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Vehicular combat is a niche genre nowadays but it was pretty big in the nineties because of three games or series – Twisted Metal, Carmageddon, and Vigilante 8. The internet tells me Vigilante 8 is a spin off of Interstate ’76 but I wasn’t aware of the Interstate games back then. I knew about Vigilante 8, though, but I was a Twisted Metal kid and didn’t get the chance to play it until years later. Developed by Luxoflux and published by Activision, Vigilante 8 was released for the PlayStation in June, 1998 and Nintendo 64 in March, 1999. The game was also released for Game Boy Color in December, 1999. For this review, I played the Nintendo 64 version because it includes additional content. It is compatible with the expansion pak, rumble pak, and controller pak.
Set in 1975, Sid Burn and his group known as the Coyotes are hired by a large oil company to dispose of the competition. After hearing about the destruction a man named Convoy forms his own group called the Vigilantes and they set out to stop the Coyotes. All of the levels are set in the western United States and there are multiple characters with their own vehicles to choose from. They each have a unique ending and exclusive to the Nintendo 64 game is a quest for Y the Alien. I do like the atmosphere and 1970s setting. It kind of makes the game stand out in the genre, at least for the time it released. The overall plot is okay. I do kind of like the faction war over oil thing because it makes me think of The Road Warrior.
Vigilante 8 is a vehicular combat game where you drive around open environments and use weapons against your opponents. I do like the physics and each vehicle handles differently. Some vehicles struggle driving up certain inclines which can make driving around some levels frustrating. Each vehicle has different stats in speed, armor, and tracking avoidance. The levels are like arenas that you can drive around freely. You can accelerate, brake, and turn and you can target opponent vehicles and switch targets at the press of a button.
Every vehicle has a mounted machine gun and you can find weapons and power-ups in the levels. I find the weapon system interesting. There’s five weapons you can acquire, you can hold a max of three, and they each have secret moves. Similar to Twisted Metal, if you pick up a weapon, it’s stored in your inventory and you fire it at the press of a button. However, you need to enter a combination of directional inputs to fire the secret moves which are more powerful and consume more ammo. Weapons come in the form of pickups and crates. Brown Crates can contain standard weapons or specials and Green Crates always give you your vehicle’s special weapon and each vehicle has it’s own unique special.
Power-ups aid you and are activated upon pickup and most of them remain active for a limited time. The Shield will protect you from damage, the Radar Jammer confuses enemy radar and homing weapons, the Weapon Upgrade doubles the amount of damage you inflict, and the Repair Wrench replenishes some health. Each vehicle has a certain amount of health or armor. If you manage to hit an opponent with multiple weapons simultaneously, that’s called a Whammy and when an opponent’s health is depleted, they enter a wrecked state. At that point you have a limited amount of time to total it before it’s destroyed. To total a vehicle, you can hit it with a secret move or special weapon.
Vigilante 8 includes three difficulty modes, four if you include the one unlocked via password and several game modes for single player, 2 player, and multiplayer. The Quest mode is like the story mode. You choose a character and complete that character’s quest route. The route consists of multiple levels. Each level has an objective to complete like protect or destroy things. You can still progress through the quest if you fail an objective but you need to complete them all to unlock additional characters and levels. There’s three things I like about the Quest mode. One; you can save your progress if you have the controller pak. Two; you can replay any already completed level. And three; every quest is only four levels. Other than completing the specific objectives, the goal is always the same; destroy all of your opponents. If you had to do that for every level with every character, it would be tedious. Furthermore, once you complete a quest, the ending “movie” for that character can be viewed at any time.
There is a Quest mode along with a Cooperative mode for 2 Player and Multiplayer supports up to four players and comes with its own set of modes but I was only able to check out the single player. Single player comes with not only the Quest mode but also Arcade and Survival modes. In the Arcade mode, you select a level, your vehicle, and opponents. In the Survival mode, the goal is to destroy as many opponents as you can. Opponents will continue to spawn in until you’re defeated.
The opponent AI is actually pretty decent. I’m pretty sure they attack each other because opponents I wasn’t even near would often be destroyed. They do go for pickups and if they pick up a special, they like to spam it. Opponents can be relentless so you do need to be careful. The AI is smart enough to go for shields often and Repair Wrenches when they’re low on health so you’ll want to finish them off before they can get to them. On the Super Unleaded difficulty (which I equate to Normal), I think the game puts up a decent fight. You need to be aggressive but getting through the Quest mode shouldn’t be super difficult. I would say the protection objectives are more challenging than the destruction objectives. Simply because you need to watch where you’re shooting. I never saw the AI try to destroy something I was protecting on purpose. If I failed that objective it was because I was engaging enemies near what I was supposed to be protecting or I destroyed it myself accidentally.
Vigilante 8 includes close to a dozen levels most of which are spread across Nevada, Arizona, Utah, New Mexico, Colorado, and California. Most levels are inspired by real world locations like the Hoover Dam and the Secret Base level which is inspired by Area 51. Every level is wide open with plenty of things to see and destroy. Since the game is set out west, many levels have the whole desert thing going on which makes certain levels stand out like the Ski Resort. I’m a big fan of Casino City and Super Dreamland 64 which is one of multiple unlockable levels. It’s also exclusive to the Nintendo 64 version. Overall, all the levels are well designed and encourage exploration. You’ll want to explore every nook and cranny and destroy everything to see everything a level has to offer. Destroying objects and buildings can reveal pickups or paths to new areas and you’ll have to watch out for hazards like giant boulders in the Canyonlands, a plane that drops bombs in the Aircraft Graveyard, and laser turrets that fire at you in the Secret Base level.
Vigilante 8 supports the expansion pak. This means you can sacrifice the performance for better visuals. With the expansion pak installed, you can switch between Normal, High, and Ultra resolutions. The High resolution is 480×360 and the Ultra resolution is 640×480 and for some reason, Ultra needs to be unlocked with a password. Normal looks the worst and Ultra looks the best. I stuck with the High resolution. It looked noticeably better than Normal but the frame rate does take a noticeable hit. Pop-in is frequent but I got used to it and the vehicle models and environments are detailed. Vehicles show visible damage and one neat detail I think is pretty cool is that when you pick up a weapon, it actually attaches to the vehicle. Many levels share the same colors with Super Dreamland 64 easily being the most colorful level in the game. I do think the machine gun fire could be a bit louder but the other weapons and explosions sound pretty good. As for the music, Vigilante 8 includes some jamming tunes. I found them to be memorable and you can change the song at any time from the pause menu. On the technical side, as mentioned before the better the visuals, the worse the performance and you do need the expansion pak to increase the resolution. With the Ultra resolution active, the game runs like shit. The frame rate is atrocious and I would never recommend anyone play it like this. It runs best on the Normal resolution and the frame rate dips frequently when playing in the High resolution. Other than that, I witnessed vehicles clip through parts of the environments here and there but encountered no major issues.
Vigilante 8 is a fun game. It’s pure vehicular combat in a 1975 setting. That along with the music and locations give the game a unique atmosphere and tone. The weapons are fun to use, the levels are well designed, and exploration is rewarding. I can’t say any of the characters stood out to me but each vehicle feels different and has its ups and downs. There’s a nice selection of game modes spread across single player and multiplayer and the unlockable vehicles and levels give you something to work towards. So the game should keep you coming back for a little while.
I would absolutely recommend Vigilante 8. I think it’s one of the better games in the genre and still holds up today. I think part of the reason it holds up along with games like Twisted Metal is because vehicular combat titles like this don’t come along very often. That said, Vigilante 8 is a great game and a must play for fans of the genre. Definitely check it out.