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Road Rash

a Blast from the Past review

For saying FBT claims he hates racing games, here's another one he won't shut up about.

The Past

Ahh, Road Rash. RR was basically the DGAF of racing games back in the 90s. Before mayhem had to have repercussions, games like RR quietly got on with being really unethical for fun’s sake. You were one of eight or so bikers competing in illegal street races, but this wasn’t cannonball run with some friendly joshing mid trip, there was no Captain Chaos to help; RR contestants hated each other. If you got too close, they’d give you a kick or a punch to send you off and that was if they were being nice. Chains and pipes would often come into play, while CHiPs on Riceburners would clobber you with truncheons and arrest you after you fell off. And it wasn’t just the racers you had to contend with. The tracks which wound their way through close-quarter city streets and open highways were chock-a-block with cars, pedestrians (which you could mow through at the risk of getting knocked off) and other obstacles. It was one of those games you played with mates not against them, all of you going nuts at the screen as you tried to survive a race let alone win it.

I’m going to be in for a rough ride - it's 25yrs old and all my memories are of moments spent playing it not the game itself. I can’t remember a thing about it beyond crashing and laughing.

Still a Blast?

Yeah, this looks old even though it's the updated CD version. But the menus are actually kinda cool, someone in the dev team must have got a trial version of that new-fangled Photoshop thingie, as all the screens are morphed and amusingly stretched faces to represent the riders while FMV cutscenes of bikes doing donuts and wheelies set the scene and in no way represent the gameplay.

I enter the bikers clubhouse, pick a race and chat to the other bikers who give comments and advice on how to race. It’s not interactive, they’re all pictures and text but there’s a sense of fun to it, like it knows it’s a joker. I pop into the bike shack and discover a ‘rat’ bike is the best I’ll afford for a while. The superbikes are way beyond my Bad MoFo wallet. Best get some races won then.

Lined up on the blocky road I see my character out ahead of me and the usual heads-up display. A tiny roar of engines and we’re off. And I’m off my bike already. Damn car came right at me. The controls are terrible; it’s largely left or right to get around obstacles that come towards you, a little like a rail-shooter, but I don’t know what else I was expecting.

Back on the bike I race after my rivals and soon catch up and get my eye into it. You can’t really gauge distance or gaps and it moves at such a hectic pace staying on becomes the main source of excitement. Pedestrians hurry across the road and get splattered in a bloodless, basic way and make my bike bounce and I have to recover, but it’s easier than going around them; one touch too far and the bike takes a sharp turn and you’re off again. I do that a lot but always find it amusing. If he hits a car, the rider flies off for quite the distance or slides until a passing car stops him. Once recovered, the rider gets up and trots back to his fallen steed, sounding much like he’s wearing clogs. Another problem / amusement is he’s not very traffic-aware, so will simply run into passing cars or other bikes and get clobbered again. And again. Back on the bike I chase and catch up only to get kicked, punched and smacked with a pipe by my fellow bikers. I respond and fall off again. Kicking tends to throw off the balance when riding at 100miles an hour. But I persevere and amazingly I time a punch as someone swings a pipe and get it off him! Now armed, I take out several riders, watching them fall or go airborne then position myself to run them over as they clog back to their bikes. I also get brave enough to start aiming for pedestrians and timing kicks to send riders into passing cars. It’s mayhem and within seconds I’m off again and I’ve lost my pipe. Good while it lasted. I actually manage to finish Second and think that’s really not bad for a first time in two decades. I’m grinning at how mad that was, the hilarious ‘clonk’ sound the pipe made, the leather-bound punches and yells from riders I kicked, the screams from the pedestrians... It’s all in good sniggering fun. I wanna go again, and chose a longer race, find secret shortcuts and have a really good time being lawless, actively seeking out fights and folks to run over, caring less about winning. I even manage to take out Poncho during one race, kicking him into an approaching car. Such fun.

RR isn’t really a very good game, even for its time. It’s basic arcade level with digitised pictures for car sprites, pixelated messes for pedestrians and basic animation for the riders. The controls are terrible and the physics make no sense; I sent a rider off his bike and watched him sail into the distance until he disappeared. I’d forgotten about him until I saw him still running back for his bike (as in I swerved and ran him over) miles later. But the game really doesn't care it’s not immersive or refined. That’s not its spirit, not what it’s trying to achieve. This is not a realistic depiction of bike racing or a game for winners, it’s for sinners. What RR wants to achieve is exactly what I’m doing now; Grinning like an idiot.

RR managed 6 games between 1991 and 2000 and there's been unofficial/inspired-by reboots since, with Road Rage by Maximum Games and Road Redemption from Pixel Dash which was funded by Kickstarter (both 2017) showing it's a popular underground franchise, and this the original was clearly aimed at the early console era when only one mate had a PS and everyone went ‘round for a laugh. It was the perfect beer and belly-laughs game where a controller would be passed around and everyone gets involved. It was a game for yelling at the screen, accusing it of cheating, watching your mates fail and creasing up at running over a granny.

RR is another one of those games waiting to be rediscovered but only if you discovered it originally, and are tired of moralistic criminal games (GTA5) - it’ll take you back to the time when flattening a granny was okay. For blocky, daft enjoyment, RR hasn’t aged - if you’re willing to go back to that age.