too short and not funny enough. In our age of remasters, though, we have a fantastic opportunity to give it a reappraisal, as it’s one of a three-shot salvo to come to Xbox Game Pass, alongside Day of the Tentacle and Grim Fandango.
You play Ben, leader of a biker gang called the Polecats. For reasons that are never quite explained (and it’s refreshing that it’s not), this is a post-’something’ world where everywhere looks like Arizona, biker factions rule, and a single multinational called Corley Motors is responsible for making the world’s bikes. It feels like Mad Max, or at least the months before the world goes full-Mad Max, and it’s moody, industrial, and great.
In terms of plot, you’re decompressing in a bar when in strides Malcolm Corley, founder and CEO of Corley Motors. He’s looking to procure your protection for an upcoming shareholder meeting. You say no, but his scheming second-in-command named Ratburger kills Malcolm Corley and attempts to kill you, framing you for Malcolm’s death. You’re on the lam, your Polecats are in custody, and Ratburger is going to the shareholder meeting. He plans to shift production from motorcycles to minivans, which is just about the worst thing you can do to a biker.
To give an assessment of Full Throttle, you really need to split it in two, as it does one thing extremely well, while the other splutters a bit. On one hand you have Full Throttle the movie, which is sensational; one of the best examples of storytelling in a LucasArts game. On the other, you have Full Throttle the game, and it’s this that hits an oil slick more times than you’d like.
Let’s go for ‘Full Throttle the game’ first. In a reasonably radical move, Full Throttle only offers four verbs to use on the environment, all represented on a skull motif: you can use your hands on something, use your feet on something (mostly kick it – you’re a gruff biker after all), use your mouth on it (talk or lick, and the game has fun with that last one), and look at something. That covers most of the interactions you’d want to make anyway, as ‘use hands’ and ‘look at’ are hefty catch-alls.
You’re then chucked into a sequence of areas, but there’s really only three of note: a caravan park, an interstate, and the Corley Motors factory complex. It’s mostly traditional point-and-clicking: hovering your cursor over things, picking them up, using them elsewhere and chatting to characters to unlock both areas and items. In functional terms, Full Throttle works well, and the reduced verbs make it one of the most console-friendly of LucasArts adventures.
What surprises, returning to Full Throttle, is how little there is to do in each area. There are two to three things in each tableau that are worth interacting with, and you might come away with one solitary thing to pick up. In point-and-click terms, that’s spartan, and it robs a little of the joy from Full Throttle. Managing a full inventory and working out what goes where is one of the genre’s joys.
Puzzles have a variable hit-rate. There are some fantastic, logical sequences involving Duracell rabbits, a remote control car and a junkyard dog, but there are far too many that need trial and error or a guide. There’s a sequence in the middle of the game where you need to lose some bikers that are on your tail. To solve it, you need to detach your trailer and use it to pop some cat’s eyes from the middle of the road, even though the trailer is the last thing you’d use to do it. It’s just a bit logically scattershot, and there are plenty of other examples.
Ambitiously, Tim Schafer also drops a couple of arcade minigames in there. One is a Road Rash-style thing, where you’re looking to whack an enemy in the face before they get you. The other is a top-down demolition derby. You’d have to be a staunch LucasArts fan to defend them: they’re both pretty awful. The Road Rash minigame is unresponsive, but luckily you can brute-force it by leaning your opponent into the corner. We just wish you didn’t have to play it a dozen times or more. Unfortunately, there’s no quick way out of the demolition derby, and you’ll be nudging other cars in an inaccurate and painfully slow manner, wishing throughout that you could find the eject button.
When you add together the limited interactions in each scene, and the small number of scenes, it amounts to a lightweight graphic adventure with some frustrating bottlenecks. This is less than half of the length of The Secret of Monkey Island or Day of the Tentacle, say, and it’ll be no more than a couple of nights before you get to the end.
This sounds downbeat, but the story more than makes up for the caveats. The world of Full Throttle is a testosterone-fuelled joy. We’re so used to dreary post-apocalyptic wastelands, but Full Throttle creates one where everyone’s chilled, looking good and getting by. The plot developments are worthy of a movie, and while the editing is a bit choppy, the FMV sequences retain absolutely all of their charm. Graphically it’s a bit inconsistent, but it sounds brilliant, with stellar voice-acting from Mark Hamill and Roy Conrad in particular, and a rock-and-roll soundtrack that drafts in the San Fransiscan band The Gone Jackals to give it a rockabilly edge.
It’s funny, too – more than an apocalyptic biker movie should be. The sequence involving Duracell-style bunnies is a standout, and the main character has a habit of running in a head-back, knees-up way that tickles. Characters like Mo and Malcolm Corley are memorable, and parting from them only underlines how much a Full Throttle sequel would have been welcomed.
Of the LucasArts adventures that have come to Xbox One, Full Throttle is not the first that we’d recommend. It’s too lightweight in its gameplay to be a favourite, and it takes a few ambitious punts, particularly into arcade territory, that don’t pay off. But that’s not to say that Full Throttle is running on empty: it’s better at being a movie than a game, and that movie is exhilarating, noisy and more than a little kick-ass. Since Full Throttle is now on Xbox Game Pass, that might be a drive-in that’s worth getting a ticket for.