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The vehicular combat genre was big in the nineties and I would say the Vigilante 8 games are genre classics. Apparently, some of the individuals who were part of the development of the first game formed Isopod Labs and decided to develop a new Vigilante 8 title. Developed by Isopod Labs and published by Activision, Vigilante 8 Arcade was released for Xbox Live Arcade in November, 2008. It’s a blending of the first two games meaning it contains elements from Vigilante 8 and Vigilante 8: 2nd Offense and the High Octane Pack DLC includes additional vehicles and levels.
The internet tells me Vigilante 8 Arcade is a remake of the first game with elements of 2nd Offense thrown in. I don’t like calling it a remake because in my opinion it doesn’t really feel like one. However, it does feel more like the first game than the second. Vigilante 8 Arcade is a vehicular combat game where you drive around open environments and must destroy all your opponents to win. The plot is the same as the first game but without the unique endings for the characters. Most of the characters and their vehicles from Vigilante 8 are present.
Each vehicle is equipped with a machine gun, has a unique special weapon, and different stats in strength, acceleration, top speed, and radar evasion. You can acquire weapon pickups and power-ups in the levels. All the pickups and power-ups from Vigilante 8 are present but the Brimstone Burner weapon and Propulsion Mechanisms from 2nd Offense are absent. You can only hold three weapons and, as expected, each weapon has multiple attacks. You can fire the weapons like normal or perform charge attacks by charging the weapons up before firing. Alternatively, you can enter button combinations to perform the additional attacks just like in the previous games.
The physics in this game are problematic. It’s way too easy to flip upside down and get launched into the air. In the beginning, I think I spent more time trying to recover from hits and crashes than actually engaging enemies. Any bump I would drive over or hit I would take would normally send my vehicle rolling or I would be launched into the air or across the level. It’s frustrating. And the default control scheme doesn’t help. You can accelerate and brake with the triggers. To perform skidding turns, you have to accelerate and hold down the left trigger which is brake and reverse. Furthermore, X, Y, and B are for weapons. I got used to it but it’s not ideal and there are other control layouts to choose from.
You can still perform Whammies by hitting opponents with multiple weapons simultaneously and Vigilante 8 Arcade lets you detonate your wreckage to damage nearby enemies and that’s called a “banzai”. When an opponent vehicle is wrecked, you have a limited amount of time to total it before it blows up. Destroyed vehicles leave behind Salvage Points. You get more for totaling them and opponents drop Salvage Points when hit by Whammies. The upgrade system is the only major mechanic borrowed from 2nd Offense. Acquiring enough Salvage Points will increase that vehicle’s strength and just like in 2nd Offense, if you want to max out each vehicle, it can feel like a grind.
There are numerous game modes spread across single player and multiplayer. Vigilante 8 Arcade supports online and local split screen multiplayer. The Quest mode is where you play through three levels and face a boss vehicle. Unlike the previous games, there’s only one objective in the Quest mode. Destroy all of your opponents. I was able to beat the quest with each character in only a couple of hours. Beating each quest unlocks the classic appearance for the vehicle which you can choose in the other game modes. Unfortunately, the vehicles and levels from the High Octane Pack are not available in the Quest mode.
In Quick Battle and Custom Game, you can select your vehicle, change it’s color, select the level and difficulty, and randomize the opponents. In Custom Battle, you can select each individual opponent. Finally, there’s the Free Wheelin’ mode. In this mode, you pick a vehicle and level and can explore it freely without worrying about getting attacked because there are no opponents. It’s a good mode for those that want to discover where everything is and it’s really useful for finding the Alien Artifacts. Each level, minus the DLC levels, include twenty Alien Artifacts to discover. They can be found by destroying things. Finding them all unlocks a character.
There are three difficulty modes and AI opponents can be relentless. I never saw them attack each other in any mode, at least not intentionally, but they will focus on attacking the player. They’ll chase you around and constantly fire projectiles at you. They don’t stop. It’s just one attack after another. You’ll want to find where the Shield and Repair Wrench power-ups are because you’ll need them.
The base game only comes with five levels. Two additional levels, Garage and Stunt Track, are included if you download the High Octane Pack DLC. Many of the level names are taken directly from the first two games but they don’t exactly resemble their classic counterparts. Instead, they’ll contain elements from multiple levels. For example, the Meteor Crater level combines areas from the Meteor Crater level in 2nd Offense and the Canyonlands level from the first game. That said, I wish more levels were included. With only five, you’re going to play through the same levels repeatedly in the Quest mode if you decide to beat it with each character. Each level contains plenty of objects and structures that can be destroyed. Bridges, pipes, trees, rocks, buildings, structures – they can all be destroyed. And you’ll want to destroy everything because as mentioned before, that’s how you find Alien Artifacts.
Vigilante 8 Arcade does look better than its predecessors but I expected as much with it being designed for newer hardware. Vehicles show visible damage and almost everything in the levels can be destroyed which is pretty cool. That means you’ll get to see a lot of explosions and debris flying through the air. The soundtrack is full of jamming tunes that fit the 1970’s setting but I do wish there were more songs. Explosions sound okay and I like the sound of machine gun fire even though I don’t think it’s loud enough. I did witness the frame rate dip frequently and my vehicles would fall through the ground often enough to be annoying.
At best, Vigilante 8 Arcade is a decent vehicular combat title and those that have never played the previous games might enjoy this more than I did. Arcade doesn’t feel like a remaster or remake. It feels like a stripped down version of the first game with some ideas borrowed from 2nd Offense. I did have some fun with it but would often get frustrated with the physics. The levels are cool and I like the redesigns but more should have been included. There’s not enough variety in the game, at least compared to its predecessors, and I question why more content wasn’t included. Most of the classic levels are absent, the quest objectives are absent, and Arcade doesn’t even include all the characters from the first game. This might be a better multiplayer game than a single player game but I can’t confirm that. I couldn’t find any online matches but luckily, it supports local multiplayer which I didn’t get to try either. If you’ve got some buddies to play with, it might make for a good time. Although, it wouldn’t be hard to top the single player experience which is underwhelming in general.
I really can’t recommend Vigilante 8 Arcade. I would suggest you play the previous titles which are much better games. Maybe those looking for a vehicular combat game on 360 would be interested in Arcade and its low price point is certainly attractive. Ultimately, Vigilante 8 Arcade feels half-baked and is not a good representation of the series.