Review - Flash Traffic: City of Angels (DOS, 1994)

In this time of blockbuster multiple CD-ROM games, there is potential for enormous improvement and expansion in the industry. The term "interactive movie" has inspired some companies to produce games with budgets better suited to motion pictures. Under A Killing Moon has already set a standard that will be difficult to match, and Phantasmagoria is going to have a darn good try at pushing it even higher.

The potential danger of this wave of ambition is that consumers may be lured into the "bigger is better" fallacy and end up spending tremendous amounts of cash on products with nothing going for them except the size of their box. This can result in nothing but a bunch of unhappy consumers.

Flash Traffic: City of Angels from Time Warner and Tsunami is a very good example of a large game (at least, in memory terms) that is just not worth the space. It takes up a whopping 3 CD-ROMs, takes about 2 or 3 hours to play to the end, and has little to no replayability. It will probably ride the coattails of the more complex and elaborate products mentioned earlier, but it has no legs of its own to stand on.

The player is an FBI agent who has to track down a homemade nuke somewhere in Los Angeles. This is presumably the Pierce Brosnan lookalike on the box cover, but we'll never know, because the action is all from first person perspective and you don't go past any mirrors. Your partner asks you for instructions through the course of the game, from grilling your two captive suspects to the final confrontation with the mastermind behind this fiendish terrorist scheme. Unless, of course, you make the wrong decision, in which case L.A. gets toasted.

Tsunami describes Flash Traffic as an "all-video, interactive techno-thriller." Well, the "all-video" isn't that much to cheer about. It eats up tremendous amounts of disk space and unless you've got the MPEG version it all looks like it was shot through a screen door. Occasionally, you have to get information from a form or a letter, and they shot those with the same video rather than just include a text file. Fortunately, you can get most of the necessary facts by listening to your character mumble out loud while he reads what you cannot.

I suppose you could describe Flash Traffic as "interactive" in a way, but the only decision you make is which corny line you say. This game is as interactive as a Choose Your Own Adventure book. Some of the decisions you make are critical. Some are completely negligible. All of them are in the form of choosing between three lines of equally hackneyed Hollywood cop movie dialogue.

This was one of the most annoying aspects of Flash Traffic. It's bad enough that the game keeps you engaged for so short a time, but even the first time around, it offers no real surprises for anyone who's ever watched a typical PG-13 action flick, and you can rent those for under three dollars. This is so much like a cheesy cop picture that it even has the cute ending segment. You know, the "Miller Time" part when the case is completely solved, and you and your partner are now on the beach, ogling a busty blonde and trading wisecracks. That wouldn't have been so bad if it was left as a non-interactive video clip that you could skip over, but the designers had to throw in some truly pointless dialogue decisions for you even then.

As for the "techno-thriller" part of the description, you've probably guessed that I didn't consider playing this game to be much of a thrill.

Given the cheapness of the production, you'd think that Tsunami could have spent a little more time playtesting the different courses the player can take. After questioning one suspect and going to investigate his belongings, you might opt to ask the suspect more questions. But if you do, be prepared to sit through the same series of questions and smart aleck cracks that you went through the first time.

Personally, I don't really recommend that anyone buy this game, but if you're just too curious to let it go, get a large group of people to go in together and purchase it. It doesn't take long to finish, and no one will want to play it again, so no one will mind giving it up to the next contributor. Of course, if you must buy a multi-CD game, it's better to invest in Under A Killing Moon. It's a LOT more interesting.

Download the demo for Flash Traffic: City of Angels