A spiritual successor to Road Rash that is set in a Grand Theft Auto-style open world sounds like an excellent idea, doesn’t it?
Well, as it turns out, an idea isn’t all you need when it comes to making games. If it was, I’d be a multi-billionaire that wouldn’t be talking to the likes of you right now. Unfortunately, Road Rage appears to be an idea with little else of substance behind it.
The concept behind the game is exactly as I’ve described. It’s motorcycle combat in a GTA-like world. An underground group of bikers in the city of Ashen have decided that the time has come to rise up and overthrow the oppressors that have turned their formerly booming homeland into a dark and murderous place. To do this, they’ll take part in a series of motorcycle races, elimination events, stunt challenges, time trials, and pretty much anything else that doesn’t involve them ever having to lift their rear end from the saddle.
Playing as one of these downtrodden riders, you ride around all over town – through places with such inspired names as “Subtroit” and “Chitaly” – taking part in events and upgrading your vehicle as you climb through the ranks until you run the place. Doing anything too naughty – such as cracking a pedestrian over the head with a crowbar – kicks off the star-based “wanted” system that works exactly as it did in Rockstar’s Grand Theft Auto III. Only, not quite as well, since the police in Road Rage seem to think that driving at you for a bit and then stacking their car into a wall and letting you get off scot-free is the best plan of action. That’s unless you drive too close to one of their roadblocks and randomly explode, despite not hitting anything, of course.
Indeed, you’ll be put in mind of GTA III a lot here, since – despite some nice lighting effects in places – Road Rage’s graphics aren’t a million miles ahead of the 16-year-old PlayStation 2 classic. In some ways, GTA III has a leg-up, given that I don’t recall Liberty City ever being surrounded by the amount of framerate-saving and popup-hiding fog that’s present here. In fact, the PS2 could even have handled the story, given that the entire thing is presented via text messages that appear on your phone. If you think about it, it’s strange that they’re read out by the person who sent the text, but there you go. If you don’t want to play the game, I assume the story is also available to download somewhere on a dormant LiveJournal account, given how closely it resembles a 13-year-old’s attempt at Sons of Anarchy fan fiction.
Still, the disappointing, dated visuals, lackluster story, and bare-bones attempts at presentation are the absolute last of Road Rage’s problems.
The most significant issue is the driving itself. All the vehicles in Road Rage – even the sportiest, most upgraded model – handle as if you’re driving a double-decker bus through treacle. The second the game throws any curveballs your way during an event with regards to the direction of the next target or checkpoint, you’re going to hit something. Note, that’s not “sometimes you will hit something.” It’s “you are going to hit something that you can’t see because despite it taking four hours for your bike to turn left a bit, the godawful camera has gone blurry again as if you’re turning on a dime at a thousand miles per hour.” Still, at least when you do collide with something, it results in an almost comically random outcome. Maybe you’ll hit a metal barrier and inexplicably burst into flames. You might drive over something that exists only in the game’s imagination, only to spin through 180 degrees. Perhaps you’ll just pass straight through the metal pole that should have killed you, and get to carry on as if nothing happened. Lucky you! Don’t celebrate too soon though, since your prize for getting away with that crash is that you get to play more Road Rage, so you’ll feel bad inside anyway.
If you do fall from your vehicle, which, as I’ve mentioned, happens at least a dozen times in each event, you’ll respawn fairly quickly, even if you are facing entirely the opposite way that you need to be going. That goes for being collared by the fuzz, too. You can be the most wanted criminal this side of well, a better game, and when they take you down, you just get told that you were busted and then respawn with absolutely no penalty. I guess we must assume that in the second that the screen was black before you were reset and sent back on your way, that you got a telling off, the policeman wagged his finger at you, and you were told to be more careful in future. Fat chance of that. Even if you wanted to be a responsible driver, the terrible controls and disgraceful physics model would cause you to rack up more than your fair share of accidental criminal damage.
On the subject of controls, Road Rage at least attempts to sort out some of the problems with motorcycle combat in a 3D world. It fails miserably, but the attempt has been made. Providing your foe hasn’t overshot the corner and steered into a wall you can enter “Combat Mode” by pressing the square button. (Have I mentioned that the AI riders don’t know how to brake? Ever? And that this makes the campaign an absolute cakewalk because they constantly drive into things? No? Sorry. My bad.) This automatically steers you and alters your speed so that you’re lined up right next to the enemy. All you need to do then is press square or circle to dole out a left or right-side hit with your weapon. If you swing, they might fall. If they swing, you’ll definitely fall. The distance between the AI rider’s swinging weapon and your character doesn’t appear to matter since you seem to be driving around in an invisible hitbox that’s the width of your average coffee shop. It’s kind of funny to try to dodge out of the way of a swinging chain, only for it to miss by a clear six feet and for you to go flying anyway, so there is an upside. This is all assuming that the auto-steering setup of combat mode hasn’t driven you directly into the back of a car, or pulled you right into the path of another opponent who then knocks you over by swinging a golf club at you from about the distance of the first par-3 at Willow Creek.
The worst thing about all this is that I could go on. I won’t, though. After all, it seems unfair to spend more time writing about Road Rage than anyone spent playtesting it to see if it was good enough to charge money for.
This review is based on the PlayStation4 version of the game, which was provided to us by Maximum Games.
Road Rage feels very, very much like a bad Steam game that was plucked from obscurity by an overly-optimistic publisher. It fails on every single level and in the end, it isn’t even so bad that it’s funny. It’s just bad.