Bonus Rounds are short, 5-minute musings on quirky titles that either end up hidden down the back of the sofa, or lost among the endless pile of Steam games and Bundles you own, but have never got around to playing. These could be reviews of PC, iOS or console games, Early Access titles, games made as part of a Game Jam, and so on. They’ll predominantly be games made by indie developers, and usually (but not always) published on a Sunday or Monday morning.
Back in the early 90’s, I can’t recall a time when I didn’t have a version of EA’s Road Rash as part of my video-game collection. I can still remember my first experience on the Commodore Amiga (which was somewhat of a dodgy port even for those days), alongside arguably the best home version ever released on the ill-fated Panasonic 3DO. It was one of those games that epitomised arcade fun and could keep you entertained for five minutes or five hours.
Like many of the early classics, Road Rash and other beloved franchises are now owned by mega-publishers, eager to maintain IP control, but reluctant to entertain any kind of reboot. This has led smaller developers wanting to revive the classics having to be very canny with their titles, so as not to infringe on copyright. And so, as War for the Overworld is the ‘spiritual successor’ to Dungeon Keeper, Road Redemption is likely the closest we’ll ever get to a next-gen version of Road Rash.
Originally released in September last year on Steam Early Access, Road Redemption looks to be in pretty good shape already. Despite being released only a few months ago, it’s generating quite a buzz in the gaming world. Boasting a procedurally generated world, upgradeable skills, split-screen multiplayer (with online promised soon), full controller support, and a multitude of race styles – it’s clear that development is at full throttle.
Road Redemption is a shining example of Early Access done right. Even at this early stage it’s impressive just how much content is on offer: there’s a good choice of bikes (each with different handling) and riders, and the randomized campaign means that you never quite know what kind of challenge you’ll be facing next. Missions are fairly varied and include staples such as standard point-to-point runs as well as stages involving the elimination of rival gangs in a variety of ways. There are however some crazier ideas thrown in – the “hallucinogenic chemical zone” sees cars rain down from the skies, and there are races with exploding bombs dotted all over the road. Add to this a campaign and new game plus, and there’s plenty to get your teeth into even without multiplayer support at the moment.
What I really love about Road Redemption is the sheer amount of control you have over your racer. Darkseas Games hasn’t dumbed anything down – in fact, they’ve brilliantly added to what you could do in Road Rash (which, admittedly, wasn’t a whole lot). Racers can attack, defend, boost, jump boost, grab, kick, target, shoot, and swap between three different weapons – all whilst racing and avoiding traffic. Road Redemption is not for the faint-hearted. It takes your brain a while to switch to the state where you’re not just watching out for incoming traffic, but also getting into position to hit / defend against a fellow racer. It may not be an official sequel, but Road Redemption is as close to a continuation of EA’s series as you can get right now – and as exciting as ever.
Despite a lot of positives, it’s not all smooth riding for Road Redemption. The graphics, despite being pretty impressive at this stage of development, can be quite glitchy and races suffer from erratic frame rate drops. Menu screens still look very underdeveloped, and whilst the sound effects are chunky and effective, the music is downright terrible. All of these of course are standard Early Access issues and can be resolved during development, but my main concern at this point is actually the game structure itself – it simply isn’t balanced or cohesive in any way, shape or form. Mission goals don’t have to be achieved for you to progress (e.g. you don’t need to place in the top three to move on) making it all too easy, whilst some of the modes are so over the top that they feel best suited to a currently non-existent arcade mode or being presented simply as a selection of minigames.
A lot of love and work has gone into Road Redemption, there’s no doubting that, and with every update it just seems to get better. However, what Darkseas needs to do now is start reigning in the Wacky Races ideas and start creating a much more cohesive campaign.
All of the varied and fun missions showcase the developers’ talent, but although they’re fun to play individually, they don’t add up to anything resembling a fully-fleshed or balanced experience. As it stands, a play session on Road Redemption can feel like you’re playing through a collection of minigames which would be great as an extra mode, but offer little more than a quick race through. If a campaign can be forged from what’s already been created, giving a real sense of progression and increased difficulty, then Darkseas might just be able to elevate Road Redemption from its currently status of throwaway racer to essential purchase. But even if this doesn’t come to pass, you’re still looking at a fun, if shallow arcade experience to play with your mates after a night on the town.