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Video Game / Interstate '76

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"Somewhere in the Southwest..."

"It is 1976. A different 1976..."

Never get out of the car."

Interstate '76 is a Vehicular Combat simulation developed and published by Activision in 1997. It used the same graphics engine as an earlier Activision title, MechWarrior 2: 31st Century Combat; when they finished that game, the team started to wonder what else they could do with the engine. Set in the American Southwest during the oil crisis of The '70s, the game puts you in the bellbottoms, tinted aviators and blonde handlebar mustache of one Groove Champion, son of a two-time stock car championship driver and a former Miss America.

Groove never wanted to be a hero. He just wanted to race, but even in that, he lived in the shadow of his sister Jade, who is more or less described as Daisy Duke with a set of steel spheres. That is, until Jade was murdered in a junkyard outside Lubbock, Texas. Taurus, certified afro-sporting badass and Jade's former teammate, introduces Groove to the secret life his sister led as an auto-vigilante and takes him under his wing as Groove sets out to find his sister's killer and avenge her death.

Sound like a standard old-school action film to you? Well, that's because it is. The whole game is presented in the style of a '70s-era action TV series, replete with made-up actor names arrayed over a Montage intro, a Charlie's Angels-inspired logo and one hell of a funkalicious soundtrack (which, bizarrely enough, was composed by Arion Salazar, longtime bassist for Third Eye Blind).

The game billed itself as an auto-combat simulator, and it went long way towards living up to that claim. The game featured a range of authentically-rendered seventies-era American vehicles (fictionalized names notwithstanding), with all the associated roaring engines, fishtailing, and cornering like a garbage barge involved. It also had an intricate location-based damage system (borrowed from MechWarrior) and you had to salvage weapons and car parts from the field between missions.

Later received a stand-alone expansion called the Nitro Pack, which introduced a series of interconnected missions that took place over the course of several years leading up to the events of the original game, new cars, new weapons and new environments, as well as a secret playable villain.

All that changed in the sequel, Interstate '82. It had a new setting in The '80s, a soundtrack by Devo, and featured the original cast plus newcomer Skye Champion, but did away with the location-based damage, realistic physics, salvage system and allowed you to leave the car, making for a much more arcade-ish experience overall. Suffered from a massive degree of They Changed It, Now It Sucks!, which spelled the end of the series. Officially, at any rate.

See also Vigilante 8, a Spiritual Successor (that was arcade-ish from the start) also by Activision.

Interstate '76 provides groovy examples of:

