Written by: Rik

Date posted: June 15, 2008

Our biker’s actually starting a kick there, not relieving a different kind of, ahem, rash that might be caused by wearing tight leather in the hot sun.

One thing the hysterical tabloid media never takes into consideration when decrying the latest ‘videogame nasty’ corrupting the nation is that part of the appeal of games is that they allow people to do things that, for whatever reason, they’d never do in real life. Just because someone enjoys playing at being an action hero, a soldier or a spy doesn’t mean that killing another human being in real life wouldn’t cause that person to immediately vomit and suffer a panic attack before enduring a lifetime of psychological trauma, sleepless nights and alcoholism.

To take another example, I’ve always greatly enjoyed racing games, especially those that take place in ‘real-life’ settings (i.e. involving high speed capers on public roads), but though I may happily propel my nitrous-equipped Toyota Supra down the wrong side of the road in Need for Speed: Underground, should I ever encounter such reckless behaviour on the way home from Tesco, I would immediately report the young scallywag behind the wheel to the local police. In real life, I drive a Fiat Punto, mostly at speeds of below 50mph, avoiding night driving and the M25 where possible, and I’m certainly no Vin Diesel [No kidding – Mrs Rik], but given the chance to drive a better car at higher speeds without the risk of incurring horrific injuries to myself and/or others, I’m there. Which is how it should be (although I probably should be slightly more assertive and decisive at junctions).

It’s also fair to say that it would make absolutely no difference to the course of my life if motorbikes had never been invented – in fact, it would probably make things slightly more enjoyable for removing the need for me to get slightly tense and shout ‘TWAT!’ each time one overtakes or performs some other twatty manoeuvre while out on the road. Indulging in such tomfoolery myself in virtual form is, however, perfectly acceptable. And so we come to Road Rash, a game in which you could, if you wanted, punch an elderly person in the face as they cross the road. In real life, though, I would never…[I think we get the point now, thanks – FFG readership]

I’ve never hitched a ride myself, but I would imagine standing motionless in the middle of the road with your thumb out isn’t a tactic worth emulating.

Road Rash began life on the Sega Megadrive (or Genesis, if you like), offering greasy teenage boys a slice of the bike-riding and hitting-people-with-a-chain lifestyle. It spawned a couple of largely-similar sequels before the series moved onto 3DO, the ‘interactive multiplayer’ that had very little going for it, save for the fact it was the original home of The Need for Speed. Like NFS, Road Rash was one of the few games on the system to garner much attention, and as such was hastily ported to the PC once the 3DO started circling the drain.

The first thing to mention about Road Rash is that it acts as a decent reminder of what most developers used to do when faced with the extra storage space that CDs afforded them without much idea of what to fill it with. Yep, that means plenty of pointless video clips, folks, with proceedings all-too-regularly punctuated by grainy, cheap-looking footage of bikers irritating cops, drinking beer and driving fast. There’s also some CD-quality audio, provided by real-life grunge bands no less, with the option to choose from a handful of tracks to listen to while navigating the various menu screens. I’m not going to argue with the inclusion of Soundgarden and Therapy? on the soundtrack (although this is obviously down to personal taste) but as a feature it’s largely pointless, and the inclusion of a couple of music videos reinforces this impression.

While the in-game action fits the tone of this ‘multimeeja’ experience, in general it feels like a bit of a step down when compared to the menus and front-end. The graphics are passable, with the game using a combination of digitised sprites and textures to create a kind of blurry-video effect that was deemed impressive at the time. The sound effects, though, are little more than a bumble-bee engine note and the occasional collision noise, and the grunge disappears altogether, to be replaced by some fairly terrible MIDI nonsense, which (I assume) attempts to replicate the guitar-heavy stylings of the menu music. Whatever merits MIDI music may have (and gaming history has seen it produce more than a couple of memorable tunes, Monkey Island among them) it just isn’t suited to this particular genre, and aside from the embarrassingly puny riffs and drum-effects, there’s so much slap bass on offer you half-expect a poorly-rendered Jerry Seinfeld to turn up in-game and ask what the deal is with something or other.

Believe it or not, even this screen can’t sum up just how bad the video clips are.

The game itself is a fairly undemanding arcade racer. Each race takes place on public roads, with the goal being to get from point A to point B before any of your opponents. Along the way, you’ll have numerous obstacles to contend with, which come mainly in the form of slow-moving cars, and should you collide with said obstacles, you’ll be sent flying face-first towards the concrete, losing valuable seconds in the process. You’ll also have to deal with the attentions of your fellow bikers, who attempt to knock you off course with a well-placed kick or a club to the head, and the police, who’ll bring your race to an early end should you be knocked off your bike while they’re in pursuit.

It’s intermittently exciting, with the road whizzing by at a fair rate, although the fact that you’re rarely called upon to use your brakes takes a certain amount of tension away from proceedings. The main priority is not to crash into roadside objects or other traffic, and though you should be able to sleepwalk your way through initially, on harder difficulty levels this presents more of a challenge, as certain victory is snatched away from you by an ill-judged attempt to overtake a taxi on the final stretch. The combat can be fun, too, and you may struggle to resist a childish titter after sending one of your opponents flying onto the bonnet of an oncoming car.

Unfortunately, there’s not an awful lot of variety on offer, and after a few hours’ play you’ll have pretty much seen everything. Although there is a career mode, it doesn’t differ greatly from the one-off races, except for a few still screens of fellow bikers offering non-specific advice, and a cash/upgrade system that sees you win money for finishing a race, lose it for getting arrested, and be able to spend your winnings on a faster ride. The latter feature is particularly disappointing: while you may be able to view various pre-rendered videos of the different machines on offer in the bike-shop, it’s pretty hard to tell the difference once you get back on the road, and visually the bike, and rider, look exactly the same, except for a change of colour scheme.

Crashing sees you survive horrific falls that should break every bone in your body. But you’ve still got to retrieve your bike – that’s the purple blob on top of the hill there.

The courses themselves are also pretty samey. While they all have different names and descriptions, there’s generally only two kinds of scenery: ‘city’ and ‘country’, and the only difference between the courses seems to be how much of each will feature and how often there’s a change from one to the other. Progression to higher difficulty levels brings nothing new, and you’re presented only with longer versions of the same old selection. You do get a choice of routes midway through each race, with the option of taking a slightly longer and easier route or one that’s shorter and (you guessed it) harder, but to be honest it doesn’t seem to make all that much difference which you pick.

Although Road Rash isn’t the worst game in the world, it’s a difficult one to recommend. Realistically, you could get through most of the game inside a single day, and it’s more than a little rough around the edges in presentation terms. Still, biking fans would be hard pressed to find too many other PC titles that offered a similar combination of two-wheeled racing and antisocial behaviour, although unless their own machine’s in the shop it’d be difficult to imagine anyone staying at home to play this rather than getting a taste of the open road at the weekend. Worth a look – just.