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Month of Activision: Interstate '76 Retrospective

Today's release of Interstate '76 was a dream come true to a lot of GOGers including some of our staff members. Let's see how the classic was born - a retrospective by Dan Amrich.

When MechWarrior 2’s writer and designer Zack Norman found himself shopping for a classic muscle car in the mid-90s, he got more than he bargained for. “I was looking for a Plymouth Barracuda,” says Norman today. “That was the height of the market for those machines. I was all about a plum crazy '70 Hemi Coupe -- they were so bitchin'.” But kicking the tires lit some fires, too: What if you combined the gas-guzzling fury of Detroit’s finest and the customizable carnage of technological war machines together into one game?

by Dan Amrich



When MechWarrior 2’s writer and designer Zack Norman found himself shopping for a classic muscle car in the mid-90s, he got more than he bargained for. “I was looking for a Plymouth Barracuda,” says Norman today. “That was the height of the market for those machines. I was all about a plum crazy '70 Hemi Coupe -- they were so bitchin'.”



But kicking the tires lit some fires, too: What if you combined the gas-guzzling fury of Detroit’s finest and the customizable carnage of technological war machines together into one game? He worked on the idea with his MW2 design partner Sean Vesce and, in 1997, unleashed Interstate ’76.



Set in an alternate history where the oil crisis of the late Seventies fractured the United States into warring factions, Interstate ’76 follows Groove Champion, brother to the late Jade Champion. Seems Jade got a little too close to the truth about a nasty OPEC conspiracy and paid the ultimate price. Her dying words: “Find my brother. Tell him.” When he arrives, he not only finds that his sister was part of an auto-vigilante gang dedicated to keeping the Southwest safe, but he inherits her machine-gun-equipped muscle car (a ’72 Picard Piranha – a thinly veiled love letter to Norman’s real-world object of four-wheeled lust), her CB radio, and her mission: save the largest remaining American oil reserve, deep in the heart of Texas. From there, it’s a high-caliber, high-octane adventure in automotive combat with horsepower to spare. As Jade’s afro-sporting, poetry-reciting partner Taurus puts it, “Speed, Groove – speed is your salvation.”




Activision ‘got it’ and that was awesome. They took a flier on a killer, novel concept that ultimately paved the way for other titles


Racing through the desert, blowing up rival gangs, tricking out your car…Interstate ’76 offers a little something from several genres and spins it into a funky remix all its own. “It was a such a tweener -- a mashup of so many styles,” says Norman.” It had shooter elements, race elements, sim elements, and arcade elements. Hell, even the universe it took place in was a mashup of real and fake history. But Activision ‘got it’ and that was awesome. They took a flier on a killer, novel concept that ultimately paved the way for other titles.”



Built on the MechWarrior 2 engine and sporting distinctive polygonal characters as its stars, I76 gives you complete control over your auto’s armaments. Bolt on your choice of weaponry, such as flamethrowers, radar-guided missiles, and cluster bomb launchers as you unravel more of the mystery – and annihilate any rival car games that get in your way. Once you’ve ventilated a few suckas on the open road, you can scavenge their engines, brakes, wheels, and other car parts to upgrade your own ride. And the I76 garage offers some of the best fictional automobiles of the decade. The ABX Leprechaun, Courcheval Manta, and Phaedra Palomino may look and drive like the AMC Gremlin, Chevy Corvette, and Ford Mustang…but remember, we’re not on your world.



In addition to a compelling story and blazing automotive action, you’ll be treated to some fantastic audio. The voice acting is excellent, featuring performances from John de Lancie (Q of Star Trek fame) and Greg Eagles (Sulik from Fallout 2) – and it’s the only game to ever offer poetry on command (just hit the T key). But it’s the incredible and authentic funk soundtrack by Bullmark that truly defines I76. The studio-only band featured members from Primus and Santana, and was led by Arion Salazar, who would go on to success in Third Eye Blind. With slithering bass grooves, wah guitar, and punchy horns, the soundtrack holds its own against the era’s finest funk.



The car-combat genre never needed a hero more than it does now, so it’s groovy to see Interstate ’76 back on the streets and burning rubber. And while Zach Norman never did get that Hemi ‘cuda (“I actually ended up with a '64 Chevelle SS that I totally tricked out, and I still have it 13 years later”), he never got his head out from under the hood. He’s currently customizing hot rods and recently chased the land speed record for electric motorcycles with his custom-built, battery-operated chopper. Speed, it seems, is his salvation.


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