  • Battle Couple: It's heavily implied that there was something between Jade and Taurus. This is as much about revenge for him as it is for Groove.
  • Big Bad: Antonio Malochio, shady businessman, hired gun, and a Man of Wealth and Taste. Goes by the CB Handle of "Chioto". He intends to use an H-Bomb to blow up the West Texas oil reserves. His employer? OPEC.
  • Big Brother Mentor: Taurus clearly has a soft spot for Groove, him being the little brother of his dead love. Even if he talks to him like Samuel L. Jackson on a bad day.
  • Bland-Name Product: The names they have are rather amusing, such as Courcheval in place of Chevrolet, Phaedra for Ford, Dover instead of Dodge and so on. This also extends to gas stations such as Gas4Cash and Gas Parade, as well as Fletcher & Sons self-storage, Red Deacon fireworks, Mondoburger, and Fasty-Freeze ice cream.
  • Bond One-Liner: Groove sometimes utters a pithy quip upon destroying an enemy car. This also happens in the Nitro Pack with Taurus, Jade and Skeeter. See the Deadpan Snarker entry for a pair of examples.
  • Bottomless Magazines: Almost totally averted. You have a limited supply of ammo for each weapon at the start of each mission and no way to acquire more. Run out mid-mission, and you're hosed.
    • Your .45 sidearm will never run out, but good luck using it to take out an enemy that isn't already spewing smoke.
  • Briefcase Full of Money: A minor MacGuffin early in the game, critical to the Big Bad's plot. The theft of said briefcase by our heroes from the bad guys results in a No-Holds-Barred Beatdown on Taurus.
  • But Thou Must!: But as Taurus says, "if you don't like it, you can walk the hell back to whatever it is you call a life."
  • Call-Forward:
    Taurus: Damn, I'm so good they should name a car after me.
  • Camp Gay: Auto-Vigilante Inferno, who talks in a falsetto voice (like a Sassy Black Woman) and drives a car with a cool flaming paint-job that's armed with a flamethrower. Groove mistakes him for a creeper (to be fair, he's the only friendly character in the game besides Groove and company) and is mistaken in turn for his sister (understandable, he's driving her car). After that's cleared up, Inferno alerts Groove to the existence of Cloaker.
  • Captain Obvious: Taurus informs Groove that Fort Davis is in fact an old fort and not a town- while Groove is looking at it through binoculars. Groove's sort of spaced at the time. "Yes. Yes it is."
  • Cherry Tapping: It's possible to kill an enemy driver by shooting a .45 pistol out your window. Doing so ensures better salvage after the mission, but generally only works when the enemy car already has low armor. If it works, the car grinds to a halt and its horn sounds, presumably from the driver's head hitting the steering wheel.
  • Cloudcuckoolander: Skeeter, although he occasionally says some pretty deep shit. The second quote above is his Catchphrase. Groove also exhibits this from time to time.
  • Cluster F-Bomb: There's quite a bit of swearing in this T-rated game. No literal F-Bombs, but liberal applications of "damn" and "shit".
  • Cool Car: The Picard Piranha you drive in the single player is a prime candidate. Virtually every car in this game is a Weaponized Car and even the Mooks have custom rides, averting Mook Mobile.
  • Cool Shades: Groove, Taurus and Malochio.
  • Crapsack World: "The economy is in the throes of a deep recession. Flames of riot rule the cities. Gas is expensive and scarce. Crime is rampant. No one seems to care. This is a time for Vigilantes."
  • Crouching Moron, Hidden Badass: Skeeter, who is actually a competent driver and auto-combatant. He is also a complete space cadet and possibly narcoleptic.
  • Cup Holders: An optional extra. Stated in the manual to eliminate the annoyance of having to hold your drink in one hand while you drive. Actually does confer an in-game benefit in that it protects you from other players' sidearms in multiplayer.
  • Dark and Troubled Past: In the manual, it's mentioned that Taurus once lived in New England with a wife and daughter, both of whom were killed by criminals. He came to the desert to clear his head and never left. Don't ever bring it up.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Groove is a motherlode of snark. Listen to him carefully whenever he defeats a creeper. Particularly the corrupt cops: "I've been drinking! I'VE BEEN DRINKING!" and "Do you know how fast you were going?" are but the tip of the iceberg.
  • Dirty Cop: Pretty much every cop in the Southwest is on Malochio's payroll from the State Troopers on down. They are pretty heavily armed, being cops. The ones that aren't are implied to be apathetic, and they never show up at all.
  • The Dragon: Auto-Mercenary Cloaker, who speaks with a smooth, deep voice and drives a blue longnose semi.
