In the late 1990s, vehicular combat games were all the rage. For those unfamiliar with the subgenre, vehicular combat games stuck you on a map with floating weapon pick-ups and challenged you to destroy the other players. Thus, they were just like modern shooters--except with all the maneuverability of a dump truck. Among the few games to rival the king, Twisted Metal, was Vigilante 8. While the idea of remaking this classic 1970s-themed car combat game with shinier graphics and online play sounds great, the gameplay--as well as the subgenre as a whole--doesn't hold up well today.
There isn't much story in Vigilante 8, and what is there is shown in a block of text full of goofy '70s slang before you enter each level. All you need to know is that the Coyotes are the bad guys and the Vigilantes are the good guys. The retro theme permeates the menus and character designs, but it doesn't spread into the actual game outside of a few special moves or quips from the drivers.
Gameplay involves driving one of several decked out vehicles--ranging from a prison bus to a small hatchback--around largely destructible levels. Each vehicle is equipped with a machine gun, and has three slots open for other weapons that can be picked up around the map. Weapons include missiles, cannons, mortars, mines, and rockets, plus character-specific special moves. Each weapon can be charged for a more powerful shot, but taking the time to charge a weapon isn't always useful, especially when dealing with enemies armed with the overpowered mortars.
The single-player mode lets you play through a quest with any car, set up a quick match, or just drive around a level to familiarize yourself with its layout. The Quest mode is three short levels of death matches featuring no more than four cars. You can play through it multiple times with different cars to unlock extra vehicles and upgrades, but the mode gets tiresome quickly because it just isn't much fun. Bugs and glitches are everywhere. Your car will constantly get stuck in the destructible scenery or, worse yet, in or on another car; moving around tall structures or coming down hills will send the camera into freak-out mode as it gives you the worst possible view of your car; the unwieldy physics engine will have your car spiraling through the air like a falling leaf; getting knocked back by explosions can send your car into a death spin full of glitches; and going up the smallest of ramps can flip your car over to leave you stranded like a turtle on its back. Nostalgia might give you enough fuel to get through a few matches, but it's only a matter of time before these issues make you question your fond memories.
The biggest draw for this remake is the ability to play online. The prospect of playing an eight-player death match sounds like fun, but corralling that many people to play along is a challenge. If you can find enough players online, you'll find that the lag-free matches offer a lot more fun than the single-player matches against the AI. In a throwback to the good old days--before fancy online capable systems--the game lets you play local matches via four-player split-screen. There's some fun to be had, but the gameplay still feels busted.
Adding to the frustrations of the buggy gameplay are some awful controls. Most of the cars are sluggish and floaty, which makes it feel like they're driving on tread-less tires. The smaller cars offer more maneuverability, but they are still subject to the wonky physics. The lack of an easy emergency brake to perform quick 180s leaves you doing three-point turns while your opponents pelt you with missiles. If you're playing in a full game of eight players, things can get really hectic and you'll often spend more time tumbling through the air than on your wheels.
The best thing about this package is the visuals, which have seen a modest upgrade from the PlayStation original. Smoother edges, more destructible environments, and cleaner textures all make this game look much better than it did in 1998. The environments are faithfully recreated, and many of them are spruced up with more explosive objects. There are only a handful of maps to choose from, however, so it doesn't take long for the action to get repetitive. The sound upgrades don't fare as well as the visuals. Repetitive, generic music loops endlessly in the background during battles, while many of the weapon effects sound weak and underpowered.
At 800 Microsoft Points, even if this game wasn't riddled with bugs, the shallow single-player experience makes it a tough sell. Vigilante 8 just couldn't stand the test of time, and while it might look a lot better than you remember, it plays worse.