What Starsky & Hutch does best is pay homage to the wonderful clichés of 1970s cop shows.
With television in the 1970s rife with cop shows of varying quality, you needed some sort of hook in order to stand out. Starsky & Hutch had one of the best--a 1974 Ford Gran Torino with a memorable red and white paint job. Though the show didn't rely as heavily on its trademark car as, say, The Dukes of Hazzard, it was still a fundamental part of the show. Now Gotham Games has released a driving-and-shooting game that evokes the general style of the show. The gameplay isn't terribly deep, and the story mode isn't very long, but the game is still mildly enjoyable. What Starsky & Hutch does best is pay homage to the wonderful clichés of 1970s cop shows.
Starsky & Hutch plays like a long-form version of the many chase scenes that populated the TV show. You tear around Bay City, chasing down bad guys and occasionally escorting witnesses, usually while driving Starsky's signature 1974 Ford Gran Torino, the "Striped Tomato." The fundamental mechanics here are driving and shooting. As you give chase, a reticle automatically locks on to the closest targetable object within your line of sight, allowing you to focus most of your attention on the driving. The auto-targeting is pretty intuitive and dynamic. There are times--specifically during defensive missions where you're severely punished for shooting up the car you're supposed to be defending--that the automation can prove frustrating. The driving mechanics are pretty forgiving, and the car has the kind of weight you'd expect from a mid-'70s muscle car. It's generally pretty fun to drive too. There are some weird physics issues that pop up from time to time, though. Sometimes you can catch an edge that changes your direction dramatically, or you're just brought to a complete stop. Occasionally, destructible objects don't give way right when they should. The real problem with the core gameplay mechanics is that there's not enough variety. Chasing a car while constantly hammering on the fire button can become tiresome after a while.
Starsky & Hutch offsets the repetitive nature of the gameplay, slightly, by rewarding you for driving in a dangerous, entertaining fashion--though it will punish you for out-and-out recklessness. Every mission puts you on a kind of a clock, though it actually reflects your "viewer rating," which is one of the game's many self-aware nods to its television roots. Though it's constantly dropping, the VR can be replenished in a variety of ways. Shooting at the criminals you're chasing nets you a small amount of VR, as does having a near-miss with a civilian vehicle--though skidding around corners, getting up on two wheels, pulling off a jump, or blowing up some explosive red barrels give it to you in bigger chunks. You also see big VR icons in the sky and on the road. These can be shot at or simply driven over. Your VR drops significantly if you run into a civilian vehicle or building. Simply driving too close to a pedestrian also significantly lowers your VR. Curiously, your car can take an infinite amount of damage. The only two ways to fail a mission are letting your VR run out entirely or failing a primary mission objective, like protecting another vehicle.
Aside from the VR icons, there are a variety of other power-ups to drive over and shoot at in Bay City. Most of these affect your performance for a short time, giving you better tire grip, a faster top speed, or a bigger gun. There is also an icon that causes the criminals' guns to jam, and there are special event icons that usually cause big explosions or spectacular crashes. You can also find special Huggy Bear and car key icons in hidden locations. These finds can unlock some novel, if superfluous, extras.