The Finnish indie game studio Three Men Games has entertained me with its Pako titles for several years, and I’ve been looking forward to the 80s-scented arcade game Pako Highway for a while. Pako means “escape” in Finnish and with games like Pako, Pako 2 and Pako Forever, these three gentlemen have made the police chase/escape thing their own. However, Pako Highway is a bit different, to say the least. It’s no longer about running from the police. It’s no longer about a top-down, isometric game perspective and blocky cute graphics. This title looks more like a Burnout stylistically, and actually feels a bit like pure gameplay, too.
The setup is simple. There are miles of traffic-clogged highway ahead of you and when each track starts you only have 40 seconds to get as far as you can. This is done by touching other cars on the road, which then generates a turbo boost in a small flexible meter at the bottom of the screen. When the meter is full and you have therefore completed enough daring enough overtakes, a proper turbo push is activated automatically and you can then ram all the cars that stand in your way. Every car you crash into during the turbo push itself flies off the road and gives you a small time bonus which means that those 40 seconds can become 50, or 60. However, if you don’t drive daring enough and don’t push enough cars off the road during the actual turbo sprint, time quickly runs out and you are forced to start all over again.
Like so many other classic arcade games, Pako Highway is super simple in terms of gameplay and it took me exactly 1.9 seconds to grab the rub. Just like so many arcade classics, it’s the simplicity and the right kind of challenge in that simple, easy-to-understand setup that makes me as a player just not able to put my phone down, turn it off. and here Three Men Games has really succeeded with Pako Highway. the mantra “just one more time” is quickly becoming something of a standard phrase when playing this and I think in my first test session I probably did 200 tries over about two hours. Addictive, fun and above all very difficult. In exactly the right way.
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The design is also super cool with a deliberately 80s-like nice disco tone, without being either too neon-colored or clichéd. The roads are colored in dark green or fire yellow depending on whether the sun is shining or whether it is the glow of the street lamps that acts as a light source and the cars you drive yourself are blocky-looking in a way that brings to mind previous Playstation One games. The music is also fun, retro and you can (just like in GTA) choose between a few different radio channels that all play music from distinctly different genres. The further you get on each track, the more money you are rewarded with and the money unlocks new cars and new tracks. However, getting further is difficult and it will require many hours on your own to be able to unlock the last gadgets. Fortunately, Pako Highway is free of microtransactions, which for a free-to-play game of this type is incredibly nice to see.