Just as I was starting to get tired of Gridders and Alone in the Dark (both of which are enjoyable games incidentally), we get Road Rash. Looks like another inch of dust on my other systems (I'm going to need a bigger feather duster :-)).
Road Rash includes a second music sampler CD containing all of the alternative tracks available in the game itself. Parents should also be aware that the box bears a self imposed "warning: contains mature themes" label which is a reasonably correct assessment of some of the game's content.
The manual for Road Rash doesn't even pretend to wrap a story around this game, but essentially, you play a rough and tough motorcycle racer (a "rasher") and must race in races throughout California to win money and fame. You win races by driving faster than your opponents or by beating the living daylights out of them. Very subtle :-).
There are two game modes in Road Rash. Thrash mode allows you to select from five skill levels, choose your course, and race. Your progress is not saved, you cannot buy new bikes, nothing. You *can* however race any track at any level and vent your frustration on the other bikers with wanton abandon.
While thrash mode is reasonably cathartic, most people will play most of their games in "Big Game Mode". In this mode, you select which character to play from a list of nearly a dozen "interesting" individuals, each of which has different fighting and racing characteristics, as well as a different model of motorcycle and their own cash reserve. Although most of the rashers are men, there are three female characters available, and my wife had no trouble identifying with at least one of them :-).
You start the "Big Game" on "The Street" in front of "Der Panzer Klub" and "Olley's Skoot-A-Rama". Entering the club allows you to "schmooze" with other rashers who may give you useful information or simply intimidate you. The content of the messages in this area seems to be loosely related to your treatment of your fellow rashers in past races. If you beat up on a particular character, he/she will be hostile. Leaving an individual alone race after race may result in friendlier comments. Pretty cool. I personally got the most enjoyment out of getting Mike and Axel upset, but running Pearl off the road resulted in a particularly nasty surprise as well :-).
From within the club, you can also choose to enter the "Restroom". The restroom is essentially the options menu, allowing you to change the game mode (thrash or big game), select one or two player mode, choose your game level (only in thrash mode), individually turn the engine sounds and in- game music on and off, load and save games, or play with the "jukebox" (more on this in the "sound" section below).
Lastly, you can select the bulletin board to view the available courses and select the one upon which you want to race.
The second major location that you can visit is "Olley's Skoot-A-Rama" cycle shop. Olley has fifteen different bikes from which to choose which are divided into three categories. You can browse all of the bikes to determine prices and set goals for yourself. You can also see stat sheets and a "fly-by" video of each one. The characteristics of each bike are entertaining, if not useful, with adjectives like "blinding" and "orgasmic" used to describe the handling, acceleration, and top speed of each. Judging only from the limited number of cycles that my friends and I have purchased, the variations dramatically affect the gameplay.
There are five courses on which you can race, each of which has different distinguishing characteristics. On one course you race along beaches and through tunnels; on another, you dodge taxis, joggers, and mailboxes; while on yet another, you race through valleys with steep, texture mapped walls. The variety is extremely refreshing. Different levels of the game however, do *not* introduce new tracks, but rather lengthen the same five courses. This results in the first few miles of every area being seen over and over again, although you get to race a few miles farther along each course with each new level. There are several points in the various courses where the road forks into two distinct paths which rejoin before crossing the finish line. Usually, each branch has a different length, number of curves, traffic density, etc. Other racers will sometime suggest a particular branch, although how much you trust them might depend on the number of dents you've made in their skull in previous races :-).
You start Big Game mode on level one and must place first, second, or third on each of the five courses to progress to the next level. In fact, you are not even given a choice of staying at your current level once you place on all five courses. You can however race over and over again on a track on which you have already qualified. This means that if you do not have enough money to purchase a decent bike for the next level, you may need to intentionally lose on one of the courses (or just not race there) until you've won enough money on the other four courses. This seems a bit awkward, and I remember being able to choose when to advance on the original Sega version. It doesn't materially affect gameplay; it's just weird.
The first level is pretty easy once you get the hang of the controls, but so far difficulty seems be progressing nicely from level to level. It is wise however to keep a saved game back on the previous level just in case you realize that you've progressed to the next level too soon and need to go back and buy a better bike.