  • Dream Sequence: Groove has one in which he races against the autovillain Patriot and his two goons, Road Knight and Gas Bandit. If he wins the race, the three turn on him, forcing the player to fight them all at once. Once defeated, Groove wakes up to find he apparently was having a nightmare.
    Groove: Wow. Weird dream...
    • It's later revealed that Patriot was killed by Jade years ago. Sharp-eyed players will notice that his name appears next to a picture of the model of car he drives in Jade's old AVG notebook, and it's been crossed out.
  • Every Car Is a Pinto: Full stop. Watch out, the resulting debris and flames can damage your car.
    • Amusingly enough, you can actually drive a Pinto in this game, in the guise of the Phaedra Pony... and it's an absolute piece of crap. To reinforce this, a lot of Mooks in the early levels drive these. No such luck later. Can result in Cherry Tapping if you use one successfully in multiplayer.
  • Everything is Big in Texas: "Somewhere in the Southwest..." You do briefly cross over into New Mexico, but soon return.
  • Fun with Acronyms: In addition to the AVGA above, the menu refers to the campaign as the TRIP, or Total Recreational Interactive Production. Multiplayer and Instant Action modes are "other stuff that's not the TRIP."
  • Gerald Ford: He's mentioned briefly during an in game radio broadcast as taking part in Bicentennial celebrations.
  • Glass Cannon: It's fairly easy to create one of these in multiplayer by strapping a very large gun onto a very small car.
  • Guide Dang It!: The levels in this game are quite large, and you must navigate them with a compass, landmarks and hastily-scribbled maps made by Groove. The sequel averts this, with a digital map and indicators showing where your car is and where you must go.
  • Grease Monkey: Skeeter.
    Taurus: He fixes the cars.
  • Have a Nice Death: The game never lets you live it down if you fail in any way. "You should try to stay alive". "The warehouse was destroyed. And it's all your fault."
  • Humongous Mecha: As a nod to the preceding game, the characters stop at a diner whose sign/mascot is a giant Seventies-style robot. Skeeter seems fascinated by it.
  • I Call It "Vera": Taurus calls his car "Eloise". It's a reference to the bull horns on the hood or something.
    • Probably a Bland-Name Product reference to Elsie the Cow, longtime mascot of Borden Dairy.
  • Idiosyncratic Difficulty Levels: The three difficult levels are named Wimp, Champ and Badass.
  • Infinity +1 Sword: At the very end of the game, Jade's Piranha is totaled, and Malochio offers you a selection of vehicles he has on hand for the duel against him. Among your options is a fragile U.S. Mail jeep. You might think to take the tank... but the jeep carries the Cherub missile launcher, the only time in the campaign where it is available. It destroys any car with a single shot.
  • It Never Gets Any Easier: "It's not all that easy, is it? Killing people."
  • Ironic Echo: This exchange is more poignant if you've played the Nitro Pack.
    Skeeter: Jade, she built a good car.
    Groove: Yeah.
    Skeeter: But she got out.
    Groove: What?
    Skeeter: Never get outta the car.
  • Jive Turkey: Auto-Mercenary Disco Kat oozes this trope. Surprisingly, averted in the case of Taurus, making him less of a Soul Brotha and more of a regular Scary Black Man. He can get a bit sassy at times, but doesn't use much slang.
  • Kill It with Fire: There are flamethrowers available, but their short range limits their usefulness (and, if playing through DOSBox, it's entirely possible they won't work at all). The napalm dropper weapon, however, is very effective at outright destroying pursuing Mooks, where oil slicks and landmines tend to simply knock them off course.
  • Lampshade Hanging: The following exchange lampshades the entire game.
    Groove: I dunno man, this whole thing feels like a movie.
    Taurus: I hate movies.
    • With one exception, as revealed in the Nitro Pack: Love Story.
  • Leitmotif: If you hear a low, funky bass riff, chances are Malochio is about to make an appearance.
  • Lethal Joke Character / Killer Rabbit: See the Infinity +1 Sword entry, above.
  • Let's Get Dangerous!: About halfway though the game, after the No-Holds-Barred Beatdown on Taurus, Groove decides enough is enough and starts taking things more seriously.
  • Maximum Fun Chamber: Skeeter's van, when used to question a captured Auto-Mercenary. We never see what makes those odd noises, nor what finally scares the prisoner into talking.
  • Mooks: The various Auto-Mercenaries, regular bad guys who took to their cars and now work for Malochio. Referred to as "creepers" by the vigilantes.
  • More Dakka: Some cars have more weapon mounts then others. The Courcheval Manta, for instance, has two forward mounts and two on top, making it possible to have four fire-linked machine guns or automatic cannons. One of which can be turreted. Best of all? All can be 7.62mm miniguns with the absolute highest fire rate in the game.
