Friday, 10 October 2014

Whiskey Previews: Road Rash... Uh Redemption.

Platform: PC
Release Date: 18 September 2014 (Early Access)
Developer: Dark Seas Interactive, The Fisch Brothers, Pixel Dash Studios, Fish Factory Games
Publisher: Dark Seas Interactive, The Fisch Brothers, Pixel Dash Studios
Where to get it: Steam
Price: £14.99

Road Rash was a classic motorcycle combat game from the heated 16-bit era that sadly fizzled out with a mediocre Playstation game and slipped from the public eye to snuff it while huffing gasoline fumes in a gutter. But like any much loved series it eventually comes back around, Electronic Art's 'leaked' pre-alpha footage rekindled interest in the series but again ultimately died before coming to fruition.

Thankfully we have a savior; Road Redemption is here to clobber your senses with a bit of pipe at a hundred miles an hour and it doesn't miss the mark.

Being the spiritual successor to Road Rash is simultaneously a big thing to live up to and ridiculously simple. You need a road, turns are optional. You need bikes and riders and you need something for them to smack each other around the chops with. But you also have a small but starved community to satisfy and a legacy that roared out of the gate with the very first entry.

Even in this early access build I can confirm that Road Redemption has roads, bikes, riders and various objects intended to meet the face of anyone in arms reach. The developers have also taken a bold step forward by mixing up the formula with two forms of progression through the campaign (whether these progression options will carry to other modes of play remains to be seen); there's an RPG-like skill tree that you spend XP on to unlock more health, faster bikes, more shop options, etc.

There's also a shop between races where you use cash accumulated in the race to buy various buffs or modifiers that last until you die. Thanks to the randomly selected race types and objectives through the campaign each play is unique despite the strong urge to gravitate towards certain shop items such as extra lives and more health/XP.

The shop, they sell steak and burgers.
I'm not sure how much of the graphics and sounds are complete or placeholder at the moment so it's hard to comment with any accuracy on their final level of quality. The graphics aren't bad though, they're nicely detailed and the speed of the game helps to smooth over any rough edges though some more detail and effects would help to spice up the somewhat dull feeling crashes between bikes and cars right now.
These issues could perhaps be helped with more dust and particle effects, or more detailed damage models on the cars - not asking for soft-body physics or anything here but when you hit a car head on and get catapulted over the bonnet while it just stops dead on the road without any visible damage it completely pulls you out of the experience and reminds you that this is an early access game.

You'll likely access this pretty early.
Sound effects are quite basic but not bad in quality either, you won't be reaching for the mute button but aren't going to be calling Rolling Stone to nominate the soundtrack for an award. Weapons making contact have various thunks and slashes that are satisfying enough especially when your opponent and bike separate from the impact.

The addition of guns to the formula is another contentious point; with keyboard and mouse controls the guns are incredibly powerful thanks to the ability to aim and fire with the mouse but suffer when using a pad due to the split focus inherent with using the right analogue stick to look around.

The guns also sound and feel a bit flat, often kills on cars or other bikers are announced with some floating numbers and a message on the side of the screen and so they can feel both useful and dull at the same time. Again this is a problem that may be solved as development progresses and could easily be countered by introducing reloads, some kind of lock on mechanic for pad users and a few better effects such as dropping the weapon when it's empty, or discarding empty magazines to clatter along the road upon reloading.
Fingers crossed.

Not a gun but there is smoke. Gunsmoke, geddit? I'll let myself out.
Despite the slight hiccup in controls when aiming guns both the keyboard and gamepad controls are responsive and usable though the keyboard commands cannot be rebound at the moment (though that feature is apparently coming) which may cause some issues for players who can't get their head or fingers around the default controls.
The gamepad on the other hand feels like the best way to play the game in terms of driving and attacking, the Xbox 360 pad was responsive and accurate with a comfortable control layout that mimics the standard style driving controls for most other games so Road Redemption is mostly pick up and play for any gamer with even passing experience with the driving genre.

Race objectives vary from simple races to defeating a number of opponents with or without weapons with a bunch of variants between - antagonizing the cops, taking out opponents without using weapons, time trials and so forth. 

Through the 10+ mission campaign these objectives often repeat but the three different course types (desert, snow and rooftops) offer some variety which is augmented by various patterns of traffic, additional racers in cars and humvees instead of bikes and a stormcloud that rains various vehicles down on the track.

An axe, wrench and pipe walk into a bar.
Also included are two attachments that are supplied to you at certain points throughout the campaign; the first is a jetpack attached to the bike allowing you to perform a spectacular rocket assisted jump whenever you like which can get you out of a jam in even the direst of circumstances.
The second attachment is a kind of harpoon gun that keeps a rope attached between your rider and whatever object you spear. This can be used to hook onto cars, riders, terrain or even more spectacularly helicopters for a Spiderman like swing through the air that you'd be hard pressed not to augment with the jet pack. This weapon also comes with about twelve-thousand rounds so you can fire it off to your heart's content.
Sadly the usefulness of this weapon is limited due to the aforementioned aiming/driving issues with a gamepad.

I dropped a log. Poop joke HO!
Overall Road Redemption is a satisfying and worthy Road Rash successor and has enough ideas of its own to not be a cheap cash in or clone. If the developers can apply the polish and get a larger variety of environments and perhaps even bikes or customization options implemented the game's appeal could skyrocket to include even those who don't fondly remember the mid-'90s highway punch-up.
Another issue the developers will have to address is longevity - multiplayer features (also coming in a later build) will go a long way so long as the community embraces the game but an expanded single player campaign and progression tree would really go the extra mile instead of feeling like a moderately lengthy detour.
Some other small touches such as rider and cop names, I took down Terry Pratchett at one point, and a spectacular final level in the campaign to reward persistent players lend the game a lot of incidental charm too.

Score: 7 out of 10 bikers pretend carpet burn is road rash.

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