Starsky & Hutch

May 10, 2004

[floatleft][/floatleft]Starsky & Hutch is an interesting take on the licensed game. Instead of trying to exactly capture the feel of the original media (in this case the classic TV show and NOT the Ben Stiller/Owen Wilson remake movie), it takes the elements from the show that are most compatible with a video game and goes crazy with them. To fully enjoy this game, you really need the right equipment and perhaps even the right attitude, but I found it to be a classic driving action game right up there with Crazy Taxi and Lucky and Wild.

As you would expect, the game involves Starsky & Hutch driving around in their famous Red Ford Torino dealing with the criminal element by driving after them and shooting them. You can elect to have the computer control the auto aiming (although you still have to shoot) or using the mouse to blaze away at the bad guys with your free hand. For the actual driving I was using a steering wheel, and the game seems to have been made for the wheel/mouse combo. The car handled just the way you would expect a muscle car to handle, and I had no problem sliding and handbrake turning my way through the streets of Bay City.

In order to better catch the criminals, the heroes can pick up powerups by running over or shooting icons floating in midair. These range from speed boosts and grip, to weapons and bonus VR points (see below). This system is really a lot of fun and separates the game from potentially being another generic chase-em-up. You use these powerups to destroy criminals you are chasing or to defend cars you may be escorting.

[floatright][/floatright]Unlike most games, Starsky & Hutch does not concern itself with your health. Your job is to achieve some police oriented task, such as shooting up a bank robber’s getaway vehicle or protect another car, while maintaining the interest of the audience. All of your performance is based on keeping your audiences interest, represented by a number called your viewer rating (VR), as high as possible. When you do exciting things, like jump over a ramp, skid through a turn, swerve through traffic, or run over an obstacle, your VR goes up. When you do bad things like hit civilian traffic, drive towards pedestrians, get shot, or shoot at people you aren’t supposed to, your VR drops. The VR alone determines how you are doing on the mission. You can bang up your car, temporarily lose your suspect, and even flip yourself and you will be able to keep going, but once you lose all your VR the game is over. The VR you have left determines what rank you get for the episode. I liked this system because it encourages you to drive through things, over ramps, and generally behave like the maniacs Starsky and Hutch were on the show.

The replay factor on Starsky & Hutch is pretty amazing considering what a simple game it is. In addition to the main episodes, there are other modes which you can unlock by getting better ranks in the episodes or completing certain secondary objectives. TV Specials are unlocked by completing those secondary objectives, and are just a grueling test of your driving or shooting skills. The challenges are pretty fun, and well worth unlocking. The Free Roam mode lets you drive around town with no enemies to shoot, but just to keep it interesting they give you strategically placed icons to find. This mode really helps you learn the maps and can be a big advantage later when you try missions in the same areas, and you can pick up other cars to drive in this mode here by grabbing icons on each level. You can also unlock the ability to watch the cutscenes, photos from the show, or even an interview with the actor who played Huggy Bear by picking up huggy bear icons.

The games graphics are flat and colorful, and maybe a bit cartoony, but they fit in very well with the arcadey nature of the game. Cars get beaten up and deformed to show the damage, with hoods and bumpers falling off as they are battered and shot. Sparks fly whenever your car grinds against the wall or when you shoot an enemy, and of course, enemies explode in huge fireballs when shot. The graphics in the game will not knock you off your feet, but they are well done and very appropriate for the story.

Sound is one area where the game is somewhat hit or miss. The gunshots, while not amazing, are more than adequate and the tires screech appropriately as you slide through a turn, but the engine sound just isn’t there. Anyone who has watched the original Starsky & Hutch probably remembers the enormous growl of the Ford Torino’s monster powerplant, and will sorely miss that sound in this game. Not that the sound is bad, but it could have been much better. However, Starsky & Hutch’s dialogue more than makes up for this oversight. They constantly give each other kudos for good shots and driving, and complain when the skills aren’t up to par. Also, when driving around, Starsky makes a lot of comments whenever you pass by a lady or a fast-food joint.

[floatleft][/floatleft]My only major issues with this game were the few situations where you could get completely lost or stuck. During one escort mission I would occasionally foul up a jump which landed me on a completely different freeway with no possible way to get back to protecting the car I was following. I also got turned sideways a few times in a narrow alleyway, and found it impossible to straighten out. Both of these were more or less avoidable once you really learn the levels, and you can always restart a mission, so I would say they are really only minor issues, but it still sucks to be taken completely out of a mission you were just cleaning house on.

Overall I’d have to say this is one of the best bargain games I have ever picked up, and I am definitely enjoying more than many games I have payed $50 for recently. I would warn anyone who is interested that you really need a steering wheel to get the most out of this game. The PS2 and Xbox versions both apparently support light guns, which sounds like potential for a lot of fun if you have a light gun, a steering wheel, and a friend who likes car chases. Even if you never watched Starsky & Hutch before you should give this game a try (it’s usually only $10), and you should also try to watch the show, now that it’s out on DVD.