Tag Archives: Racing

Road Redemption Review

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Often times it seems there are a number of massive franchises, that suddenly go dormant. No warning, no announcement. It’s just decided that there will not be another entry in a given line up, and it slowly fades away. Sometimes even becoming relatively obscure. Sure, it’s unlikely anyone will forget about Half-Life in the not too distant future. But how about Mail Order Monsters? On that note, Electronic Arts actually has several franchises, and IPs they seem to have forgotten about. One of which is Road Rash.

PROS: Everything great about Road Rash 64. Rogue like elements used very effectively.

CONS: Dated visuals. Minor bugs.

EASTER EGG: There is a really great surprise for people who complete the campaign.

Road Rash was a long running arcade style racing game. In it you drove motorcycles, and attacked all of the opposing racers in the hopes you could take them out of commission. This made races a little bit more manageable as taking out competitors made it more likely you’d place. But there was still a great challenge in juggling attacking, defending, and watching the road. The series started on the Sega Genesis, but would appear on Windows, the 3D0, Saturn, PlayStation, Nintendo 64, and Game Boy Advance.

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The last game came out in 2003. So with that in mind, Ian Fisch, Pixel Dash Studios, and EQ Games began work on a spiritual successor. Road Redemption takes a lot of the elements of Road Rash, and retrofits them with some contemporary features. Interestingly, the game seems to take a lot of cues from Road Rash 64, the one game in the series EA licensed out entirely to another developer (Pacific Coast Power & Light), and publisher (THQ).

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Road Redemption was also an Early Access game for a few years, first landing on Steam’s Early Access service back in 2014. It went through many updates, and was pushed back a number of times before finally seeing release (as of this writing) a few days ago on October 4th 2017 when I bought it.

With the long development cycle, one wouldn’t be faulted for thinking the game could end up like the nefarious Ride To Hell. The game’s graphics might not inspire much confidence in some people either. They’re not terrible. But in an age where even many indie games are blowing people away (most recently, Cuphead), Road Redemption squeezes by. A lot of the geometry on display looks simple, yet the textures on much of that geometry is pretty good. It also has some respectable lighting effects going on. All in all, it kind of reminds me of an early Xbox 360 game in terms of looks.

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That isn’t to say there isn’t anything fun, or cool to look at though. Character designs are really engrossing. The racers take influence from all kinds of stuff. Mad Max almost immediately comes to mind when you first start playing. A lot of the bikers you see in the earlier parts of the game could have come out of the movies with a lot of the post apocalyptic motif in their costumes. You drive a lot in the desert in the early goings too, so this lends itself to that influence. But as you progress you’ll race along abandoned roof tops, mountains in a nuclear winter, and even completely obliterated cityscapes. The visuals may not hold up to things like Project Cars, or Forza Motorsport 7. But there is a lot of variety.

In many ways the game reminds me a lot of Road Rash 64. That game was also behind the curve in how it looked against other games on its respective platform. That game also had floaty, arcade handling, and so does Road Redemption. Again, the handling on the bikes isn’t going to be tight, and grounded. You have a gas pedal, an e-brake, and a jump button you can use with a certain power up. Combat works almost exactly the same as in Road Rash. You have a left punch, right punch, and a kick. You can also cycle between your weapons using the D-pad.

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Road Redemption does make a number of contemporary revisions to the game play though. The first, and most obvious one is the inclusion of Rogue like elements. The game takes a page from things like Rogue Stormers, Risk Of Rain, and Rogue Legacy. You’ll have one life to clear the campaign. In between races you can buy power ups for your character, and motorcycle like in the Road Rash games. But you’ll also get experience points to spend on permanent perks when you lose.

The storyline in Road Redemption loosely keeps the order of the scenery together. The Apocalypse has come, and gone. There is an assassin with a bounty on his head, and as a member of the Jackals, you have to go find him, kill him, and collect the money. To do this you’ll go through a series of races, each set of which are divided by gang territory. The first few races are in the desert where you’ll go up against the Reapers. Then onto rooftops, and mountains against the Sigmas. Then in dilapidated, war-torn cities against the Phantoms. There are a number of different track sections that can come up in any given race, and win conditions. Sometimes you’ll be told to get to the end before a timer runs out. Other times you’ll be told to kill a certain number of specific drivers. Still other times you’re just told to place in the top three of a race. As I alluded to before, in between the races you’ll use money to spend on items for that specific play through, and gain experience to spend on permanent items for repeat attempts after you lose. These items can be new bikes, level skips, or just things to help boost your starting stats.

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At the end of each gang territory, you’ll have to kill a gang leader in a boss fight. They’re not usually too difficult on their own. But the bosses call in many of their henchmen to kill you. When you catch up to the boss, you’ll probably be pretty softened up. Fortunately this game really expands on the weapon selection here. You’ll have the stuff you’ve come to expect. Pipes, wrenches, shovels, pool cues, and such. But they’ve also added swords, clubs, and other melee weapons, along with explosives. They’ve even added a variety of guns into the mix. When I first saw guns, and explosives I couldn’t help but wonder if things would feel too different from everything else they seemed to be going for. But they don’t. It feels like an extension. Guns especially, are balanced out by ensuring your target has to be in the reticule to be hit. Plus they have to be within a certain range. You can’t shoot blindly, and kill five riders a mile down the road from you. Also if you get too close, you’ll fire over their heads. Something handy to keep in mind for those boss fights. You’ll also feel like a T-800 when rocking a shotgun.