  • Mr. Fixit: Skeeter can work miracles with automotive technology.
  • New Old West: A lawless desert wilderness, with quick-shooting cowboys, bandits, corrupt lawmen in the employ of scheming industrialists... oh, and muscle cars.
  • Nightmare Sequence: There are a handful of odd cutscenes wherein Malochio does some off-screen Just Between You and Me with the Voice of the Legion, with a nondescript reddish vortex for a background. It's unclear whether this is actually Groove dreaming, or it's Malochio expositing directly at the player, as there's some details mentioned that Groove couldn't possibly know for fact, and yet are. And then of course, there's the entire business with Patriot...
  • Nitro Boost: An optional extra, but a must for one mission in which you must jump a particularly wide chasm. There is a ramp to help you.
  • No Fair Cheating: The game actually has a built-in cheat menu with options such as invulnerability and unlimited ammo, but using any of these besides the "arcade physics" (makes your car immediately flip over if you land on your roof, instead of blowing up) option prevents you from progressing through the campaign.
  • No-Holds-Barred Beatdown: Taurus suffers this at the hands of Malochio's goons. Groove saves him from suffering Mentor Occupational Hazard (pulling his almost-lifeless body from his bullet-ridden wreck of a Jefferson Sovereign), but he loses his car and is forced to ride with Skeeter in the van for the rest of the game. You are basically on your own from then on.
  • Nonstandard Game Over: Unlike MechWarrior 2, where you could stomp off the edge of the map into infinity, in this game if you drive down a road off the map too far, Groove will remark that he isn't heading the right way. If you keep going, the mission ends with Groove driving off into the distance thinking aloud that he'd like a popsicle or Taurus asking him where the hell he's going.
  • Oil Slick: Your starting "dropper" weapon.
  • Only in It for the Money: Malochio's motivation.
    Groove: Why?
    Malochio: Muh-ney. They pay me well, young Champion.
  • Plot-Triggering Death: Jade.
  • Ramming Always Works: Well, sure. But it won't do your chassis reinforcement any favors.
  • The '70s
  • Scary Black Man: Taurus. Initially, anyway. You'll come to like the guy.
  • Screw the Money, This Is Personal!: The game ends with Groove defeating Mallochio in a duel. Mallochio offers to pay him money to spare his life. Groove sees one last vision of his sister's ghost and empties his handgun into him.
  • Shag Wagon: The GrooVan, appropriately enough for a throwback to '70s Exploitation Film tropes. The mechanic Skeeter uses one as his personal vehicle.
  • Sociopathic Soldier: It's noted in the manual that Malochio served two tours of duty in The Vietnam War, the second one voluntary because he liked what was going on over there.
  • Tank Goodness: You can use a tank, and it obviously has the best armor in the game, but it's also quite ponderous and hard to see out of.
  • Techno Babble: Skeeter, while attempting to explain nuclear fusion to Groove.
  • There Is No Kill Like Overkill: When Groove finally takes his revenge on a trapped Malochio, he does it point-blank with his .45 pistol... thirteen times. Of course, it's possible it's the same couple of shots, just replayed from a different angle to up the satisfaction.
  • Unusually Uninteresting Sight: Groove witnesses the Roswell crash.
    Taurus: What was that?!
    Groove: (offhand) Flying saucer.
    Taurus: (calm) Oh.
  • Vehicular Combat: This is why you were invited to the shindig.
  • Video Wills: The training mission features an audio tape made by Jade, to be played in the event of her death. She bequeaths her car to her brother, tells him the basics of car combat, and says her goodbyes.
  • Vigilante Man: Groove, Taurus, Skeeter and any good character in the whole series. It is implied in the intro that there used to be a lot more of them around, before Malochio started assembling his army of Auto-Mercenaries and deliberately hunted them all down. As Taurus says, "We're the only ones left to hold back a world of shit!" Referred to as "Cowboys" by the Autovillains.
  • Villainous Breakdown: Malochio's cool demeanor cracks when Groove challenges him to a duel, and is entirely gone by the end cutscene, in which he cravenly begs for his life.
  • Voice with an Internet Connection: Many characters, primarily Taurus. However, since this is The '70s, it's not high-speed internet but good old Citizen's Band Radio. Everyone has a callsign, Groove is "Swinger", Skeeter is "Monkeywrench" and Taurus is "Stampede". Jade went by the callsign "Vixen" before she was killed.
  • Warrior Poet: Taurus spouts some soothing verse at a mere keystroke. Even when he's unconscious and near death with a bullet in him.
  • Weaponized Car: Well, duh.

