I've thought about this problem a few times in the last 15 years. What made '76 so special?
- The first thing that comes to mind is the Disco soundtrack and styling. These were certainly awesome and from my perspective, came right out of left field. I had never considered that someone would set a game in a time or place like this.
- The second thing is having early CG cutscenes between every mission. These were also awesome. Their emphasis on style and character add a lot to the experience. The voice work was campy-excellent too.
- Third we have guns and shooting. The mechanics were just solid. It was fun to line-up your foe and blast them. The combat just felt good.
- Lastly we have the car builder. You got to design your car to whatever spec you wanted. This allowed you to customize the play style
Those are what I'll call the overt factors. I think everyone remembers those parts of the game. Certainly the people who have tried to replicate the feel of '76 have a version of each of these things. But why was '76 the only game where cars shooting at each other was as fun as it should be?
I actually jumped into Interstate 76 a couple weeks ago when I bought it from gog.com. Technically it was a broken mess. The textures and movies were all screwed up and I had some physics glitches that didn't let me get through the second mission, but do you know what? I think I found the answer!
- Interstate '76 was a lot more than car combat. There was a world there. There were civilians in cars sharing your road, there were villages that you drove through, and the mission structure changed while you were playing.
If I were to make a car combat game (hint hint) I would certainly want to include mission writing and voice acting as pillars of the design.