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Also handy is the nitro boosting. You’ll want to double tap the gas Cruisin’ USA style to engage it on straightaways. One really neat thing the game does is placing icons over the heads of certain characters. You’ll have the targets for well, targets on those specific missions. You’ll have a boss icon over the boss in boss stages too. But in every stage, you’ll run into some enemies with health logos, dollar signs, and nitro cans. Killing these enemies will get you the respective reward. You’ll also get short amounts of nitro, and sometimes weapons by killing any bad guys. Some enemies will have pipe bombs over their heads, which just reveals that they’re the ones randomly dropping explosives. All of this gives you all the more reason to take out other drivers.

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The results are a very fun, if sometimes frustrating campaign. It’s a blast jumping off of a ramp, sticking C4 to an enemy mid-air, and speeding by while they explode. The minor track changes, and randomized items, and objectives also helps keep the game from feeling too repetitive when you lose, and have to start over. A ton of games are borrowing these elements with varying results. But Road Redemption is one of the better games when implementing them. The campaign also features old school four-player split-screen play. This makes the game an excellent party game like the Road Rash games were. And even the crashes are great. When you get too focused on taking down another racer, and get hit by a car because you weren’t paying attention you’ll laugh. Why? Because the physics in the game allow for some really over the top scenes. When your racer flies off of his bike 500 feet in the air, then gets hit by an armored truck on his way down, and has actual health left you won’t believe it.  Witnessing the crazy wipe outs, decapitation, and pile ups alone is worth looking into. The game’s audio goes a long way toward making it come together. The sounds of dueling melee during combat, car horns, motors, all going on while a thumping metal soundtrack plays. It all melds nicely.

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Of course Road Redemption isn’t all roses. There are a number of strange bugs I’ve run into. I’ve had my racer crash into things, and get stuck instead of exploding, and falling headfirst onto the asphalt. When this happens I’m forced to go into the pause menu, and select the option to put my character back on the road. Which is another annoyance. One wonders why this couldn’t be mapped to another button on the keyboard or controller. Other times I’ve clipped through objects that should have been solid. Like the giant antennae on a rooftop during a race. Then there are the occasions where some of the craziness leads to a cheap death. Like the time the “Demolished cars fall from the heavens because you’re hallucinating” condition loaded, and without warning, a blown up taxi landed on me mid-jump. This got me a Game Over screen right as I was about to win the race.

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The only other issue really is the online multiplayer. It isn’t bad, but it is anemic. You can only really play a team mode. So when you, and friends go to play, you’ll likely be placed on opposite teams. Because of there only being the one mode, and the lack of an offline LAN mode things can become mundane quickly.  So if you’re coming into this game solely for online multiplayer you may want to reconsider it.

But for the campaign, and local co-op split-screen multiplayer, this is a solid choice. If you happen to have the computer hooked up to the TV in the living room, or you own a Steam Link device to stream the signal to the TV you’ll love playing this game in a living room environment. It’s a lot of fun to play. And that’s really what makes it a solid recommendation. The problems it does have are annoying when they happen. But they don’t come up chronically, and plague the experience. Most of the time the game runs the way its supposed to, and aside from having to pause to reset your character you’re probably going to be fine. Considering how much fun you’ll have the other 98% of the time, Road Redemption is definitely worth looking into.

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Plus there are a lot of cool secrets, and characters in it as well. Unlocking them means beating the game multiple times. Beyond that, when you do beat the game, you’ll unlock a mode called Campaign Plus. This mode is a harder version of the campaign where the tracks are even more randomized, and enemies are tougher to take down. Beating this mode a number of times will unlock even more things.

 

With all of the content, and local co-op on hand, Road Redemption succeeds in its mission to bring back motorcycle combat racing. The contemporary additions are done well, and I can’t emphasize just how entertaining it really is. It isn’t the best looking game you’ll play this year. It’s a bit rough around the edges. But if you miss Road Rash, or just want to play something that fully commits to post-apocalyptic B action movie cheese, pick this one up. It’s simply a joy to enjoy.

Final Score: 8 out of 10

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Carmageddon: Max Damage Review

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Ah Carmageddon. It probably seems esoteric now, but twenty years ago (man time files, and boy am I old.) it was a pretty big deal. It was a racer that involved wrecking other cars, wanton destruction, and the wholesale vehicular manslaughter of pedestrians. It caught the ire of the same people upset about the absurd violence of games like DOOM, and Mortal Kombat. So when it was ported to consoles, in some regions it was heavily censored. The game led to two sequels. One was a pretty decent one. The other not so much. So here we are with the fourth game all of these years later. How does it fare?

PROS: Still has gory comedic violence. Fun tracks, and vehicles.

CONS: Not a big visual leap over the old games. No improvements to handling.

WHAT?: Power ups are crazy.

I enjoyed the original Carmageddon back in the day. The sequel was also pretty fun. It was juvenile. It was full of stupid humor. But there was a certain amount of charm in it all. Running over pedestrians for time bonuses, destroying opponents to steal their car, all on dangerous, and silly themed races. There were issues with the games like the inconsistent enemy A.I., and the bad handling causing you to spin out fairly easily. But the underlying game under it all was still goofy fun. Visually these games weren’t much to look at, the car models were blocky, and the pedestrians were even more lo-fi. But that made the mayhem more comedic so you didn’t mind so much.