The expansion provides Nitro-Packed examples of:

  • Anachronic Order: Each mission is dated in its introduction, but they are not presented in any particular order and do not need to be played as such.
  • Ax-Crazy: Most of the creepers in this game are less straight-up evil then batshit insane. Skeeter exhibits some of this in his Bond One Liners. As his description in the character select menu says, "Should be medicated... but isn't."
  • Call-Forward: The TV show-styled opening begins a scene straight from the original game's introduction, of Taurus sliding/crashing his car through a gate and firing his pistol out the window.
  • Catchphrase: Skeeter utters his at least twice, both times to his teammates who have already done so or may do so.
    Skeeter: You got out.
    Taurus: Come again?
    Skeeter: Never get outta the car.
  • Cool Car: In the original game, you are restricted to Jade's Picard Piranha for most of the game. There is no such restriction here, you may use any car, weapon and specials you want.
  • Corrupt Corporate Executive: Taurus assassinates one of these in one mission. He apparently uses autovillains to do his dirty work.
  • Dirty Cop: The cops don't do anything positive in this game. They split their time between guarding the Corrupt Corporate Executive, participating in drug deals, and generally just making life a living hell for the vigilantes.
  • The Dragon: Disco Kat is this to Natty Dread, in his canonical first appearance.
  • Dragon Their Feet: Disco Kat conveniently avoids meeting the same demise as Natty Dread and the lesser Voodoo Riders at the hands of Skeeter, going on to become a high-ranking member of Malochio's goon squad.
  • Evil Army: Several missions pit the vigilantes against US Army forces in armed Jeeps, referred to as Gomers. Something is also implied to be "going down" with the army, evidenced by the presence of a military quarantine in one mission being some sort of front. This is not further explored, but it might have to do with the LARS superweapon in the sequel.
  • Face–Heel Turn: An unseen Auto-Vigilante called Crucifier apparently sells out a Vigilante convoy in one mission.
  • Foreshadowing: Many missions seem to portray the dwindling power of the vigilantes and the rising strength of autovillains, who are apparently being recruited for some sort of army. In particular, the mission "Two Days Before" (which quite literally takes place two days before the original game) involves a raid on a munitions dump strongly implied to have been owned by Antonio Malochio.
  • Funny Afro: Though rarely referenced in the original game, several characters make fun of Taurus' afro in this game.
  • Mission Pack Prequel: Marketed as a stand-alone expansion pack for the original game.
  • Not Quite Dead: Several Autovillains in this game are implied to have had previous entanglements with the protagonists, often resulting in their apparent deaths. In addition, one Natty Dread mission involves hunting down and apparently killing Taurus, who appears in the end Cut Scene of the mission to announce he's still alive.
  • Oireland: The short-lived Auto-Vigilante Four-Banger sounds like he's from Ireland.
  • Scary Black Man: Autovillain Natty Dread, leader of the Voodoo Riders gang.
  • Secret Character: Natty Dread, unlocked by completing all of the other missions. His ride of choice is apparently a Jaguar.
  • Sinister Minister: Autovillain Preacher. He and his goons are found terrorizing the defenseless town of Claremont in the mission "Peace Be With You." Spouts bibilical verse. Said to have murdered his own family. May be Back from the Dead.
  • Slippy-Slidey Ice World: Subverted. The game features some snow levels, but they don't appear to make your traction any worse.
  • Villainous Harlequin: Autovillain Drinky, replete with armed Clown Car. Taurus races him with the prize being a pile of guns. When Taurus wins, Drinky tries to beat a hasty retreat. Taurus isn't happy about that.
  • Violent Glaswegian: Auto-Vigilante Radiator Mother. He's pretty friendly to other vigilantes though.

The sequel provides examples of: