When somebody asked about the game on the MobyGames forums some time ago, neither the name nor the description offered in the question struck me as familiar, and I definitely didn’t recall playing it in all the years since I started trying to remember and identify all the games I played. However, out of simple curiosity, I clicked to see the game’s page and the instant I saw the name Velasquez the memories came back, the screenshots only serving to confirm what I already knew by the time I looked at them as well, namely that I had played the first part of the game shortly after release, when it was available as shareware, and the story and Velasquez as a character in particular had left quite an impression on me, even though I was only about ten at the time.
That may have been the end of it if I wouldn’t have also noticed that the game has been available for free, legally, since 2007. But I did see that and, since it’s a DOS game which should work just fine through DOSBox and also wasn’t supposed to be too long or too hard, I ended up downloading and playing it all the way to the end, just making my way through the actual missions, which are nothing to write home about, to read the whole story. And now I’m writing this as well.
Since I mentioned the missions, let me start with the fact that actually playing the game is more or less simply something you do in order to move on to the next part of the story. There is some variety, as you’ll get to drive through four different areas, piloting eight different vehicles, and sometimes you’ll also need to protect one or more targets, or to destroy others before they reach a certain location or flee the area, and sometimes the one who needs to reach a certain location is you, but in general you’re required to clear the area of enemies which are far from smart.
Admittedly, considering that your forces are usually vastly outnumbered even when you happen to have some wingmen, a better AI would have made the game terribly difficult, but the few different vehicle types and objectives aren’t enough to prevent boredom from setting in over the course of 59 missions against enemies that do little but try to go around obstacles in order to shoot you from behind and then simply go around again for another attempt, leaving their backs open to your shots once they pass you, as they seem to only try to avoid line of fire when you’re just about touching. Worse, they never use missiles, seem to get completely confused and do a little harmless “dance” around you instead of firing if you stand still, especially on a corner, and usually seem to only shoot in short bursts, at least unless they’re right behind you and you’re both moving. Of course, these issues affect allies as well, so they’re not much help when they happen to exist, but at least that means they don’t steal many kills either.
Otherwise, the controls are simple and mostly all right, but it may have helped to have a separate key for reversing in order to make the key for the direction you’re facing away from actually turn the vehicle around, and a key to fire missiles may have made them somewhat useful as well, instead of requiring you to press one key to switch to them and then the same fire key to shoot. It should be considered, however, that nobody has any protection from friendly fire and it’s next to impossible not to have “accidents” with allies around. The game does take it into account, as Velasquez states time and time again that she’s not picky about targets and will likely kill wingmen if they’re assigned to her, but doing so doesn’t matter otherwise and at times it can even help, unless of course you accidentally destroy a vehicle you were supposed to protect. On the other hand, enemies can kill each other just as well, which can be rather annoying if you’re trying to get a record number of kills.
To get these out of the way as well, as there really isn’t anything else to say about each category, the graphics pretty much do their job and run smoothly, the sound effects are quite utilitarian, while the music is decent but repetitive if you pay attention to it. Nothing to add to or subtract from the overall impression, though one thing that does subtract is the fact that a few bugs do exist that may make a few missions impossible to complete under certain conditions, requiring them to be restarted. And it is also a little annoying that the three parts of the game are entirely separate, so you can’t simply continue from one to the next and the number of kills and the resulting assessment are reset at the start of each.
But seriously, if you’re playing this game, it won’t be for any of that, but for the story, no matter how full of clichés it is, and for Velasquez. Yes, a game with many twists and turns and a strong but flawed character, even a strong but flawed female character, isn’t exactly uncommon today, but Traffic Department 2192 was released more than 20 years ago, and this makes quite a difference. The language also pushed boundaries, as the text includes plenty of swearing, insults and sexual references, some of them admittedly forced and childish, seeming to have been added merely for shock value, or perhaps out of a belief that this will make it more interesting to virgin teenagers with raging hormones. Others, however, help flesh out the personality of the characters, obviously mainly that of Velasquez and to some extent that of the Dispatcher, who’s the only one who seems to enjoy her attitude and frequently trades insults, quite obvious innuendos or direct invitations with her. I’m not sure how much of this is lost in the edited version, which the player may select to use, a help file also specifying how parents who don’t want their children to be able to read the original text may eliminate the choice and force the game to only use the edited version.
A limiting factor is the fact that the entire story, with the exception of the introduction, is presented through dialogues, the only other bits of text merely listing locations and times, so the game definitely didn’t care to make players feel like they’re reading a book in any way, but it may be somewhat akin to watching a play, which seems to work well enough. In fact, reading its script, which can be found in the game files and is also only a quick search away for those who want it in an even easier to read and more complete form, does pretty much feel like reading the script of a play and allows anyone to go through the entire story without actually playing.
In a way it can perhaps be said that, on a much smaller scale, Velasquez was a prototype “queen bitch”, albeit one trying too hard to play the part at times. There are even some parallels to draw in terms of transformation and potential redemption, though of course one shouldn’t go too far with this, as Kerrigan is, in my view, one of the best characters in gaming, incomparably better written and easier, or at least possible, to relate to and cheer for even at her worst. Velasquez, on the other hand, seems at times needlessly harsh, violent and even simply evil, the death of her father and the responsibility resting on her shoulders ceasing to be an acceptable excuse for her behavior at least through most of part two and possibly the start of part three, when the difference between her and stereotypical villains becomes increasingly blurred and any additional explanations are yet to be presented. Still, even then there are interesting moments that reveal other aspects of her personality and paint certain events in a different light, such as her conversations with Screwdriver, the way she settled the Dispatcher issue or her attitude shift towards a certain other synthetic once certain things were revealed.
On the other hand, just as her character becomes easier to understand and relate to, the story as a whole tends to rather fall apart towards the end, the writer appearing to run out of missions to go through the planned events and changes, and this affects her as well, the complete shift at the very end following the other elements of those final parts of the script in coming pretty much out of nowhere. It’s not only a matter of the lack of a more gradual change, but the fact that something seems to be completely missing and, seeing as part three has only 19 missions instead of 20, in may actually be that, for whatever reason, one of the final missions was cut and some explanations or hints of what was to come got lost along with it.
To conclude, with its overall forgettable gameplay, the at times forced and childish writing and the terribly rushed convenient ending, Traffic Department 2192 doesn’t exactly have anything to offer the players of today. However, a story like this in general and a character like Velasquez in particular definitely were unusual back when it was released and may have, at least to some extent, paved the way towards other, far more polished and better known, developments and milestones in terms of game storytelling and characters. For that reason, while likely not worth playing anymore except out of a more serious interest in gaming history or, as it was in my case, simple nostalgia, I do believe it deserves to at least be remembered.