And the audio, man, was it good. The voice samples, and dialogue went along with it fantastically. Plus it had a pretty cool soundtrack. It was pretty good. But the third game changed things up a bit too much for some, and not nearly enough for others. Plus it didn’t come out in the best state from what I remember. It kind of came, and quietly went. Carmageddon went dormant for a long time.

Over that time,  Interplay, the game’s publisher went into all kinds of financial woes, and the IP ended up at Square Enix. Stainless Games would finally get the IP back in their hands, and upon doing so, brought out the fourth game in the series. First as Carmageddon: Reincarnation, and now that it’s got a console port it’s been retitled Carmageddon: Max Damage. So after all of these years, and all of this time, how does this new game hold up?

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It’s a bit of a mixed bag. Visually, the game does look better than the first three games. But not by very much. This version has some advanced lighting effects, and some other visual cues. But the vehicles themselves are still fairly low on the details, and the pedestrians are still blocky people you’ve been smearing over the pavement since Carmageddon II.  The PC version does feature a robust set of options, so if it taxes your hardware, you can lower some settings. The sound is the same sort of scenario. The sound quality is a bit better than the old games. It doesn’t sound as compressed, and there’s still a hard rock soundtrack to jam along to while destroying other drivers.

Carmageddon: Max Damage also follows the same rules as the second game. You start out picking one of two vehicles, and racing sets of events to unlock new ones. Each set generally has three or more events you need to win in order to get a stamp of approval. Win enough of them, and you’ll unlock the next set of events. You don’t have to play every event to unlock the next set, though it is recommended because you’re more likely to unlock every set that way.

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During the events you can also find tokens that can be spent on upgrades for your vehicle. You definitely need to upgrade your vehicle because later races feature more aggressive opponents who will destroy you pretty quickly if you’re unprepared. To keep yourself from being destroyed, you must keep up scoring points. You get points (and time) for running over people, doing crazy stunts, and blowing up racers.

There are several event types in each set. Some of these are a traditional race, where you need to place first to advance. Others are challenges where you have to get to a certain number of checkpoints first, or kill a number of specific people first. Often times there will be a specific opponent for you to destroy, and in doing so you get to keep their vehicle for your garage. And then the best are the classic events where you can go for whichever goal you want. Killing racers, running over people, or winning the race.

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During the events as you’re earning points doing all of those over-the-top things you’ll start getting rear ended. Or jammed into a wall. Or knocked off of a cliff. All of which start to severely damage your vehicle. The damages will affect how your car handles too. So if you get T-boned you may end up only being able to take left turns. Or you could bang up the front end to the point the car barely runs. You can even get into situations where the car’s engine is shot, and you have no tires.

This is why you need to earn points. You can use the points to fix your car on the fly, or recover your vehicle if it falls into a chasm. Now if you rack up an insane score, you can spend a large chunk of it to constantly keep your car in pristine condition. This makes the game considerably easier. But it still isn’t a cakewalk. Especially as you progress, and begin dealing with more, and more aggressive A.I. There are also Mario Kart styled power ups you can find by driving into oil drums. Some of these are useful, like the Sith Lord Force lightning that you can use to electrocute opponents. Others are just silly, and ultimately useless, like the one that makes you wobble.  Still there are others that are there to troll you, like the power up that blows your car in half, and could lead to a loss if an enemy hits you afterward.

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In between events you can spend the tokens you find on upgrades for your vehicles. These are drip fed to you through the game though because certain upgrades are only purchasable at certain levels. This gives the game some replay value as you can go back with a beefier car to play older events you’ve skipped. But at the same time it can be annoying when you’ve found 7 tokens, and can’t spend them on what you want even though you have enough currency.

The main problem with this one though, is the fact that it hasn’t improved the driving physics over the old games very much. Far too often you’ll find yourself spinning out after attempting to make a hard corner. Or you’ll find the rag doll physics when trying to roll your car over either don’t move enough, or move too much making getting yourself re-oriented an annoyance. It doesn’t make the game a bad one, but it is a big enough annoyance to take you out of the experience. It’s enough of a distraction, you may find yourself playing it in short bursts rather than several hours.

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This isn’t to say Carmageddon: Max Damage isn’t fun. As long as you enjoy dark humor, and cartoon violence it’s got a lot under the hood you’ll enjoy. One of the really cool things I’m glad to see has been retained is the replay feature. When you finish any event in the game you can go back, and re-watch it. As you’re watching it again, you can experiment with a ton of different camera settings. You can change the point of view, for different parts of the play back, you can fast forward, rewind or pause video. You can even take the HUD off if you want. This is also where you can get some laughs, as this is where you’re most likely to listen for the voice samples, and pay attention to the gore. Because when you’re trying to actually win a race you’re probably most focused on driving or other goals.

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The game also supports Mods you can get in the Steam Workshop on PC, and the game supports multiplayer. There isn’t much of an online play community here, but the ability to play the game with a friend does add some fun to the package. I like that this is a game that supports LAN though, so if you do have a few people coming over with laptops, you can do classic multiplayer through your home network.