Fighting in Road Rash is relatively simple. You can punch, kick, or backhand the other rashers, or you can hit or backhand them with a weapon (pipe, chain, etc.) if you have one. Some racers start each race with a particular weapon, but anyone can steal weapons from the other characters during the race. Each racer has a health bar that decreases as they are beaten or crash and increases over time. When an individual's bar is empty, he/she falls off their bike. In addition to personal life bars, human players also have a bar that indicates the current condition of their bike. When this bar reaches zero, it's all over. Both bars are replenished automatically before the start of a new race however.
At times while racing, a policeman on a motorcycle will appear and try to knock you off of your bike. If at any point you fall off your bike and he catches up to you, you're "busted" and you lose the race (minus several hundred dollars for the fine). He is reasonably fair though, and he will go after other racers if they get too close.
You can select between a simple on screen display of your status and current ranking, or you can opt to view nicely rendered dials that show your speed and RPMs. In both case however, you can see yourself on your motorcycle, as there is no first person perspective.
Saved games are handled reasonably well. There are ten save slots, and games are saved on a character by character basis. This means that, in a two player game, you can load and save each racer independently of each other. You can even change either or both racers and change the game back and forth between one and two player mode on the fly.
Lastly, while there are no noticeable pauses throughout most of the game, there is a ten second pause before each race.
The graphics in Road Rash essentially fall into three categories: full motion video (FMV), still backgrounds, and "in-game" graphics. As each is used extensively throughout the game, I will discuss them each separately.
I had heard from people that attended the CES that the full motion video in Road rash was nothing to write home about. I have to assume that those individuals were legally blind, or that the video was completely replaced by the time the game made it to store shelves. The FMV in Road Rash is some of the best I've seen. It doesn't always appear to have quite the resolution of the clips in Shockwave, but the frame rate is high, it fills all but the extreme top and bottom of the screen, and it's very effective. Video is used to introduce the game, to start each race (very short), and to provide a bit of humor when each race is over. There are probably five or six clips each for winning, losing, wrecking, or getting busted by the cops. There is very little speech in the clips, which avoids the lamest aspect of most FMV, and several of them are genuinely funny.
The content of the videos may be a bit too suggestive for really young kids, but there's nothing you can't see on primetime television. It's also worth noting that the videos are equally "sexist". Some intermission videos have women dragging men away by chains around their necks, while others have men slinging women over their bikes. Some people might not enjoy the content, but we were more than entertained.
Video is also used to provide "fly-bys" of motorcycles in the cycle shop, in which capacity it is quite effective. These videos did get "stuck" occasionally on my machine however, but pressing a button remedied the problem.
In addition to the video mentioned above, leaving any still screen unattended results in the activation of the "screen saver". But thanks to the magic of CD-ROM, the screen savers are full length rock videos for "Duel" by Swervedriver and "Jessie" by Paw. The videos are quite professionally done, including the "MTV" titling identifying the song, artist, and album as they begin. My friend and I realized we had become jaded by 3DO titles when our biggest complaint was that there were only *two* full length rock videos :-).
The still backgrounds behind the menus throughout the game are done in a truly bizarre style that I personally wouldn't improve upon. In fact, I'd go so far as to suggest that EA raise the artists' salaries to ensure that they're available for their next game. Most of the images look like they have some basis in digitized photos of people, but they have been extensively distorted and modified. I won't even try to convey the overall look of the graphics (it wouldn't be possible), but suffice it to say that you won't be disappointed. The 3DO's hardware interpolation is also used very effectively to smooth the still images with impressive results.
The content of the still images, like the FMV, is suggestive. Apparently, while I have yet to see a condom advertisement on television, it's okay for them to show up in EA games :-). Anyone who isn't *too* stuffy (and why did you buy this game if you are?) will find them hilarious however. My friends, my wife, and I had tears in our eyes from laughing after a couple of the restroom pictures. Really nice work.
Lastly, the in-game graphics are superb. The resolution and frame rate is significantly higher than similar games such as Crash N' Burn, and succeeds in conveying a sense of motion that I honestly haven't felt since the sharp canyons in Total Eclipse. The first time you thread between a taxi and a BMW convertible going the opposite direction you will undoubtedly scream reflexively (my wife did anyway :-)).
The road, buildings, hills and such are texture mapped and made up of a large number of polygons. While the clipping horizon isn't nearly infinite as in Crash N' Burn, objects really far away are slightly mist enshrouded and never appear to pop into existence unless you are staring at the horizon (in which case you're probably already skidding across the pavement :-)). It appears as if this game uses the same technique as Shockwave, in that more detailed textures are used as objects get closer. Unlike Shockwave, the effect is *completely* unnoticeable unless you are running down the course on foot.
