STAFF REVIEW of Road Rage (Xbox One)

Monday, December 11, 2017.
by Chad Goodmurphy

Road Rage Box art Twenty-six years ago, Electronic Arts struck gold when it released Road Rash onto the then-modern SEGA Genesis. Thanks to some very enjoyable gameplay, which centred upon violent and combative motorcycle races, it became a quick success and ushered in the start of a series that lasted for nine years. One that, even today, many older gamers pine for the return of, so long as it’s done right.

In the time since its demise, Road Rash has seen some copycats, with one recent example being the dismal Road to Hell: Retribution. Now, thanks to Maximum Games, a new combatant has entered the ring in an attempt to usher in a new age of reckless motorcycle racing. It conveniently goes by the name of Road Rage, which is so similar to that of the original series that it’s easy to get the two mixed up.

Although its stolen idea still has lots of potential, Road Rage has been buried almost as quickly as it’s surfaced, and for good reason. As it rusts in the junkyard that is the realm of forgotten video games, its only claim to fame will be how crappy it actually is.

Road Rage begins in an urban jungle that has seen better days. It’s here where, as the story states, a battle between the elitist and wealthy 5% of the population and the other 95% of the population has led to most of the population residing in city blocks that are both walled off and policed. It’s a very drab, forgettable and depth-lacking narrative, which is told through awful voice acting and text-based overlays that sit atop ugly imagery.

As his or her chosen avatar, the player begins their digital life in Subtroit as a new member of an anti-establishment biker gang. Therein, they find themselves in the middle of an unruly world where disputes are often solved through the running of violent motorcycle races. The type where weapons – like baseball bats, metallic pipes, hockey sticks, knives and even selfie sticks – almost matter more than one’s driving abilities.

On paper, this sounds like a somewhat fun game, even if the story is silly. Motorcycles are fun to drive, knocking others off of their bikes with murderous weaponry is neat, and Road Rash was one of the more enjoyable games of the 90's. What could go wrong? Unfortunately, the answer to that question is everything. Everything went wrong here.

Although it boasts around 100 different missions and miscellaneous events, Road Rage fails to be what every good game is: fun. That’s actually putting it lightly, as the honest truth is that what we have here is a game that is not only boring and woeful, but also happens to be hard to play because of lackluster mechanics and random performance issues. The story isn’t the only thing wrong here, nor is the boring game world, which includes regions with awful names like Subtroit, Chitaly and Ruscago.

Most of your time with this game will be spent driving around a dull, grey and concrete-filled open world and its poorly laid out streets. You’ll drive from one point to another, to activate markers that signify different types of events. Approximately 45 are story-based, while the rest are miscellaneous challenges that run the gamut of available types.

You’ll find traditional circuit races, wherein several bikers compete to be the first person to cross the designated finish line after completing a set amount of laps. They’re complemented (for lack of a better term) by two different types of time trials, one of which simply gives you a limited amount of time to make it to a couple of different checkpoints on the map, with no course suggestions whatsoever. Then there’s the knockout challenges, which asks the player to knock six to ten opponents off of their bikes within a short window of time. There are also assassination ‘missions’ wherein one must locate targets and ‘murder’ them by hitting them with a weapon.

That’s not all though, as Road Rage also features arcade events, which are very much like time trials in that one must fight a ticking clock as he or she races through upwards of 40 or more gates. There are also Trick challenges, if you can call them that.

For some reason, the folks at Team 6 Studios, which developed this game for Maximum, decided that motorcycle assassinations and combative racing were not enough for their Road Rash rip-off, thus, trick events were born. They needn’t have ever been crafted though, because they’re not only terrible but frustrating to boot.

Don’t think of these tricks as being of the Superman or heel clicker variety, or even a simple front or back flip. No, this racer’s idea of tricks is much lamer than those. As such, these events will task you with pulling wheelies, experiencing near misses with computer-controlled traffic, and getting some airtime. This would be okay if the controls weren’t crap and the time limits weren’t so tight, but that’s not the case. It’s easy to wheelie and knock that part out, but it can sometimes be difficult to find enough cars to barely miss colliding with, and even more difficult to find and line-up jumps. While the latter are shown on the mini-map, their icons don’t tell you which direction they’re facing, and they can often be few and far between.

To add even more frustration, you’ll always be fighting the controls too, not to mention the game’s hilarious physics and random frame rate fluctuations. Each of the several unlockable bikes tends to control like a tank, with poor brakes and floaty maneuvering to boot. It’s hard to actually make the turns you aim to, making avoiding explosive crashes hard at times. It doesn’t help that Road Rage’s physics are all over the place, or that you’ll never know what will happen when you crash. Often, your bike will explode, but there’ll be times where it won’t and it’ll be like nothing ever happened. The frame rate will also sometimes harm your cause, as it can result in your bike hopping around the screen for no reason whatsoever.