Overall, Carmageddon Max Damage isn’t a bad game. But it isn’t something I’d tell you is a must-buy either. A big chunk of the package depends on your sense of humor. If you like dark, and violent comedy then you’ll get some laughs out of it, and it is competent in its modes. The thing is, it doesn’t excel at any one racing mode. If the mechanics had been vastly improved over the old games it would be worth a recommendation. But it really hasn’t. If you’re looking to add a technically sound arcade racer to your game collection, there are better options. But if you want something to make you laugh at a preposterous send-up of Death Race, you could easily do worse.

Final Score: 6 out of 10

Redout Review

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Futuristic racing games seem like a rare treat these days. True, Wipeout reappears on every Sony platform at some point to some fanfare. But the racing subgenre was once more packed with contenders. F-Zero, Extreme-G, even Star Wars Episode 1: Racer are looked at fondly by many, many people.  But beyond Wipeout, not too many other games have taken a stab at serving the fandom over the last decade. Fortunately there are signs that this might be changing. In 2015 Shin’en gave us Fast Racing NEO on the Wii U in the absence of Nintendo’s own F-Zero. Last year, a small outfit out of Italy published today’s subject. 34BigThings has given the world not only a game inspired by the two biggest franchises in the subgenre, they’ve made something on par.

PROS: Gorgeous! Insane sense of speed! Superb controls!

CONS: Some of the ships look derivative. High learning curve. Minor bugs.

VR: The game supports most major PC headsets.

Released in September of 2016, Redout was a pleasant surprise. It quietly appeared on Steam, and as more people discover it, it seems to generate a very positive reception. With good reason. Upon picking this up with the Steam wallet card I was gifted for Christmas, I too, have a positive reception. Redout is a game for anybody wistful for the days of those racers I mentioned earlier.

It should be mentioned, that while it takes inspiration from those old games, it also doesn’t play entirely like them. There are definitely elements that you will see upon firing it up, but it still retains its own identity. There are enough unique things here that F-Zero, and Wipeout fans will still need to practice, and learn these nuances. But don’t let that scare you off from checking this out. Because this game is a lot of fun to play.

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For starters, the game has an intense sense of speed. Especially if you tweak the options on your computer for the best possible performance. Redout is a very scalable game. It runs on Unreal Engine 4. While this means you can have a lot of visual effects going on a more powerful machine. It also gives you a great many options to tinker with. The graphic settings are pretty robust giving you several areas where you can tweak details. Resolution, texture quality, visual effects, and even frame rate capping is here. Personally, I would set your cap to unlimited, unless your specific machine tends to jump around a lot in terms of frame rate. And unless you really can’t deal with tearing, I recommend turning off V-Sync too. If only because the higher your frame rate, the better these kinds of games perform.

But no matter how you prefer to play, there are a wealth of options on hand here. The game also allows you to play it with a keyboard, and mouse set up, but honestly, you’ll really want a game pad. Once you start playing, it really becomes apparent it was designed with game pads in mind. I tested the game with both, an Xbox 360 controller, and the Steam controller. Both of which seemed to work just fine. There are several preset configurations for game pads in the option menu as well. You can try to play with a setup closer to F-Zero GX, where you can use the shoulder buttons to drift left or right. There’s also one geared more toward Wipeout enthusiasts too. But honestly, the game’s original layout seemed to work the best for me.

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You control steering with the left stick, and you can use the right stick to control your pitch, and yaw. You use the right trigger for gas, the left for braking, while the face buttons use items, boost, and change perspectives.

Redout has three modes. A career mode, a single race mode, and online multiplayer. The main attraction is the career mode. As going through the career you’ll eventually unlock vehicles, tracks, and some bonus content. The single race mode lets you choose a course you’ve unlocked, the race type, and you’re off to an exhibition match. Online multiplayer is also what it sounds like, playing online against other players, or your friends.

Going back to the career, the game will start off by having you select a vehicle. You’re given a small amount of money to select a ship. Redout has a wide variety of vehicles to choose from. It even takes a page from more realistic racers like Gran Turismo, or Forza by having different manufacturers of ships. Under each manufacturer are a few different class ships to choose from, and each manufacturer’s ships handle differently from their competitors’. One vendor may offer vehicles that are heavier, and can take a lot of punishment, while another offers high acceleration vehicles that don’t grip the track as well. Each of these is balanced pretty nicely against the opposing vehicles. It really boils down to your specific racing style. Over time you’ll earn enough in-game currency to buy them all.

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Once you’ve levelled up your pilot rating a few goal posts you can also equip power ups. The power ups in this game differ from other games in that they really don’t do much to damage, or destroy opponents. They’re designed to help you pilot your ship more effectively. There are several power ups, but you can only use two at any given time. These are divided between passive, and active items. One category is a line of power ups that is used automatically, while the other contains items you have to engage by pressing a button.

These items will improve your boost, slipstream, or handling. There aren’t any real offensive arsenal at play, save for one EMP weapon used to disable other racers’ power ups. Each of the items can also be upgraded four times, increasing their potency, and effectiveness during an appropriate race.

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I say appropriate, because there are a bevy of categories here, and not every one of these allows for their use. You can use them in standard races, which are what you might expect. A set number of laps, with a certain number of contestants. But then there are races called Pure races, which won’t allow you to use your power ups. Other than that handicap, you play the race as normal.Up from there are Elimination races. You’ve seen this in some other games, where the last place racer is kicked out every lap, until just one racer is left. In Redout, the last place racer also explodes for dramatic effect. It’s kind of like you’re Keanu Reeves in Speed, but you didn’t go nearly fast enough, and Dennis Hopper gets away with killing you scot-free.

