In most point-and-click adventure games, you solve problems by combining items or saying the right thing in a conversation. Their unlikely heroes usually overcome the odds with ingenuity, not force. But in Full Throttle, the first major obstacle to your progression is dealt with by grabbing a dude's nose-ring and slamming his head against a bar.
This is the moment when you realise that Ben – a tough, gruff biker with a jaw like a cinder block – is not a typical adventure game hero, and Full Throttle is not a typical adventure game.
Released on PC 20 years ago this month (on the 30th of April, 1995) Full Throttle was the brainchild of beloved adventure game designer and writer Tim Schafer. After working on the first two Monkey Island games at LucasArts – considered by many to be the best examples of the genre – Full Throttle represented his first stint as project lead. It was his attempt to break away from the sci-fi and fantasy stories that dominated PC gaming in the 1990s.
Set in a dystopian future, in the rugged, dusty deserts of the American West, Full Throttle's world is one where motorised vehicles are being replaced by hovercraft technology. Corley Motors, this universe's equivalent of Harley Davidson, is stopping production of motorcycles and moving into minivans. But there are still those who worship the roar of the combustion engine and the gleam of a chrome exhaust, including Ben and his outlaw biker gang, the Polecats.
We're introduced to Ben and his gang in one of the most awesome intro sequences in gaming history. The opening riffs of "Legacy" by roughneck biker band The Gone Jackals play as Ben's magnificent, exhaust-laden metal beast of a motorcycle screams down a desert freeway, terrorising a hover-limousine.
The introductory sequence to 'Full Throttle'
But far from being terrorised, one of the suits in the limo is Malcolm Corley himself, the designer of the very bike Ben is riding. The ex-biker excitedly orders his driver to follow the gang, with the intention of hiring them to ride with to a shareholders meeting. But the deal turns sour, thanks to the meddling of a sinister corporate stooge called Ripburger, played by Luke Skywalker himself, Mark Hamill.
Ben is knocked out and tossed in a dumpster behind a roadside dive bar, his gang is long gone, heading towards an ambush, and – worst of all – someone's stolen the keys to his bike. After punching his way out of the dumpster, he discovers that the bartender is hiding his keys at Ripburger's request, to stall him.
You can guess what happens next. "You know what might look better on your nose?" grunts Ben, voiced brilliantly by the late, great Roy Conrad. "The bar." He grabs the ring and yanks it, forcing the terrified bartender to hand over the keys.
As far as introductions to a character and the spirit of a game go, it's pretty damn perfect. Ben is immediately distinct from other point-and-click heroes like Monkey Islander Guybrush Threepwood, who'd rather think their way around a problem than confront it. Within minutes of meeting Ben he's driven his bike across the roof of a limousine, punched his way out of a dumpster, kicked a door down and beaten someone up.
He could have easily been a one-dimensional thug, but the trademark wit and warmth of Schafer's writing, and a sense of humour drier than the cracked desert roads he rides along, makes you instantly love him. As he pursues Ripburger he meets a cast of oddball characters including Mo, an equally dry-witted mechanic, and Emmet, an unhinged trucker (also voiced by Hamill) with whom he forms an uneasy alliance to sneak him, and his bike, past a police roadblock.
The voice acting and characterisation are excellent throughout, a result of both Schafer's script and the game being one of the first to hire Screen Actors Guild-registered professional performers to portray its cast of rednecks, bikers, and backwater weirdoes.
Tim Schafer plays 'Full Throttle'
Full Throttle was also something of an innovator. Before it, you interacted with adventure games by choosing from a huge list of verbs: give, push, pull, talk and so on. But here you bring up an interaction wheel, or "verb coin", with four icons: a fist, eyes, a tongue and a boot.
These are context sensitive, so using the fist might pick something up or grab someone. The eyes are for looking at things, obviously. The tongue is for talking or, in one instance, using your mouth to siphon gasoline from a tank. And the boot is self-explanatory. Kicking stuff is the solution to a puzzle more than once.
This is a much more streamlined system than Monkey Island and Day of the Tentacle's wall of verbs. It's also responsible for some of the game's funnier dialogue, as you use the wrong icon for the job at hand. "I'm not putting my lips on that," Ben monotones when you use "tongue" on something inappropriate.
Being coldly analytical, Full Throttle isn't the best of LucasArts' long list of classic adventure games. It's probably not even in the top five. It's short, clocking in at about five hours, and the puzzles are, for the most part, pretty easy. There are those refreshing moments where Ben uses his fists and/or feet to solve a puzzle, but the game also has its fair share of traditional LucasArts pixel-hunting and item combination.
Even so, it'll always be my favourite. It was my introduction to Schafer's writing, which I'm enjoying to this day in his latest adventure game, the just-completed Broken Age. (VICE has an interview feature on that game, speaking to Schafer and voice-actor Elijah Wood, running in May.) It was also one of the first PC games I ever played, and the moment I realised nothing on my SNES could match its cinematic production values.
But mostly I just love how different it is. Its tale of bikers, betrayal, and mechanical bunnies might not last long, but it's one of the most unique settings and stories ever seen on PC. I enjoy it all over again every time I play it.
In 2002, LucasArts announced a sequel called Hell on Wheels, continuing the story of Ben and Mo on PC and the consoles of the time. But not long after it was revealed, the game was cancelled, which was probably for the best. It was going to be more of an action game, and Schafer had nothing to do with it, so I doubt it would have lived up to the legacy of the original. And without the gravelly voice of Conrad, who sadly passed away in January 2002, to voice Ben, it just wouldn't have felt right.
More from VICE Gaming: