Starsky & Hutch
Huggy Bear is back, bringing the Seventies and his Ford Gran Torino with him. Is the game as cool as the classic show?
It's with no great surprise that Starsky and Hutch has received the video game makeover. After all, the industry's love affair with the 70's and its multitude of car-chase oriented programming is well documented, harking back to the long forgotten but memorable interstate 76. So car chases and dodgy haircuts aren't all that out of place on our screens but does Starsky and Hutch cut the mustard when compared to contemporary classics such as driver and GTA? Don your Afro wig and let's investigate further, partner.
Ah, the classic Ford Gran Torino. One of pop cultures most iconic vehicles has been firmly rooted in our minds since it first appeared on our TV screens, during that golden age of disco we call the 70s. Of course, that wasn't the only thing to stick in our minds and influence us: Starsky (Paul Michael Glaser) famously donned a pair of track shoes during the series and gave birth to a trend that to this day remains with us: trainers. Yes, you can thank Starsky and Hutch for many things but you have to wonder whether that influence is strong enough in contemporary culture to make us want to run to our local gaming emporium to pick up this new title. As is often the case with licensed games, the brand is so strong that it needn't even house a solid game to shift copies. Unfortunately, this has become somewhat of trend in the industry, with the likes of who wants to be a millionaire shifting a massive quantity of units, despite being as playable as a piano with 10 keys missing.
So on booting up Starsky and Hutch, my reservations manifesting themselves in a series of sighs and toe-tapping, the first thing that struck me was that a great deal of care had be taken to set the bulk of the games structure apart from the crowd. Rather than a long string of missions which will no doubt have you wondering if there's ever an end, the missions are collected and structured into TV-esque seasons, with each mission bearing relevance to the next. Whilst continuity in video games isn't in the least bit rare, it nevertheless endeared itself to me at a very early stage. To contribute to this unexpected sense of satisfaction, the unlocking of subsequent seasons is contingent on earning ranks for each mission, with each rank directly correlated to your viewer rating. Yes, yet another interesting little quirk in the game is in fact where the bulk of the game lies: in order to progress, you are asked to earn viewer rating points, achieved by performing special events (such as riding over huge jumps and blowing up a large collection of oil drums). If your viewer rating reaches zero, you'll have to replay the mission and aim for a higher viewer rating to earn a badge.
Also worth mentioning, if only to critique its very inclusion, are the cut scenes between each mission. Taking its queue from the stylised comic book method seen smattered throughout the seventies like a modern day magna carta; they certainly don't fit into the structure of the game. Even the voice talent of Antonio Fargas (AKA Huggy Bear) can't save them, as each still looks more like the 70s than the 70's did.
Which nicely leads me to the graphics. Unfortunately, there is nothing here that startles or even manages to surpass the achievements of the PS2's first generation titles. This is unforgivable, as even the two main characters are rendered in almost virtua fighter esque detail, albeit with some texturing added. Even the city and traffic, whilst largely functional do not entice the player, the merely serve as a racetrack with a little scenery smattered arbitrarily throughout the city. Aesthetically, Starsky and Hutch doesn't so much disappoint as it does shock you that a developer is still able to put out titles of this aesthetic quality. Thank goodness then that the sound effort is far beyond the call of duty. In game, Starsky and Hutch exchange compliments and criticism, so much like the original series. With funky disco and psychedelic orchestral scores so typical of the era, it's good to see that on the whole, there was real effort made to keep the soul of the 70s intact.
If only I could be so enthusiastic about the gameplay. Unfortunately, the whole game falls short of being that rare gem all gamers seek: a half-decent licensed game. Well, perhaps half-decent is the right phrase to use, because that is precisely what Starsky and Hutch is, decidedly average and run of the mill. Essentially the gameplay sees you pursuing a car or a van whilst you shoot at it.
Along the way there's the opportunity to collect power-ups, some of which prove to be more of a hindrance than anything else, especially when speed-ups appear and you're already struggling to go as slow as your target, speeding up results in you completely losing your bearings, only to find them and realise that your target has proceeded in the other direction. When you do finally catch up with them, you find yourself almost aimlessly shooting away at them, as the crosshairs line up nine times out of ten with no real manual input. The game goes some way to attempting to amend this by including a second player light gun option, which unfortunately proves to be as superfluous as the rest of the games features, as the monotony kicks in just as quickly, with aching joints to boot. Those expecting a great deal in terms of longevity won't be surprised by a slew of new cars and a free roam feature, all of which are pretty much standard fair for the genre but do nothing to improve on the formula.
More often than not, licensed games are of middling quality purely because their very nature limits the games potential: Starsky and Hutch however could've been so much more. If a little more time and effort had been put into the games early stages of planning, the possibility of actually leaving your car might've occurred to those with the power to push it. We could've had a 70s GTA esque hit on our hands; instead we have a title I can only recommend to fans of the series and those with a soft spot for nostalgia.
Starsky & Hutch hits the North American market on September 9, 2003, and is available now in the UK.