Beyond those there are time-trials, and tournaments where you traditionally shoot for the fastest time possible, and do races in succession. But Redout doesn’t end there. The game has an Instagib mode! Normally the realm of First-Person Shooters, Instagib allows for no mistakes. If you hit anything, you die, and the race ends. Joining that mode is the Arena race. This applies the race rules you’ve seen in F-Zero X, and F-Zero GX to the game. In these races, there are no re-spawns. If you blow up, it’s over. The races go until you’re either the first place winner, or the only surviving pilot.

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Still not sated? How about Speed challenges, where not only do you have to be fast, you have to do specific tasks in the race? Or the Survival, and Last Man Standing matches that again, take away re-spawns from time trials, and pure races? The game also has a scoring race that scores you on how well you’ve done, and even what it calls a Boss race. In the Boss race, they tie together several tracks into one track, and expect you to shut down everyone else.

It is true that some of these races are similar to others with challenging tweaks. But at the end of the day, Redout still gives you a lot more variety in its campaign that a lot of high-profile racers do. Not only that but the racing on display here is fun, addictive, and is a joy to see in action. Over the course of the career mode you’ll discover new tracks, earn money for power ups, and new vehicles. As I mentioned before, there are different statistics for the various ships you’ll pilot. So depending on the track you’re on, and the kind of race you’ll be in, you need to handle each scenario differently. You may find for one type of event you want the zippier, lightest ship possible. But for another you might find you have a better time with something slower, and durable. Of course, you may just like one specific style for everything. But to entice you to experiment, throughout the career mode you’ll be offered endorsements.

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If you choose an endorsement you’ll have to use a specific car, set in a specific way. But if you win events under these conditions you can earn the car for a lot less in currency. If you lose though, or change vehicles, or settings, the contract gets voided. Now some of you might be concerned you’ll never see all of the content the game has to offer due to the time spent, needing to win to get ahead. Something that makes Redout approachable, is that you don’t have to be very good. You get points to spend in this game for almost anything. Even if you lose a race, you get points. Even if you re-do a race 23 times in a row, and lose every time until the 23rd, where you place third, you’ll get points.

You can then use the points on power ups, or vehicles to ease your burden. Obviously, if you do well you get a lot more money. But the money you get in a loss isn’t paltry either. It isn’t until much later that losing becomes a little bit of a grind. But the important thing, is it doesn’t feel like a grind at all. That being said, spend your money wisely. There’s nothing worse than spending all of your cash on a ship you think is going to win, only to find out it’s too high a rank for the event you’re having trouble with. Or that it isn’t the best option for S curves, and the track has several S curves. Redout forces you to research.

But we come to racing games, for the racing itself. Redout has impeccable racing. Make no mistake, it’s a very formidable game, but winning is achievable. I’m not particularly talented at racing games. But even I managed to get a first place medal on a handful of courses. The high sense of speed is something this game does exceptionally well. In fact, there were a few times on tracks where I caught air, and felt a mild chill as I nose-dived back onto the track. The implementation of plane controls with the second stick is also very clever. It does it a little bit more realistically than even Nintendo’s flagship series.

That’s really saying something. Because of just how on point F-Zero has generally been. But again, it also doesn’t handle like F-Zero. It may have a convention or two in similarity, but it’s still very different. One thing you really need to get a handle on is the drifting system, which uses the Yaw position to tilt your ship just right so you don’t run into the guard rails. The game can chastise you for mistakes. Hitting the guard rails makes you lose speed, and a ton of health. Changing your pitch isn’t only for jumping off of ramps. You’ll need to raise the nose off of the ground when headed into loops, or corkscrews too. Because otherwise your front end will grind into it, again, cutting your speed, and damaging your ship. The longer you can go without making mistakes, the more health you can recover. The game rewards you for doing better this way.

Over time, you do begin to improve as you memorize track layouts, and figure out just where that drift is going to be needed, or where you need to be positioned for that upcoming ramp. All while going at a breakneck pace. If you thought F-Zero GX, or Wipeout 2048 were fast (and they were), this game gets even faster. Especially if you’ve tweaked the game for performance over style.

But even if you prefer style. The game is still very brisk. It is also a really great looker. The screen shots, and videos don’t look nearly as good as it does in action. 34BigThings has gone with a simplified look, and yet the art style goes a long way to hiding the lower triangle counts. The result is something where you have the bright vibrancy of TRON, married with elements of both realistic, and animated features. You won’t have a lot of time to appreciate it while you’re racing. But when watching the camera pan over the track before a race it looks wonderful.

Musically, it’s really good too with the caveat you have to love electronica. Everything goes for a bouncy, soft, style of techno music. It is beautifully composed, it fits the driving well, and you can even buy the soundtrack separately to play in your actual car! Even though the synths used rarely, veer into sharpness they do run up tempo, and a fast beat to the music. Now, if you prefer other genres in rock, pop, or hip-hop you may find yourself turning off the music in the options menu, and playing something else. But, I would still recommend you at least give the soundtrack a try. Because it is really, really good.

Of course the sounds of the Twin Ion Engines, and collisions are on point here as well. Speaking of TIE Fighters, the game does sometimes wear its influences on its sleeve a bit too much. Just in the case of some of the ship designs. There are clearly pod racers in it, and you’ll see some elements of other Sci-Fi franchises in the ship designs. It’s the most noticeable with the pod racers though.

