Last year's Interstate '76 was one of the best games of the pre-summer season. A vehicular combat simulation with an original storyline and a well-developed atmosphere, I76 made it a little easier to weather the dry spell that traditionally follows the holiday season. But it wasn't without its problems. There was a somewhat sluggish engine, strange bugs, and a noticeable lack of 3D-accelerator support. And while the newly released Interstate '76 Arsenal addresses the latter, the other problems are even more noticeable now that the game is a year old.
The Arsenal combines two products: Interstate '76 Gold Edition (a 3D-accelerated version of the original) and Nitro Pack (a collection of new single-player missions and multiplayer maps, which is also available separately from Activision's web site). Because GameSpot has already reviewed the original (see the link under related games), there's no need to go into too much detail here. Suffice to say, if you haven't played through it already, the game is still well worth your time, and the Nitro Pack missions are a nice bonus in the deal. But if you've already played I76, it's a much more difficult decision.
To say the least, the Nitro Pack is a little disappointing on the single-player side. The new missions, while fun, are missing the challenge and the sense of purpose that made it easy to look past I76's faults. There's no story, no cutscenes. It is simply a collection of unrelated missions in which you play as three of the characters from the original: Taurus, Jade, and Skeeter (and if you finish all of their missions, you can play a handful of missions as a brand-new character). As in the stand-alone scenarios included in the original, you can choose any car and any weapons configuration in these missions; there's no salvaging and no need to worry about taking too much damage. As a result, they are far too easy. And while some of the new missions are creative, you can't help but wish there were some overarching story to tie them all together.
On the multiplayer side, there are some nice additions. There are new cars and weapons, the ability to limit which weapons are admissible in a game, and enhanced protection against hacked cars. The game is by no means hack-proof, though, and in my few ventures onto Activision's servers I noticed a few suspiciously resilient foes and a great number of braggarts claiming to have hacked vehicles. The most notable addition to the multiplayer game, though, is the new capture-the-flag mode that adds a great deal more strategy and fun than the traditional kill fests of old. There are still a few features that Activision's servers could use, such as pings and the ability to see how many players are on each side in team games. On the whole, though, connecting to a game and getting started is a trouble-free process.
As for the graphic enhancements, they are a mixed bag. The 3D support gives a noticeable frame rate boost and some nice new elements such as more detailed vehicles, accurate weapons display, and realistic sky effects. But don't expect awe-inspiring visuals. Even with the visibility set at its highest setting, you'll encounter an enormous amount of pop-up (so much so that it can actually become distracting), strange texture ripping (which is most notable with shadows), and even some annoying effects like 2D smoke and unspectacular explosions.
All in all, Interstate '76 Arsenal seems like a missed opportunity. So here comes a very complex recommendation: If you've never played I76, the Arsenal is a good bet; the excellent single-player campaign from the original combined with the new multiplayer options make for some really solid playing. If you're a fanatical I76 fan, you may want to pick up the Nitro Pack just to play through the eyes of some new characters, even if the lack of a campaign is a bit disappointing. But if you're somewhere in between, you should probably just keep your engine idling until a real sequel is released.