Of course this is a combat racer, meaning that one’s goal is to hurt and almost murder the opposition. With that being the case, you’d think that the combat controls would be great, and that hitting another racer would be as simple as pressing a button. Well, if you think that then you’re overestimating this game. Although Road Rage has LOTS of weapons, and even gives you two buttons to attack with (one being for the left side and the other for the right), its ‘attacks’ are disgustingly sluggish and difficult to line up.

When I first started playing the game I was able to swing my weapon without much trouble, but as I progressed it felt like I was trying to swing a bag of bowling balls, what with how slow and cumbersome the animation is. There were countless times where I lined myself up with another racer, pressed one of the attack buttons and then saw nothing happen. That is, nothing on my end. The opponent usually takes a nice, quick and sharp swipe at my avatar, which either sends her flying or makes her bike burst into flames.

In sharp contrast to what the developers intended, I actually found myself trying to avoid other racers unless I absolutely had to attack them (e.g. during knockout events). I never looked forward to those as a result, because they were far too difficult, due to the controls’ sluggishness. I’d try to line up a good hit, then be beaten to the punch by an opponent and sent flying. Matters weren’t helped by the unjustifiably constrictive time limits, which hardly gave enough time to catch up to, let alone perfectly hit 6 to 10 others.

More often than not though, glitches ended up aiding my cause during these engagements. For example, I’d be sitting at one knockout, when all of a sudden the counter would jump to six. Why, I don’t know. Perhaps it was giving me credit for almost every time the AI crashed and killed itself, or was rewarding me for touching them lightly before they did so. All I know is that I didn’t instantaneously hit several enemies with my weapon, nor was I close to anywhere near that many at those times.

Normally my conscience gets the better of me when a game glitches and unjustly rewards me. If it’s not too much trouble, I’ll often reload the checkpoint and do things properly. This was never going to be one of those cases though, because I knew that if I didn’t take advantage of what this ‘experience’ was gifting me with, I’d end up having to retry the events over and over again, while attempting to get enough knockouts within their terribly short two-and-a-half to three minute time limits.

Of course, as is the case with other games like it, Road Rage features an unlock system that rewards both success and progression with new bikes and additional avatars. This sounds good on paper, but bikes unlock out of order and I was never sure if I should risk putting a lot of money into upgrades for one when many events required a specific ride. Some, you see, want said bike with zero upgrades, while others want it with 5 upgrades. Then, another story event would ask me to buy and use a completely different bike.

Achievements are awarded for spending $1000, $5000 and $10,000, which is funny given that one upgrade costs at least a thousand bucks and getting to the ten thousand mark takes seconds. After just the first couple of story events, I had close to $25,000 in the bank and blew through a lot of it pretty quickly. There’s lots to buy though, as each bike has many upgrades, not to mention alternate looks and different paint jobs. Then there’s the weapons, of which there are tons, and almost all of them must be unlocked by completing specific story missions, as is the case with the rides themselves.

Now, let’s get back to that story, because it’s important to mention how it’s told. You see, while there is voice acting to be found, cutscenes are absent here. How is the story told then? Through text of course! Tons and tons of poorly written text, which include the f-word but only in censored fashion. Why, I don’t know, because every time f@*! appears in text, the voice actors say it without hesitation.

The voice actors sound like they had better things to do, like important appointments they were worried that they wouldn’t make or something like that. Perhaps the developers just found them on Craigslist. Regardless, very little effort or emotion was put into any of the spoken dialogue, making the game’s poorly written characters even more wooden and stereotypical than they already were. Hell, there’s even a guy who does a terrible Arnold Schwarzenegger impression, because every game needs one of those.

Visually, Road Rage doesn’t fair much better. With graphics that resemble that of an up-rezzed PS2 game and animations that are as wooden as some of its dialogue, the game fires on very few cylinders in this department. An uneven and randomly problematic frame rate doesn’t help things, nor does the developer’s love of slow motion, which is employed often. Transitions into and out of races are also jarring, because races tend to use ugly fog filters that make everything look dark and muddy, and they’re miraculously removed once the checkered flag has been waved.

I should also mention the civilians, who can be seen walking around the city. In addition to earning achievements for winning races, spending money, and customizing your bike, you’ll also earn them for hitting MANY innocent people. Not with your bike, of course, but with your weapon, which results in super slow motion every time it occurs. Since getting the full 1000G requires one to hit and kill one thousand civilians, it's a very arduous and tedious ask.

I hate being so negative about a game, but simply put, Road Rage is a mess on all fronts. Not only is it hard on the eyes and ears, it’s also unnecessarily frustrating and cumbersome to play. There are no real redeeming qualities to be found here, in what would be a very forgettable game if it weren’t so damned poor.

Overall: 2.0 / 10
Gameplay: 2.0 / 10
Visuals: 2.2 / 10
Sound: 1.7 / 10


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