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Online races are an awesome time as well, when you can find them. As of now that’s the only major issue with Redout. Not a lot of people seem to be consistently hopping onto the multiplayer. Which is really sad, because when you do find some competition it is some of the most enjoyably cut throat experiences you can have. The net code seems solid, I rarely had any major lag when playing. The racing is just as brisk, and over the top in multiplayer as it is in the career mode. This is a game where the skills you gain in the single player, carries over to the multiplayer. Hopefully, over time the game can find a big enough audience who will give the online racing the love it deserves.

But even if that doesn’t happen, you can still host private games with your friends, and the amount of stuff to do on your own is still staggering. The wealth of single-player content will have you playing this game for a very long time. One thing everyone will especially love, is that A.I. racers don’t rubber band after the first class level. So it really does come down to your skills on the track. Even after you’ve unlocked everything, you’ll want to go back, and attempt to get gold medals on anything you haven’t. Plus 34BigThings seems committed to supporting the game for a while.

Which is good, because the game has one minor bug that irks me, and it will probably irk you too. When you exit the game, it resets the option menu settings. So every time you play, you’ll have to re-select what you want. In the grand scheme of things it isn’t a huge deal, because most everything else is so great. But it does grate on the nerves. Overall, though, Redout comes highly recommended. It’s everything a futuristic racer should be. Fast, frantic, addictive, and fun.

Final Score: 8 out of 10

Audiosurf 2 Review

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Let me start off by saying, I love music. I have a ton of it I’ve picked up over the years. Music games however, are another story. I’m not big on dancing, and so the Just Dance games, Dance Central, and even the hallowed Dance Dance Revolution were never my cup of tea. Oh I’ve played them with friends, and relatives. I’ve even managed to eek out a little bit of enjoyment while making a fool out of myself. I’ve actually had fun with a couple of the Guitar Hero, and Rock Band editions at family gatherings. I’m not calling any of these games terrible. They’re all pretty good, save for a few lackluster Guitar Hero, and Rock Band entries.

But why do these otherwise great music games fail to gel with me? The more I thought about it, the more I realized it isn’t the mechanics, or how they play. They actually play wonderfully, and are generally a fun enough time. I found a major reason has probably been the set lists in many of them. Before you start booing me, and throwing rotten vegetables at your monitor or smartphone in disgust I’m not calling all of the music in those games bad. I like a lot of the classic rock in the games of pretend instruments. I recognize the talent the choreography, and singing in dance music requires. A lot of the club music in these dancing games is honestly not bad, it’s just that some of it wasn’t made for me. Which is fine.

PROS: Multitude of modes. You can use your personal library.

CONS: You won’t pretend to play an instrument or dance.

ERASURE: Always + Runner mode = Robot Unicorn Attack reference.

If you were to peruse my music collection though, you might find a lot of it unrecognizable. Well, depending on who you are. I know there are many people out there with music collections much larger than mine. But a lot of the albums in my collection were originally put out by small labels like Lookout!, SST, Epitaph, and Sub Pop. I even have a few otherwise mainstream albums, and EPs that were originally self-published in my collection. Such as the Gin Blossoms’ Dusted. So while I love Rock Band for letting me play The Cars’ Just what I needed, or Just Dance for letting me fail at being Morten Harket during Take On Me, I could never jam on the esoteric stuff in those games.

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Audosurf 2 lets me do that. Along with everyone else. It’s a different kind of rhythm game than most. You don’t need plastic instruments. You don’t jump on a screen printed mat. You don’t have to line up dance moves on a camera. Instead you get something that plays like a traditional racing game. Except not really.

Audiosurf 2 combines the racing of F-Zero, the obstacle dodges of Beamrider, the  colored blocks of Guitar Hero, and the key component of Vib Ribbon. You race a futuristic hover car over giant blocks for points, and try to dodge obstacles. Hitting obstacles makes you lose those points. What does any of this have to do with music? Well, when a song is chosen, the game creates a course based on the structure, tempo, beat, and even melody of the music within. Every song will resort in a unique track. Even a cover of a song will have differences over the original. Sometimes wildly. The layouts of the blocks you pick up, as well as the obstacles you need to dodge go right along in time with the song.

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The hover car will even slow up, or speed up during tempo changes. It’s surreal. But don’t think you can cut corners, and make the game simple by using slow songs. Because no matter what you play, the game is crafty. It will put a bunch of obstacles near something you want to collect. It will start making the road bumpy because that slow song you chose has plenty of bouncy moments in the melody. And it still might get quick anyway. Not only are you collecting blocks, but there is a puzzle element as well. Along the bottom of the screen where your hover car moves are columns. Every time you collect a block you fill a chunk of a column. You want to try to combine as many as you can in a set number of time to score combo points. Hitting spikes impedes this, as well as cost you points. So you’ll need to do your best not to hit them. Although there are a handful of times you might want to do so to clear a space. There are also Turbo blocks that will speed boost your vehicle for more points.

The game has two ways for you to find a song to use. The easiest, and best way is to use your own personal collection. All you need to do is go through your music folder, or wherever else you may have put your purchased song files. Pick a song, and the game will let you preview it, as well as tell you if anyone has raced along to it yet. If they have, you’ll see a list of players who have done exactly that. Because the game will upload your score. Other people who have that song, can then race it, to try to beat your score.