Objects such as trees, cars, pedestrians, etc. are bitmaped images and with a few exceptions are reasonably detailed. There are a large variety of objects (600 according to the back of the box) including joggers, cows, old women with walkers, tourists, construction workers, often with several completely different versions of the same type of object. To quote my wife, "I KNOW there's more than one type of 'flag girl', as I've already run over two distinctly different ones" :-). Individual racers have different colored motorcycles and jumpsuits, and larger characters actually appear larger. Very cool.
There are several nice little subtleties that I am most certainly forgetting, but I did notice that normal cars stop for you when you fall off your motorcycle, while taxis just run you over.
There are several types of audio in Road Rash: real alternative music, original music, and sound effects.
Road Rash has been hyped as including music from several "alternative" bands and this is certainly the case. The following is a complete list of the music available in the game:
Band Song --------------------------------- Soundgarden Rusty Cage Kickstand Superunknown Outshined Paw The Bridge Pansy Jessie hammerbox Trip Simple Passing therapy? Teethgrinder Auto Surgery monster magnet Dinosaur Vacume swervedriver Last Train To Satansville Duel
All of the songs are between one and a half and two minutes long (obviously not the entire songs) and CD quality. You can even select the "jukebox" option from the restroom to select what group/song you want to hear. While this type of music will certainly not be to everyone's taste, the selected tracks fit perfectly with the attitude of the game. I was impressed.
It is worth noting, however, that you cannot play the music listed above while you are racing. This was really disappointing to me, but it is played behind everything else (all of the video clips, menus, etc.). The original music in the game is respectable, but not particularly amazing. The instruments are well done, and the beat is well suited to the action. In any case, you can turn the "race music" off if it's not to your liking.
The sound effects are generally quite good. All of the samples are crystal clear, sound like the real things they represent, and are in surround sound. The police motorcycles sound particularly realistic and even change appropriately when you beat them off the road. People sometimes even yell at you as you run them over :-).My favorite audio effect is still the way that the sound is muffled as you drive through the tunnels. Nice.
This may look like a lot of gripes, but all of them are EXTREMELY minor when actually playing the game.
I couldn't find a way to get back to the initial selection screen once I had entered big game mode. This means that it is impossible to select a new character once you have started playing without rebooting the machine. Strange oversight.
I want to listen to the cool bands while I'm racing. CD access during the race is negligible, and I'd be interested to hear the reason for leaving such an obvious feature out of the final game.
Once during the 15-20 hours I've been playing so far, the music got a bit garbled until it went on to the next track. No permanent damage was done, but it was a little strange.
Occasionally the cool videos in the cycle shop would stop in the middle, and we had to press one of the controller buttons to get to the cycle summary screen. It only happens every five or six times and is in no way fatal, but it is a bit disconcerting.
The response on the menu screens is a bit sluggish sometimes. This appears to be due to the "caching" mechanism used, in that the first time you move the cursor to a particular item there is a noticeable pause as the text/image is read from the disc. The next time you access the same item there is no delay.
Lastly, almost any racing game would fare better with an analog controller. Road Rash controls quite well, but you will find yourself tapping left and right a lot which is not a terribly accurate way to steer a motorcycle.
I know I say this in nearly every review, but this is one of the best 3DO titles out there. This is also an excellent game for a group of people. Those of us who weren't playing were able to get enough out of watching to remain entertained for several hours, and it was difficult to get the people actually playing the game to leave my apartment.
The video is almost totally "cheese free", the artwork superb, and the gameplay exhilarating. If you have a slightly twisted sense of humor and like reasonably mindless racing games with a bit of good old fashioned punching and kicking, give this game a try. You won't be disappointed.
As always, some numbers... (scale from 1 to 10)
GAMEPLAY: 9 (awesome feeling of speed, good difficulty progression, respectable control, and a two player mode) GRAPHICS: 9.5 (great use of FMV, smooth texture mapping and scaling, and fabulous still artwork) SOUND : 8.5 (excellent alternative music selection, crisp sound effects, why can't I listen to the great music during the race?!?!) SUMMARY : 9.5 (I haven't gotten any sleep for three days :-))This review is Copyright (C) 1994 by Matt Brown for Game Bytes Magazine. All rights reserved.