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Platform(s): Playstation, Nintendo 64, Game Boy Color (Xbox 360 - Vigilante 8: Arcade)
For one reason of another the Vehicular shooter has always remained one of the more unloved genres unless of course it involves colourful characters throwing tortoise shells at each other while at the same there has always been a noticeable lack of more adult properties outside of the wildly popular Twisted Metal franchise. True there have certainly been challengers to this title such as the controversial Carmageddon a franchise which essentially died amongst a hail of controversy as it awarded points for running over pedestrians while a series of sub-par sequels essentially left it nothing but a nostalgic memory for most gamers, especially with Carmageddon Max set for release this year but still without a launch date.
Coming seemingly out of nowhere, Vigilante 8, developed with a small team of five people, really shook up the vehicular shooter genre as it strapped a funky 70’s vibe to the Twisted Metal chassis while at the same time bringing with it a great variety of vehicles and colourful characters to choose from. The game also provided players wth huge environments packed with plenty to reduce to rubble as well as any number of traps or special features for the more tactical player to use to their advantage.
Set in an alternate version of 1975, a global oil crisis has thrown the United States into a state of crisis. Now the Oil Monopoly Alliance Regime (OMAR) wants to bring about the destruction of the US to control the global petroleum market. All that stands in their way are a group of self-titled Vigilantes who have banded together to stop the OMAR funded Coyote.
Choosing between one of the six members for each group, the player is assigned a series of missions as they follow their characters path through the states with Vigilante characters being tasked with protecting structures, while the Coyotes get the more fun option of blowing up target buildings on the map. At the same time, the player is required to take out any enemy vehicles while picking up weapons scattered around the arena to rein destruction on their enemies.
When it comes to weapons, the selection, while perhaps limited, is still varied enough to keep things interesting as players can choose to add to the standard issue machine guns by also strapping a combination of Rockets, Mortars, Auto-cannons and mines to their cars. Things however really get interesting when the player picks up one of the green military boxes which activates the characters special weapon, which range from Convoy’s exploding tyres (which he launches at players), Beezwax unleashes a swarm of radioactive bees, and Boogie with a laser firing disco ball. Others however are more confusing such as Molo whose school bus unleashes a cloud of thick smog that stalls his opponents. As players are limited to only three bolt-on’s at a time there is a certain amount of fun to be had in finding the best combination of weapons, let alone the ones which give your chosen vehicles its most badass look.
On the downside, all the weapons come with a minor cool-off time and meaning that if you keep your finger jammed on the machine gun it will eventually slow down the rate of fire, while for your heavy weapons the more over-eager players will be greeted with an irritating buzz. While not a long wait between firing times it’s something which can prove frustrating when locked in a heated fire fight only to not unleash your firepower perhaps as quickly as you would like.
Needless to say the vehicles come with their own advantages and disadvantages as the player has to choose between speed and armour with the handling for the vehicles being largely responsible though the fact that the option to pull a quick reverse 180 means that at times turning can be something of an extended process. That being said, there is no character that’s not fun to drive and making the fact that you have to beat the game with all the characters to unlock the leaders of each group as well as “Y” the alien in his spaceship less of a chore than it might first seem.
Battling from snow covered ski resorts to oil fields and even a wind farm, the game constantly manages to keep things interesting for the player while also providing a solid base for multiplayer fun whether teaming up with a friend to take on group of bots or in a versus match it manages to prove a fun experience for the single player as with a group.
Followed up with the equally great sequel Vigilante 8: 2nd Offense, as well as being remade for the next gen consoles as Vigilante 8: Arcade, which attempted to cherry pick the best aspects of the original games when all the fans really wanted was a part 3. Still, while the graphics might not look as crisp as they once did, the game remains still playable and free from the blocky environments which plague the PS1 Twisted Metal games, which certainly for the graphic snobs makes it a more appealing prospect for nostalgic replays. Sadly it seems unlikely that we will see a part 3 anytime soon. The two original games still remains a reminder of what could have been while making it all the more curious why the games which followed have failed to capture the magic of this game.