FBT returns to Road Rash with the ‘spiritual successor’ Road Redemption. They don’t make them like they used to. Or do they?
Road Redemption sprung from a Kickstarter project to remake Road Rash. Over the next few years, via Steam’s Greenlight and early-access, Pixel Dash Studios and EQ-Games attempted to fashion not just a game, but a return to those times. But this isn’t quite how I remember it.
Road Rash was awesome; a titan in the classic era of mayhem on the roads – alongside Carmageddon, Driver, the Madness series and the original GTA, RR was morally wrong and beyond fun, one of those early nineties games that got the Daily Mail in a tizz and we all loved because it got the Daily Mail in a tizz. You know a game is good when the first thing you recall about it was running over grannies. The ‘clunk’ when you hit someone with a bat – the bat you’d just taken off them, then kicked them into a passing car. Taking out the cops and running over de-biked opponents. Getting thrown off your bike and skidding for miles before getting run over yourself. Making your way up the ranks, from Rat Bike to Super Bike. Road Redemption attempts to recapture those days. Ballsy.
This time around, instead of an illegal street race, there’s something of a purpose. Like we need one. But it’s a great, sly nod to those text explanations at the start of Doom, giving you vague justifications and context then letting you lose. Or maybe it’s just daft; a mysterious biker has offed the leader of a local bike gang, who then post a huge bounty on his head. As he races through various biker gangs’ patches, they mount up, hoping to catch the bounty. Naturally, it degenerates into everyone kicking holy hell out of each other to get the bounty first.
Set-up aside, it’s familiar ground. Arcade in style, we get a basic bike and start at the back then race to reach the flag, placing in the top three to gain money and XP which we use to upgrade and stand a better chance of surviving the next leg. As each sequence progresses, we get more weapons, and occasionally different tasks like taking out the leader of a rival gang. Dying means you lose it all and have to start at the beginning of the chase, which is one throwback too far.
Road Redemption isn’t a slick game with retro roots, it’s dated; referencing the past is one thing, releasing a contemporary game that plays like it is risky - the bike handles like shit. You never get a sense of weight, grip or tolerance from it, never gauge how it’ll corner, how it’ll react or how far to push it; it practically just slides from left to right. If you come to a dead-stop after hitting something, you have to reverse to get free and it has the turning circle of a super-tanker not a superbike; or you can pause, go into the main menu and pick ‘put me back on the road’ – both are a faff that take you from 1st to 12th in no time. Breaking is too slow to have any chance of avoiding collisions, which are a crapshoot when it comes to outcomes; the game physics are insanely unpredictable. Hitting something either stops you, bounces you across (if not off) the map or separates you from the bike and kills you. And there’s a lot to pile into; dead ends, drops, hills, cliffs, houses, cars, plus falling off buildings, bridges, the edge of ramps and random things like rocks and other obstacles are everywhere – you can’t put this many accidents-waiting-to-happen in a game where left and right are more of a metaphorical choice. You unlock better bikes as you go, but ‘better’ is largely subjective. They look better. Back in the day, the wonky physics led to such unintentional hilarity it was worth losing pole position, but this game puts so much stock in winning, it’s a frustration when it costs you huge bonuses and forces you to restart.
The controls are messy too. Our biker can be armed with up to four different weapons, ranging from OTT blunt weapons and swords as well as explosives and machine guns, but you have to specify which side to attack on; yet the kick button auto-targets whoever’s nearest so why can’t he auto-swing too and save a button? It would work if he could hilariously dual-wield but it’s just one key too many; you need to use a blunt weapon to knock off armour before switching to something stabby – if you just clout them, they take a lot longer to go down, and our rider can’t sustain the blows he’s taking from all sides - especially when you also have to block as well; you’re swinging left, right, kicking, blocking, switching and trying to keep the grip-less bike on the road while swamped by riders who constantly land perfect hits and control their bikes like pros. Plus, reverse and break are different keys too? It tries to be tactical but loses the recklessness of the original by over-complicating the experience. Games like those should be stripped back, leaving you to just react and get caught up in the mayhem. As you progress the layouts change from desert wilderness to inner-city and there’s secrets and shortcuts, but the environment looks like something from a decade ago; it’s not unpleasant, just bare.
The biggest let down though is the lack of vehicular homicide. There’s no pedestrians. That was the best part and not including it is the final nail; the original was a giggle-some mad dash to the next city, a biker’s Cannonball Run but there was also the bar everyone met in, the silly photoshopped faces; the daftness of Road Rage is missing – and so is its spirit. I’d forgive Road Redemption’s flaws if it was half as naughty, half as nuts as the original.
At least ... that’s what most of the other reviews of Road Redemption have been saying. And at first I was much the same.
Thing is, there is a move toward rediscovering old games, celebrating their simplicity and commitment to just providing a good time. For every smug, bloated CoD there’s some once-forgotten game doing gangbusters on GOG.com, a rediscovery courtesy of Night Dive Studios, a nod to the era like Miami Takedown or a reboot by the original devs like Carmageddon Regeneration. You can’t moan about Redemption not being finessed, it came from Kickstarter. There’s games out there that are even more backward than this and they’re from major publishers; and unlike them, the Road Redemption crew interacted with fans, revealed plans and most importantly, took ideas and feedback on board. Name a AAA game that opens not with their smug logo but an open invite to stream their game on Twitch (and warn about musicID)? Or offers you a second game for free as a thank you? They made this the best they could and it’s made by people like me, for people like me so STFU and just enjoy it;
Redemption is hella fun. Sure, most of the complaints are valid, but get your eye in and it becomes a work of messy art, a pure Jackson Pollock to Infinity Ward's advanced but soulless 3D-Printing. The crashes are sometimes so insanely spectacular it's like the one good scene in Matrix Reloaded out on the highway. It's so random, so free-for-all there's countless opportunities for mayhem, and many just randomly happen - it's a game than demands you have fun with it; when's the last time you had a racing game that included power-ups like grappling your bike to a passing helicopter, or outfitting it with a jetpack? What about a race where cars fall from the sky? Come on! This is gold; the silliness is there, you’re supposed to have a laugh and remember the good old days when we didn’t take video games all that seriously. How can you claim it's not up to AAA standard when all we do is moan about over-marketed, under-produced, for-the-masses guff they churn out? Can’t have it both ways and Redemption is the way I wanna go. It’s a really fun, daft, outrageous game; it’s not Road Rash, it's Road Redemption - yeah I miss toddling back to my bike and the 90s in general but can't have everything. If it just let us knock over grannies, it’d be perfect.
2017 | Developer/ Publisher; Pixel Dash Studios & EQ Games
Platforms; Win, PS4, XO