Starsky & Hutch

Starsky & Hutch Review – 2004

Every time I have to play a game from a film license I groan.  Yes, I know as a reviewer I have to treat all games impartially, but seriously, the number of genuinely good games springing from film license tie-ins can be counted on one hand.  But preconceptions aside, please join me on a guided tour of this game.  Starsky & Hutch was released to coincide with the recent film of the same name.  Fans of the old TV series will be delighted at the opportunity to don 70’s garb and the shiny police badges of the titular heroes.

I have to admit, for approximately the first Starsky & Hutchfive minutes of playing this game I genuinely enjoyed myself.  The missions are all car-based, and simply involve driving from one place to another, shooting baddies and defending good guys.  A simple concept, but even the most basic ideas can work if implemented properly.  Speeding through city streets at high speed and careering dangerously through back alleys does hold plenty of appeal, even if the gameplay is more Crazy Taxi than Driver.

To cleverly tie in with the fact that this is a recreation of a TV series, you have an audience appreciation meter at the top of your screen to convey how excited or bored the spectators are while watching you complete a mission.  If that meter ever reaches zero, then you fail your mission for not pleasing them.  To remedy this you’ll need to keep them enthralled with your fancy driving and parlous feats of bravado and skill as you dash around the city.  There are plenty of set-piece stunts to earn you respect with the admiring public, and these give you flattering slo-mo shots of your airborne accomplishments.

Pretty much the staple objective of every mission is to stop some criminal or other, with occasional additions to the formula to add a slight attempt at variety.  The only way to stop these pesky felons is by damaging their vehicle to such an extent that it blows up.  To crumple their chosen getaway transportation you have to use a combination of physical ramming and using Hutch to shoot them with his trusty pistol.

This leads us to the biggest, most damning, overtly pathetic hitch in the entire game.  Quite literally the fact that every car, van or lorry you chase is seemingly manufactured by the famous Cast-Iron-Solid-Indestructo-Fantasti-Strong company.  A full head-on with an enemy vehicle will set it back a miniscule millimetre in its health bar.  And Hutch’s pistol is even worse; an asthmatic octogenarian could do more damage firing soggy tissue from a bent peashooter.  By the time you finally dispose of your enemy, you’ll have fired your farcical firearm many thousands of times, and with such negligible damage on the fleeing vehicle that it feels totally redundant.

The rest of the game is actually fairly unique in a quiet, unimpressive sort of way.  Your journeys throughout the city, and your battles with baddies are facilitated by the use of various power-ups scattered liberally throughout the city.  These range in usefulness, from handy speed-ups and audience appreciation bonuses to sirens that help clear the traffic slightly.

By default, the gun is on auto-aim, semi-intelligently targeting enemies and power-ups.  However, for hardcore gamers who want proper control and a more satisfying challenge there is an option to control gun aim yourself by means of the mouse, while you control the car with your left hand.  You could even turn it into a co-operative game, and have someone driving the car while someone else shoots the gun.

As already mentioned, car handling is distinctly arcade and offers little tangible sense of realism in either control or the results of a misguided swerve into solid objects.  Vehicles also flip themselves back onto all fours if accidentally landing in a supine position.  The sight of a ponderous bus lightly flipping a 180° spin back onto its wheels particularly defies belief and spits facetiously in Newton’s face.

There are three seasons to play through, each one increasing exponentially in difficulty.  The final season requires plenty of retries; so frustrating is the exertion of slowly, gradually whittling the health off a speeding hunk of nigh-on impenetrable motorised metal.  There are little extras you unlock as you progress, with additional side missions and extra cars aplenty to add to your garage.  Nothing that’ll keep you playing for much longer though.

Graphics are acceptable, capturing the 70’s style a little, and the city you zoom around is modelled quite nicely.  Sound effects are fine for the first minute or so, after which they repeat with astounding regularity and grate forcibly on your frayed frustration synapses.  Praise be to the mute option.  Starsky & Hutch won’t last that long, mainly because the lifespan of the game plays out far before its climax.  The slender sense of progression gives little motivation to continue playing, and you’ll likely leave this one to gather dust after just a few sittings.

I liked the TV series, I liked the film, and I desperately wanted to like this game.  However, Starsky & Hutch proved true to the film license generalisation I made at the beginning.  I really wanted to be proved wrong, I yearned for my preconceived notions to be unfounded and I earnestly sought to glean some decent enjoyment out of the game.  But no, for the time being at least, my callous regard of film licenses remains.  The cheap thrills on offer here are replicated with much more panache in titles such as GTA: San Andreas or Driv3r.  Steer clear.