Reviewed: October 19, 2003
Released: September 11, 2003
Starsky & Hutch is based on the 70ís cop drama of the same name that had every kid in my class dreaming of being a cop and driving around in a shiny red Ford Torino. I think the only other car that captured Americaís youth with such fervor was the General Lee. Starsky & Hutch paved the way for future and more stylish buddy-cop dramas like Miami Vice, but in the 70ís there was a certain carefree abandon in the air that this series captured, and now Gotham Games does a 30-year time warp to bring this energy into the 21st century.
Starsky & Hutch relies on two key gimmicks to make this a viable driving game in a world full of next-gen action racers. The first is a clever ďratingsĒ system that actually treats the game as a television series. Your performance in the game directly influences the viewer ratings in real-time Ė much like the recent remake of Rollerball. If you donít maintain a certain level of excitement the ratings will drop and the show will get cancelled, or in gaming terms Ė GAME OVER!
The other hitch and probably the most important one is the totally original and totally awesome ability for two players to play this game in cooperative mode using a wheel and light gun or a gamepad and light gun or two gamepads. Iíll be the first one to admit that without the light gun support and cooperative play this game would probably be destined to the budget bin even quicker than it will end up there anyway.
Starsky & Hutch unfolds over three seasons with six episodes each. Put away the pocket calculators Ė thatís 18 levels. In true buddy-cop fashion one player can drive the car while the other can shoot. This feature alone drew a small crowd around our Xbox as we took turns trading off driver and shooter.
While a wheel is supported and we did try the game using the Mad Catz Universal MC2, the style of game and itís third-person camera just doesnít lend itself to a wheel. The driving is more like Vice City or even the old Driver games with sharp turns and precision power slides that require precise analog control.
What does make a difference is using a light gun. The only Xbox gun we have in the office is the Mad Catz Blaster so we plugged it in and got ready for some ďcops and robbersĒ. The light gun presented a challenge just to configure and took more than a dozen tries before it finally managed to calibrate. Itís not the best light gun engine ever and you do have to get uncomfortably close to the TV to maintain any level of accuracy but it does work.
There is a certain level of intensity involved when you have one player driving and another shooting. Itís a symbiotic relationship that I havenít experienced since playing Wakeboarding Unleashed with one person driving and the other being towed by the boat. In Starsky & Hutch the shooter is totally reliant on the driver to put them in a position to target the vehicles and suspects. The driver also has the ability to change the camera angle to either side or the rear.
It is also the driverís responsibility to navigate more than 100 miles of Bay City roads, driving through power-ups for bursts of speed, stunt specials, environmental triggers, and ratings boosters. There are also other power-ups that hover in the air and must be shot. These will change out your ammo, give you rapid fire, or even switch to a new weapons.
Each mission has a primary objective Ė usually catching a fleeing crook Ė and then there is some secondary goal like smashing 20 boxes. The game infers a certain level of urgency but never really delivers. You might be asked to catch a crook before they reach city limits but are given plenty of time to do so. Most of the time the viewer ratings are your biggest worry, although there are a few problematic missions such as escort and protect missions that will have you playing and replaying the same level over.
As previously mentioned, viewer ratings are a dominating force in this game. You increase your ratings by doing wicked stunts, sliding around turns, jumping your car off any available ramp, and blowing stuff up. Your ratings will drop if you injure civilians or damage excessive public property. Itís a clever scoring system that encourages you to drive cautiously and carelessly at the same time.
There are a handful of mini-games designed as TV specials. These include racing, shooting and stunt challenges of various levels of difficulty that offer a bit of competitive gaming. There is also a free roam mode that lets you explore the city at a more leisurely pace without the worry of ratings.
There are a few downsides to Starsky & Hutch; the first being that it is really a game designed around two players. Sure, one person can play the game and do fairly well but when playing with a single gamepad aiming becomes a bit of a problem. Without a freeĖtargeting gun you are left to the mercy of the auto-aim, which is dependent on the direction the car is traveling.
Call me old-fashioned but I really dug the visual style of this game. The game graphics were clean and simple and reminded me of a next-gen version of Driver. While none of it was as sophisticated as Vice City or Midnight Club II there was a cel-shaded charm to the entire presentation. Even the cutscenes maintained a stylish 2D comic book feel, the static images with panning and zooming cameras providing the only animation.
The framerate is rock solid for 95% of the game. The other 5% is purely random but usually is associated with explosions or quick camera changes when you reverse directions and shift a large amount of scenery. There is also an annoying feature where the game goes into a slow-motion mode whenever a subtitled clue appears on screen. I suppose itís a courtesy the first time but having to reread these tips on future replays gets annoying.
There are some excellent camera angles that capture the action from a variety of exciting perspectives. When you make a jump or drive through an explosion the camera will pull back and switch to a suitable replay view to stimulate the viewer ratings.
The dialog is standard cheeky 70ís stuff full of ghetto slang and typical buddy-cop banter. Even the narrator has a distinctive 70ís flair about him and we canít overlook the hippest informer in television history, Huggy Bear.
The rest of the audio package is comprised of a lot of engine noises including a nice throaty roar for the Ford Torino and the repetitive gunfire that will often trigger nice explosions. To top off the package is a great 70ís soundtrack full of funky tunes that hearken back to the days of ChiPís.
Most missions take 5-10 minutes each and you can complete the story mode for Starsky & Hutch in about five hours, maybe less if you are playing cooperative and the guy with the gun is a good shot. There are a few missions that might stump you for a few replays but youíll muscle through it soon enough. The mini-games are moderately fun but wonít add more than 1-2 hours to the gameplay. The game debuted at $19.99 making it a great bargain for what you get. Since it is already at bargain bin prices you might have to dig around to find this title in stores.
Iíve seen a few reviews for this game and a lot of them were overly harsh. Sure, Starsky & Hutch isnít the best game on the planet but there are a lot worse things you can be playing. Frankly, the light gun and cooperative play turn an otherwise mediocre game into a pretty darn good one. Solo gamers might not get caught up in the driving and shooting, but when you split these tasks up the game actually emulates a traditional buddy-cop dynamic and does it better than anything else out there.