Mega Drive classic Road Rash is reimagined for the modern era, but is it too old school or not enough?
Road Rash is such a 90s video game. Itd be wrong to say any idea is too old to be revamped, not when people are still successfully updating games as ancient as Space Invaders and Pac-Man, but some concepts are clearly a product of their time. The original Road Rash was a very simplistic racing game, with one unique feature: you could punch people as you rode past them. Thats really all there was to it though, which doesnt leave much for a modern counterpart to build upon.
Original publisher EA realised all this a long time ago, which is why there hasnt been a new game in over a decade. But recently indie developers have been falling over themselves trying to create a modern-day equivalent. Road Redemption is probably the highest profile, and after an initial release last year on PC its finally available on consoles.
You certainly cant criticise the game for its lack of enthusiasm or affection for the original. It also makes what efforts it can to expand the scope of the concept beyond its one note origins, making it seem at times like a sort of super violent Mario Kart. Its clearly been made on a shoestring budget but the scruffy, unrefined presentation seem strangely appropriate; even if that charm doesnt last for long.
The best thing about Road Redemption is the fighting. When pulling up alongside an opponent the game automatically matches your speed, and while the simple punches and kicks are as straightforward as they sound theres a huge variety of extra weapons to pick up, from the traditional chains and lead pipes to swords, snooker cues, and shovels. Picking up a new weapon always brings with it an evil little giggle, and youre rarely disappointed when you get to use it on the next rider.
The addition of a parry move adds a much-needed layer of depth to the combat, as does the ability to perform critical hits and the wide range of guns you can also wield. Road Redemptions violence is very much in the style of Mortal Kombat, and impossible to take seriously. So while you can attach timed explosives to pursuing police cars we can assure you its all handled in the best (worst) possible taste. Road Redemption is cheesy and silly and it knows it, and that at the very least is refreshing.
Its a shame then that the handling model for the bikes remains so simplistic, and barely any more nuanced than the Mega Drive original. No matter what bike you choose theres no real sense of weight or connection with the road surface. We assume this is at least partially intentional, in order to try and maintain an old school feel, but its absolutely the worst thing to be keeping from the original.
The other major problem with the game is that theres so little to it. Not in a philosophical sense, but simply in terms of content. Theres 16 tracks but they all look and work more or less the same and the bland backdrops and locations (literally just desert, mountain, and city) are as horribly unexciting as the tiny collection of different opponents. This is made even worse by the dreary colour scheme and low-tech visuals, that are at least a decade behind modern standards.
All this conspires to make the online and four-player splitscreen a lot less entertaining than you might imagine. Fighting human drivers is never as satisfying as the more accommodating computer opponents, and that puts a burden on the racing element that the game cannot bear. The splitscreen mode is particularly bad, because it makes the already murky graphics even more indistinct.
Surprisingly though the main single-player mode is a lot more engaging, as it works very much like a roguelike. That means if you wipe out thats it and you have to start again from scratch. Or not, if you bank your experience points and unlock a skill tree with permeant upgrades. With extra objectives to look out for as you race its telling that that the one aspect of the game thats least like the original is the most fun.
Perhaps the Road Rash formula can be updated and renewed for the modern day, but Road Redemption is far from convincing proof of that. Bad graphics and cheap presentation are one thing, but the lack of variety and terrible racing model are such serious faults they cannot be ignored. Itd be rash to ignore the games more positive achievements though, and that at least leaves some hope for the future.
In Short: A deeply flawed attempt to revive Road Rash, that gets the fighting right but crashes out when it comes to the racing and graphics.
Pros: The combat is well thought out, with just the right level of complexity and some brutally enjoyable weapons. Roguelike single-player mode works very well.
Cons: The bike handling is awful and is neither realistic nor a fun arcade alternative. Very repetitive with dour, indistinct graphics that make multiplayer a chore.
Formats: PlayStation 4 (reviewed), Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, and PC
Developer: Pixel Dash Studios and EQ-Games
Release Date: 6th November 2018
Age Rating: 18