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This is where the game’s biggest strength is. Everybody enjoys music of some kind, and so nobody is left out. Obviously for the competitive internet aspect of it, popular songs are still going to be preferred. Because more people will have those songs, so it leads to more competition.  Sound cloud also has a major presence here. When you search for a song that isn’t in your personal library, it will scour the site for it. With so many independent people using it, you can get a wide variety of new experiences. There are popular songs on there as well, but these are going to be covers, with the rare exception.

Some people might be disappointed at that. But it works in the developer’s favor, since they don’t have to worry about the labels coming down on them for using songs they don’t have a license for. As a user you’re free to use whatever you want, so long as you’ve legitimately bought the music. And if you’re like me you’ve bought a lot of albums over the years. There’s also the fact that you’re not beholden to a game based e-merchant to buy the songs you want to use. Songs that you can’t export to other games or listen to separately.

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But that’s not all, because this game keeps giving. The main game mode has variants. There’s an easier mode for beginners, as well as a Ninja mode, where you get bonus points for not hitting a single spike during a song. Then there is a unique mode where you ride a wakeboard, and can jump waves for more points. But one of the coolest modes is the runner mode. In this mode up to four people can play with gamepads. You have to jump over, and duck under hurdles sent your way. Each time you screw up you lose points. You start with a million points, and it counts down with every mistake. the person who loses the least points wins. You really should check it out. As with the main modes this mode gives you a track based upon the song that has been loaded.

I would end things there, but Audiosurf 2 has even more stuff. Puzzle games. There are four variants of the same mode, but each has you matching up color blocks that you race over during the song of choice. You have to try to set up combos the way you would in things like Puyo Puyo. You can drop blocks if you raise a column too high with the wrong color too. If you’re into balancing driving with puzzling it might be for you. Personally, I found this the least likable mode, but the game does get recognition for trying something.

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If ALL of that wasn’t enough for you, the game has an extensive mod community around it. So there are even more modes, and skins you can get for the game if you’re not sated by everything you’re given from the outset. By the way, each mode already comes with some skins for you to use. I do like that there is an option to search for skins in the Steam Workshop. Audiosurf 2 is a very colorful bright game. The minimalist visual design really works in its favor, giving players something akin to an Electronica enthusiast jukebox look. Visuals still look great at lower resolutions, and with lower settings.

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But the mods, and skins are a great way for people to personalize the game even further. My hope is that someone with talent makes a skin that removes the fast flashing, and replaces it with something equally cool. I have a friend with Epilepsy who would love to play more musical rhythm games, but doesn’t due to the flashing lights. Hopefully, someone eventually thinks of this, because the game is awesome. Even more people would be able to play it if it had an option for people with colorblindness, and for people with Epilepsy. If not, then maybe we’ll see it in a third game.

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Aside from a missed opportunity, there really isn’t much to complain about. It controls well. The sound quality is great, and the tracks it designs for you to play are a wonderful balance between fun, and difficulty. If you’ve been waiting for a music game because your favorite artists have been M.I.A. in other series, then pull the trigger on Audiosurf 2.

Final Score: 9 out of 10

Reposted Review: Road Rash 64

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(Originally published on the defunct Retro Retreat)

The lauded Electronic Arts series lands on the N64. Except that this entry was not made or published by EA. Confused yet?

Originally an exclusive for the Genesis, Road Rash saw rare ports on the Amiga, Game Boy, before a quick reboot on the 3DO, and Windows before disappearing awhile. EA also brought it over to the Playstation as Road Rash 3D, and took one last stab with Jailbreak. But Electronic Arts final attempts on the Playstation failed to capture the 16-Bit glory days of the series on Sega’s most popular console. Enter the late, THQ with a grand proposal.

PROS: Truly captures the feel of the Genesis classics. 4 player split screen.

CONS: Like F-Zero X it goes with low poly counts. With worse textures.

WEIRD BUT TRUE: The game totally calls bull crap on you for gaming the system.

Back in 1999  (Has it been 13 years already?) a strange thing happened. It’s not uncommon to find late ports of titles showing up on a competing platform. It is however strange to see a franchise entry be created by a developer with no apparent ties to that franchise’s IP. Stranger to see that entry be published by a publisher that doesn’t own that IP.

Strangest of all, seeing that title in a store, on a shelf, and all completely legitimate.

But that’s exactly what happened. Back in the early 90′s, Electronic Arts published a 3 game motorcycle combat racing series called Road Rash. A Genesis exclusive, the first title later saw ports to the Commodore Amiga computer, and the Game Boy handheld. As it’s ports were not on traditional consoles, anyone who wanted to play the series on the big screen had to buy a Genesis. It was a great series too. Going head to head against friends, while you swung bats at each other while driving bikes at 200 mph was a blast.

So much so that gamers temporarily put aside the petty console war, and challenged each other whenever they ended up at the Sega kid’s house on a Saturday. The series briefly made an appearance on the 3DO when EA founder Trip Hawkins left to create the 3DO company. That version made it to Windows 95. After the 3DO was defeated by the Playstation, and it’s rivals however, EA would bring the motorcycle combat racer to Sony. When they did bring over Road Rash as Road Rash 3D though, they toned down a lot of the fighting aspects, and focused on the racing portions. This probably would have been passable among the series’ most ardent fans if not for the fact that RR3D had no multiplayer mode whatsoever. EA tried to make up for it with Road Rash Jailbreak, (USA gamers got it late) and reception while not bad, was still a far cry from it’s days on the Genesis.

