Grand Theft Auto 3, and its expansions were some of the most influential titles in gaming. Many titles have come out over the years trying to ride the series’ coattails. Some titles have actually tried to dethrone it. Outside of the Saints Row series, few ever came close. But there were other titles that simply took some of GTA 3’s better elements, and implemented them into entirely different experiences. Roadkill is one such game.
PROS: The best elements of car combat games, and open world adventures. Humor.
CONS: A very threadbare multiplayer mode. Nothing is done on foot.
MORE COWBELL: Remember that SNL skit from 2000? You’ll be reminded of it often.
Roadkill is truly an underrated gem you should buy if you collect old games. It’s an experiment in merging the open world play of GTA3, with the exhilarating car combat of the Twisted Metal series. Throughout the campaign you’ll drive all over a pretty large map, going on missions, heading to shops, or even just goofing around. In many ways you’ll feel like you’re playing a GTA game. Except that you’ll be in a car the entire time. You’ll never step foot outside of your vehicle the entire game. Aside from FMV cut scenes.
The game opens up with an FMV of your character driving through a wasteland to the tune of Don’t Fear The Reaper, by Blue Oyster Cult. Which will remind almost everyone of Christopher Walken exclaiming “I’ve got to have more cowbell!”. The song is played a lot throughout the game, so much so that you’ll probably need a month long break from hearing it upon completing it. The set up is that the world has been through an apocalypse. A disease has wiped out large swaths of the human population. In true Mad Max fashion, different clans of renegade gangs have all risen to power. Each laying claim to different parts of the world.
You play as Mason Strong. Yes, your character is named like a mid 1990’s Cinemax movie protagonist. But once you get over the cheesy moniker, the game begins to pick up the pace pretty quickly. You’ll end up joining one of the gangs to rise through the ranks, and fight your way to the top. All so you can take down one of your age old rivals. You start this quest by going on missions. Some of these move the story along, while others are side quests that can get you new vehicles, and upgrades. Many of the missions consist of the typical objectives you’d expect. Sometimes you’ll be told to blow up a certain target. Or win a specific race. Or get to a certain place within a designated amount of time. Roadkill employs a GPS mini map like its contemporaries as well.
As you play you’re going to find there is a pretty wide variety of weapons you can get for your vehicle. Machine guns, rockets, missiles, mines, sniper rifles, and more. Many of them have both primary, and alternate firing modes.Your car also has different stats that can be levelled up by three grades. Defensive armor, handling, speed, are among them. You can find the majority of these in the various shops in the game.
You can also choose to goof around, and run over pedestrians at your leisure. Or explore the town of Lava Falls, at your own pace. Doing this might even be preferable sometimes, as some items, and upgrades are hidden throughout the world. Some of which can actually help you a lot much later in the game. But exploring also has the risk of running into enemy gangs. Which can get very hectic as you can quickly become outnumbered. The good news is that this ties into Roadkill’s reputation system. The more of these fights you win, the more likely it is that other people will join your cause. Get a big enough reputation, and you’ll have priority in the area.
There are three main cities you’ll venture through in the campaign. Each with its own unique style, and theme. The first is Lava Falls, a city built on a dormant volcano. The second is Blister Canyon. This area is a city built in desert canyons. Finally, there’s Paradise City which is a bustling metropolis.The mission difficulty increases as you unlock these areas. Doing so is similar to Grand Theft Auto 3’s system. Where getting enough experience will open up the road ways between cities. You can also go back to previous regions to look for items you may have missed, or to play earlier missions you may have skipped.
This might not sound very original, and admittedly it isn’t. But Roadkill’s take on these open world tropes are a good time. Especially the driving, and shooting. Which they should be. Roadkill is inspired by car combat games like Twisted Metal, Vigilante 8, and Interstate 76. So when you run into enemy gangs, they too will be driving around in battle cars. Fortunately driving around the world is a lot of fun thanks to some pretty nice steering controls. Driving feels much tighter, and precise than in other open world games. Yet you’ll still be able to go E-braking for quick turn around time, or power slides. The hit detection is pretty solid, and the gun play is satisfying. The cars also have some pretty cool damage modeling.
Obviously, being an older game it isn’t going to wow you after playing the most recent GTA, or Saints Row. But it’s still pretty great. Doors, bumpers, hoods, and other body parts go flying off of vehicles in firefights. Cars, and trucks catch fire. Seeing as how you spend the entire game in a car, these are also visual cues for health beyond your health meter. You can see when you’re doing well. You can see when you’re pretty screwed.
Graphically the game keeps pace with most open world games of the era. Geometry is about as complex as in GTA3. Buildings will look pretty simple by today’s standards when revisiting it. But it isn’t any worse looking than the lion’s share of AAA games from the time. The textures are generally pretty good, and some of them even hold up decently. There is a short draw distance however in all three versions of the game. So expect to see some pop in. None of the versions really come out a decisive victor in this regard. The Gamecube, and Xbox versions have a hair better performance over the PlayStation 2 version. But the difference is so minimal you would have to really go out of your way to notice it. There’s virtually no difference here.
Audio really shines here though. The game has some of the most entertaining voice acting of its time. There are even a few names you might recognize like Dameon Clarke (of Dragonball Z, and Borderlands 2 fame) or Laura Bailey (Bioshock Infinite). Some of the funniest stuff here are the radio station voiceovers. These segments lampoon not only talk shows, but news segments, and relationship advice shows too. The relationship advice show parody is by far the funniest one. On top of that, the lines in the story, as well as the random pedestrian NPC’s dialogue are delivered fantastically. If you’re the type who pays attention to small details, Roadkill will make you laugh. Listening to the stations is also a great way to learn more of the game’s lore. Show hosts will often reference the outbreak that threw the world into chaos, or discuss events that involve the characters your working for or against.
The game also boasts a classic rock soundtrack. It does have a pretty good song selection for what is there. Unfortunately there are still far too few songs to carry you through the campaign. As I said before, by the time the end credits roll, you’ll want a month long break from Don’t Fear The Reaper. But the other tunes will also get old fast. Which is too bad because they are classics. The upside is it does give you an incentive to listen to the voice acting performances, which again, are pretty well done.
When you finally do complete the campaign, there is a multiplayer mode you can play. Up to four players can join in split screen death matches. Regrettably, there isn’t very much to experience here. The mechanics are there, but there isn’t enough content to compete with the games that inspired it. The mode plays almost exactly like Twisted Metal. Drive around, racking up frags. Simple. While this might be fun initially, it won’t take long to run through the 11 maps. Which are repurposed assets from the campaign. There are a fair number of interesting vehicles for you to use. But again, If you’re coming into this game for the multiplayer, you’re really better off sticking with a multiplayer focused car combat game instead. Roadkill’s take on it is fun, but brief. Which is the most disappointing thing about it since it feels like a missed opportunity for an otherwise great game.
Earlier I said Roadkill is an underrated gem. It really is in spite of its shortcomings. The single player campaign is great. You can spend a long time tracking down every last vehicle, and upgrade. That’s in addition to the meaty campaign. The multiplayer may only be a touch it once experience, but aside from that, and some draw distance pop in there isn’t much to complain about. Roadkill is a fun ride, and at least at the time of this writing is a relatively inexpensive game. If you’re looking for something familiar, and yet somehow unique to add to your collection pick it up.
Final Score: 7.5 out of 10