Starsky and Hutch
It is true that the older you get the wiser you become. Gone are the days of skipping off school to go fishing, only to be replaced by fake ‘sick calls’ to the boss so I can lay in bed for a day. Problem was that T.V was crap. Kilroy (oh how I’d love to ‘kill Roy’) on BBC 1, Teletubies on 2, GMTV for ITV and Trisha on 4. But hail Channel 5, the prince of seedy porno’s on Thursday nights, queen of porno-related soaps like BayWatch and Family Affairs and king of Steven Seagal movies. So many people slag off Channel 5 for the reasons above, but what makes it the ruler of day-time TV are the 70’s cop shows like TJ Hooker and Starsky and Hutch.
Nothing beats two undercover cops slamming a Ford Torino (complete with ‘go faster’ stripes) around the corners of Bay City whilst taking hints from a squealing pimp called Huggy Bear. In fact, nothing ever did beat it which would explain why nearly every adult cringes with excitement at the very mention of ‘word on the street is’. So much so that the grown men from Minds Eye made a game around it.
Following the rather large scale outcry for decent movie tie-ins, no doubt influenced by the recent demise of the well-hyped The Matrix, releasing a game based on a cult TV show didn’t seem sensible. If this was bad then the wound would deepen and we would find our cop-duo slugging it out in bargain bins by September. So that leaves the only option of being good, something licensed games regularly fail on (see The Matrix, Shrek, Lilo and Stitch).
So early news that Starsky and Hutch would evolve around a cartoon-style story and be quite over-the-top were met with much wariness, many realising that this too could be a hyped up flop. Early game footage seemed to swing many (including me) as we saw our Torino burning up the streets of Bay City, complete with a Huggy voice-over and Hutch leaning out the window with his gun. But what surprised us all was this proposed link-up play; a steering wheel and G-Con 2 could be plugged in to fulfil the ultimate 70’s experience. Magic.
But does it actually work? The problem Minds Eye had to conquer is Starsky and Hutch only came into their own when in the Torino. That’s how everyone remembers our cop duo. So the main obstacle to clamber over is to provide enough variety to keep the player hooked. With this in mind, several scenarios have been made for us to tangle with as well as an ever-increasing difficulty. Early missions are a breeze but get stuck in and you’ll be hollering ‘bollocks’ everytime you over spin from a corner.
From the first few episodes (missions are called episodes, grouping them up into seasons) it is easy to say that the missions are samey. This is exactly what I thought. Race around shooting gun at target until he is destroyed. But these are only easy ones to get you used to swinging a muscle car around corners, dodging through gridlock and what to shoot and when.
Later levels require you to escort and protect witnesses, stop fleeing villains in their tracks, beating bent cops to key evidence and gunning down gang cars. This is where you find the innocent people of Bay City are a pain in the backside, as you slide into them from corners and collide head-on in frantic chases.
A main menu screen crammed full of choices is drawn in simplistic fashion along with the cutscenes, with a tapping-foot Huggy Bear on the right hand side. Anyways, story mode is where you unlock the unlockables (funnily enough) and progress through the episodes just like the show. Rather than just completing each to move on, there are plenty of hidden secrets to boost replay value through the roof. Finding hidden cars, weapons and collectors cards increases the option in free roam whilst finishing with high viewer points earns you a medal.
Yes that right, viewer points. Simply shooting the bad guy won’t suffice here, what the paying public are after is powerslides, good citizenship (shooting traffic lights to make them go green) and wacky stunts in exchange for their points. If the meter goes to zero then its game over, get gold medal standard and a prize is yours. These are no walk in the park however, as the Bay City public will probably hamper your chances of success rather than help it.
Getting medals unlocks areas to burn rubber in free roam. Again, there are more items to collect in here to unlock more material. You have to locate police badges by performing stunts and daring tricks in the run-up (rather like the hidden packages in GTA) and these unlock bonus material in the form of cast interviews, TV shots music and biographies.
Taking yet another leaf from GTA are the TV Specials, where collecting secret weapons during the story unlocks mini games such as Racing (street races from Sunshine Autos), Stunts (the stadium in Vice City) and Shooting. Performing well here gives you points to unlock those precious items in the locker room, and yes I’m only three away from the Huggy interview!
Once you have gandered over all the available game modes and bonuses, it’s time to get stuck into some crime-solving action. The worlds most famous Ford Torino is faithfully re-created and has been given a mix of muscle handling and super-mini tightness to suit the best of both classes. You’ll discover why this is essential because tight steering and nimbleness is needed to weave in-between gridlocked traffic and round packed corners down backstreets. But the balance is just right to allow back-smoke doughnuts in shopping malls and lip-smacking powerslides round street corners that the duo would have been proud of. Shooting bad guys is more simple than it first looks, with Hutch taking aiming into his own hands and letting you press the trigger to cap them in the ass. The target doesn’t have to been in line with your bonnet either, meaning shooting whilst powersliding is possible, as is firing mid-air from jumps.
Keeping in with the cartoon cutscenes, the graphics are just like those of GTA 3. Plenty of colour and recognisable features to distinguish shops and flats from banks and factories but a faded look to make it feel cartoony, and almost cel-shaded. And whilst the driving is particularly Driver-esqe, Starsky and Hutch doesn’t suffer from the pop-up that plagued Reflections villain chaser. Instead we have the ‘filling in’ technique that Rockstar used for GTA. This means that the basic shape of a building on the horizon is shown, with finer details such as lampposts on the street and windows on buildings filling in as you get closer. The draw distance is far enough to let you see where the road ends so getting lost due to bad pop-up isn’t a draw back.
Bay City itself is HUGE. There are tons of main drags, back-alleys and bridges to roar over as well as many well-placed boxes to smash through. The impact of GTA on this game is equally as huge, right down to the way pedestrians react to danger and the little map in the bottom right-hand corner.
So we have great atmosphere, graphics and gameplay, all we need now are some groovy tunes to dance the night away. And Minds Eye has given us exactly what we crave. Aside from the unlockable music, the Starsky and Hutch theme is here! Beat-bopping away over menu screens and core gameplay the 70’s thriller is included in its shining glory. Fantastic.
Add to that character voices by our duo and Huggy Bear, this game is unstoppable. Stopping on the sidewalk (or pavement- depends where you live) for a while makes Hutch shout ‘come on Starsk, lets get going’ as well as other small parts like ‘wooa, keep it steady’ and encouraging words to complement your driving. Starsky chips in with praise or criticism of Hutch’s shooting and both congratulate each other in a small clip after completing an episode. Sweet.
Replay value is immense, with the huge scale of the city allowing extreme stunts and unlockable content to die for. But it’s the multiplayer that everyone is waiting for. Plug in a G-Con 2 and your mate can help out in story mode, shooting the baddies whilst you drive (or visa versa). This make arguments inevitable as one player lines up a shot only for the driver to miss interperet a corner.
Armed with a popular license, Minds Eye and Empire have delivered the goods despite growing concerns of cheap rip-offs. Plenty of bonus material to unlock, no two streets being the same and great sounds all complement a well-finished game. Some might whinge at the episodes being samey, but thanks to a viewing rating you have to think up different ways of getting points to pull the crowds.
Word on the street is Empire look set to cap bad guys in the ass with this thrilling license. Just don’t expect to pick up fashion tips though…