Flash Traffic: City of Angels is an interactive movie that has held my curiosity ever since I spotted its MPEG trailer on an ATI installation CD quite a few years ago. At first, I thought the content of the trailer was supposed to be a joke, what with a vaguely Jerry Seinfeld-looking DEA agent kicking off the affair followed soon after by a somewhat goofy gunfight. Don’t believe me? Watch the trailer yourself:
Thanks to this gaming experiment, it occurred to me to go searching for the game, even though the corresponding MobyGames entry is fairly complete, I still wanted to experience this game. In fact, I have been using this method to scavenge for a number of old games that aren’t yet in MobyGames– think of an old game I’ve heard of and would like to play, search for an eBay store that has it, and find other obscure titles they have in stock. I managed to procure a copy of this game, still wrapped and with a “Review copy — not for resale” sticker on it (as well as a copy of Deer Avenger 4 from the same seller; I only need #3D and the quadrilogy will be complete!). It’s interesting to note that this game comes with an advertisement for Rise of the Robots, a famously sub-par game, to be charitable. Not a good sign.
The game runs great in DOSBox — no surprise there. Let me tell you, interactive movies don’t get much more pure than this. This game plays an FMV clip and then presents you with 3 lines of dialogue to choose from. Repeat, often in circles. That’s it. Most I-movies at least try to throw a few puzzles your way. Tsunami obviously must have thought their story was all they needed to make this “game” compelling.
Unfortunately, Flash Traffic doesn’t trust your reading comprehension ability and sees fit to read each dialogue option to you as your roll over the line. Your character has an obnoxious, quasi-Texan drawl. So much for the you-are-there effect. Even though your character is never seen, the creators saw fit to make sure that your character is most certainly heard. I think it’s possible to shut off these line readings but I couldn’t figure out how to click that radio button (seriously, the dialog box wouldn’t let me).
So the DEA raids a suspected drug lab only to find a nuke factory instead. The game is a race by the FBI to track down the bomb before it incinerates Los Angeles. The game copy boasts about being filmed in locations throughout L.A. More specifically, parking garages and empty office buildings throughout L.A., as you will ascertain from the foregoing game trailer. The beginning of the game has you and your partner/underling Dave interrogating 2 guys nabbed from the lab. The interrogations go around in circles until I eventually stumble on a way out of what is no doubt a virtual maze underneath the game’s covers. I don’t even clearly understand what happens next, or really, why the game took this next path, but the protaganists decide to go find “the Korean”. The Korean who has a shoulder-mounted rocket launcher in his car trunk and takes out the FBI van (huh? the FBI tools around in a non-descript white van?).
So that’s my first game over. I have the opportunity to replay, but that only plays from the beginning of the van scene, where there is no other path but certain detonation. I could restore from a saved game, if I had saved up to this point, or I can restart. So I restart and make different decisions but still wind up at the same rocket-propelled dead end.
I searched and found a FAQ/walkthrough for this game. It confirms for me that the game is on par with standard side scrolling action games when it comes to sheer trial & error tedium and that it’s common to follow a path that doesn’t make any sense, such as the Korean situation above. Though on the second play, I actually received the exposition about who the Korean was and why we were off to meet doom at his hands. Naturally, I still couldn’t avoid it.
About multimedia, this game renders its FMV in the standard DOS VGA 320x200x256 video mode using a custom video format named BFI. However, there was a special version of this game and several other Tsunami games that used MPEG video. How to decode in real time on a 486? Using the bundled RealMagic hardware decoding card. A rare artifact in this day and age, but I will continue the search.