Enter the late THQ. Around this time it was finding pretty modest success on the Nintendo 64 with it’s World Wrestling Federation games, and previous World Championship Wrestling titles. Besides this, the publisher always seemed to attempt filling gaps on the platform. It tried publishing Quest 64 during the N64 launch period to give RPG fans something to play in the wake of losing Final Fantasy. While that was a very blunderous miscalculation, with today’s title the practice was one of their successes.

THQ contacted EA, and worked out a publishing deal to make their own original motorcycle battle racer using the Road Rash moniker. They certainly didn’t squander the opportunity.

Road Rash 64 took everything fans knew, and loved about the Genesis games, then amped them up to eleven. Moreover, the game even did a few things some of your favorite modern racers do. Like the 16-Bit originals, RR64 will have you racing against other psychotic bikers in violent races for blood sport. Make it from point A to B in one piece while placing in the top three you qualify for the next race. Make it through all the races, and you will find yourself in the next circuit. RR64 also does all of this on one large map. While being A to B distance racing, the game does not put up any invisible walls. You can feel free to drive off-road, drive lines through “S” winds of track, or even attempt to skip long areas of track.

But don’t think that any of that will help you. Because Road Rash 64 also calls you out for being conniving. Get used to seeing the question “Cheat much?” crop up in red, and white if you do anything the developers found questionable. If you flat-out try to skip a race by driving around the preplanned route, right to the end you can expect your bike to mysteriously break down while a warning “Cheaters never prosper.” taunts you. You won’t want to break down either, because each breakdown takes away prize money. Prize money is very important in this game because you need it to buy bikes. Why do you need bikes?  Because later circuits require faster bikes to enter. If you can’t afford a bike that meets the race requirements, you can’t progress. So you’ve been warned.

The game also brings back police chases. Biker cops will show up to crash your party. Unlike the other bikers who may need to keep making you total your bike until it can’t race anymore, the police only need to make you crash once to arrest you. Get arrested, you lose money for bail. Run out of money, and it’s game over. So not getting arrested is just as important as not crashing, and having the nicer bikes. Be that as it may, the real fun of the game ARE indeed the fights, and crashes. Road Rash 64 features amazingly, hilarious crashes. Where other games will infuriate you because one tiny mistake cost you a victory, here you will laugh, and wonder how your racer is still alive. It even has an award called “Cascade”. It will pop up when half of the racers are involved in the same crash. Bodies will fly hundreds of feet in the air, rag doll in the street, and then be run over by traffic. There are also pedestrians you can hit during races for bonus points.

There are so many fun weapons to use here too. Of course there are the typical B-movie biker staples like bats, chains, or clubs. But you can find pool cues, steel pipes, mace that can be used to blind other bikers, and the greatest weapon for this sort of game: a taser. Even once you make it through the main game you’ll have a lot of multiplayer modes to play. Thrash mode is probably going to be the best of the bunch. This mode lets you, and three friends race on any of the tracks featured in the campaign. All of the weapons are available to you, and as in the main game, you can pick up other stuff like damage amplifiers.

Other modes are lap based modes on tracks not seen in the main game. Here you can run a 1,3,5,or 7 lap race against one another, or play variants of these like tag mode (Everyone has to gang up on a specific player before the game assigns IT status to the next player). Deathmatch mode is here too. In DM you get a frag for each lap you make, and if you are knocked off you lose a frag. The final multiplayer bit is Pedestrian hunt. This mode sees players trying to run over anyone standing in the street or on a sidewalk. Whoever hits the most at the end of the track wins.

There is one major off putting thing here though, as you can probably tell by the screen caps. That’s the graphics. Even at the time of release they are far below what most players expected. The N64 did have a lot of games people cited as visual power houses. Turok 2, Goldeneye, Perfect Dark to name a few. But Road Rash 64 goes just a minor step above the fidelity found in SNES games like Star Fox or Stunt Race FX. One likely explanation for this is the lower polygon numbers increase performance. Even Nintendo’s own F-Zero X did this. But even F-Zero X had pretty respectable textures in comparison.

Nevertheless, Road Rash 64 does take advantage of the Expansion Pak cartridge. Players who have one installed in their N64′s will have access to a few graphics options to mildly improve the quality. Widescreen mode (Although it’s really stretch o vision), Letterbox mode ( Really more of a window box. Makes the screen smaller, and centered to sharpen the image.), and then there’s the option of using Higher Resolution Textures at the normal 4:3 setting. For most  players, the typical Normal setting or the Hi Res mode are the best options. Hi Res doesn’t add much of a performance hit either. So if you have the Expansion Pak, it’s probably the best bet.

Road Rash 64 is the odd duck of the series. It’s a game that nobody ever expected to see, and then when they did see it, they had to do a double take. While it isn’t very much to look at, it is a great example of gameplay over graphics. It’s a lot of fun, and is the only four player entry in the series. It’s also not terribly expensive, so if you’re looking for another party game to add to your Nintendo 64 collection you can easily do a lot worse.

Final Score: 7.5 out of 10 (A lot of fun despite it’s faults.)