A battle in the game between Groove Champion's Picard Piranha (orange) and a Phaedra Rattler.
There are four play modes available in the game: the "T.R.I.P." (an acronym for "Total Recreational Interactive Production"), which follows the game's protagonists in an episodic story; "Multi Melee", an on-line deathmatch version of the game; "Auto Melee", a deathmatch with computer-driven cars; and "Scenarios", short free-standing adventures featuring the game's protagonists. The primary difference between the scenarios and the T.R.I.P., length of play aside, is that the player has a much broader choice of vehicles in the scenario mode, while the player is limited to only one car during most of the T.R.I.P. mode. The game's vehicles are faithful reproductions of various cars and trucks from the era, both in appearance and driving characteristics, though the names have been changed.
The game is based on the engine used for Activision's MechWarrior 2: 31st Century Combat, and requires a fair amount of strategy through the course of the game, as the player must balance the vehicle's armor and weapon load-outs appropriately in order to successfully complete the various missions. In the game's story mode, the player must also manage and repair equipment salvaged from the wrecks of opponents.
The game focuses on the daring exploits of Groove Champion, his partner Taurus, and their mechanic, Skeeter. A powerful but shadowy figure is recruiting autovillains (also known as "creepers") from around the country for a private army. Similarly, civilians take up vigilantism to make up for the openly corrupt police force, and begin driving weaponized vehicles of their own so as to maintain order. Groove's sister, Jade, and Taurus are investigating the movements of the army when, on the night of July 3, 1976, Jade Champion is murdered outside Lubbock, Texas. Taurus recruits a reluctant Groove to the cause, with Groove operating Jade's heavily armed Picard Piranha. The game follows Groove and Taurus' quest for revenge and the truth.
Interstate '76 spawned a prequel/stand-alone expansion pack, Nitro Pack (known as Interstate '76: Nitro Riders in some territories), and a direct sequel, Interstate '82, as well as the Vigilante 8spin-off series for video game consoles. A graphically enhanced version of the original game, Interstate '76: Gold Edition, was also released. The Gold Edition was later bundled with the Nitro Pack expansion as The Interstate '76 Arsenal. On 18 February 2010 Good Old Games released a downloadable version of The Interstate '76 Arsenal which is playable on modern operating systems and hardware.