Road Redemption is widely acknowledged as the spiritual successor to Road Rash. There exists a highly recommended story about a labour of love by developer Ian Fisch that won’t be covered here. There is just something so unique and underutilized about this style of game. It’s more than racing, yet it’s different from vehicular combat. How many games are such a perfect mash up of the two? Road Rash, Skitchin’, Road Rash 3, Skitchin’… Maybe I’m lacking in exposure here, but I think there should be a lot of room in the market for these types of games, and I don’t think racing in a car with a gun covers it. There’s something about playing a human engaged in mano-a-bat-with-nails side-jousting while covering hundreds of miles of terrain that’s uniquely exciting. Evidently it was a formula that was quickly perfected as these games peaked early on in the 90s. A common criticism of the newer titles being that they are too racy… I mean “race-y”. Combat was less of a priority, and the actual racing was pretty vanilla. Yet, as games like Twisted Metal took off, chaos was evidently in high demand, and that still (or maybe, “again”?) rings true today.
Road Redemption contains the same chaotic game play that peaked in the early Road Rash titles, then adds randomness through modern gaming staples such as rogue-lite features, anti-physics, pacifist challenges, and Shovel Knight. The track maps, obstacles, and objectives are randomized. There still is structure and progression as you do have levels to get through, and a boss to defeat at set intervals, but all the elements are mixed up every playthrough. You buy power ups with money earned by completing objectives, and lose total health if you fail them, but the game keeps going until you die on the track. At which point you’ll lose your purchased power ups, then have the opportunity to buy permanent power ups via any XP you’ve accrued.
The rogue-lite game play goes perfectly with the arcadey style. Instead of pumping quarters into a machine that never gives a second thought to our relationship, I have a game that remembers and rewards me for the time we’ve spent together. Road Redemption also has tight controls, great single and multiplayer modes, exciting races with solid and engaging combat, and I could probably write another article on how it knows how to curve its physics to favour game play scenarios above realism. The programming finesse is brilliant, but there’s a juxtaposition between the two styles of chaos presented in Road Redemption. The Road Rash legacy is a combination of fast speeds, corners over hills, and blood thirsty rivals ganging up on you. Road Redemption has this and adds raining trucks. Yes, it is awesome, but I question the balance.
The core structure that makes Road Rash great is masterfully done in Road Redemption, but seems to have been stripped back. Except for weapons. Bombs and guns are welcome additions, and natural evolutions. Perfect example though: you gain new weapons, what was lost was the reward of obtaining them. True, you can buy some weapon upgrades, and there is a reward factor to that, but in original Road Rash you didn’t start with any weapons. You stole them from rivals after learning to block at the right time. It was super empowering to pull off. Road Redemption starts you off with one or two basic weapons, then I think you just randomly pick up new ones via power ups on the road. I honestly haven’t had to think of it before, and now I will need to go back and check. What I know for sure is that I started with a pipe, then by the time I needed bombs, there they were in my inventory. Something is missing there that can’t be replaced with access to more stuff, but all is not at a loss, because the game is still being updated regularly and a lot of the randomness could be reigned in with a little work.
The power ups on the road are not an example of randomness, they are almost always where they are needed most, but they still need work because it’s not obvious what they are for. They are floating colored discs and it took multiple playthroughs to figure out that they had different icons on them. Identifying the utility of the power ups takes a great deal of experimentation, which is odd when one of the first things that a new playthrough does is pop up text to tell you the same commands that are shown in the Options screen. The race tracks are examples of randomness, and not just because their maps are randomly generated. After playing a boss, before starting the next area, there’s always a rooftop level. It’s a great stage idea, but why is it used as a transition between environments? Why is it only for one race when every other area gets, like, five or more? Why are there casual bikers up here? They’re not racing, they don’t have placement numbers over their heads, they’re just cruising around. Now that’s mostly just odd for how the world is presented, but mechanically every track could use some more work because even though the turns, secrets, and obstacles blend seamlessly into a continuous path, they get repetitive faster than if I were playing a standard pre-designed track.
I didn’t realize the track bits were randomized at first, despite the game directly telling me. I just didn’t think about it, and thought that it was advertising another mode of play while the campaign was loading. Before I clued in that procedural generation was happening- that’s right, I never research the games that I’m buying any deeper than looking at the store thumbnail- I actually felt like I was succeeding at memorizing a normally designed track. Features that were notable, but not in the places that I was expecting them, were seemingly easier to memorize than if I had to wait for a cue at a predetermined location. So these never-the-same-twice-maps become very familiar, very quick. Road Rash had mostly the same elements in every track, but they each felt very different. Mountains, fields, and cities all looked and played very differently from one another. Even if those three scenes repeated, the colors changed vividly. Road Redemption has deserts and mountains, but they blend together. They have to so that their parts can be put together in any order. It took me a while to realize that the mountain level wasn’t just the desert level with a coat of snow. Luckily there are the other environments of rooftops, overgrown/abandoned city, and oh, Rainbow Road. Right? Random.
It’s rather odd that Road Redemption isn’t still an early access game when it has so much that feels like added flavour, but the core elements of the game play haven’t been, in my opinion, fully developed. Like, if you went to a restaurant and ordered lasagna with dessert, then received really nicely cooked noodles in tomato with a heaping scoop of neapolitan ice cream on top. Case in point, the tutorial text that immediately tells you how to block attacks, offers nothing when jetpack abilities are spontaneously introduced and require immediate mastery. But I guess they needed to officially release the game some time. And the game is still being actively developed, so there’s all kinds of potential. However, they recently released another new game plus mode, literally “Campaign++”, and I can’t help but think that the reason for it was because the game became too easy for the players who had maxed out the permanent perks. Doubling everything isn’t a recommendable way to fix a balancing issue. I’m a long way off from confirming that for myself, though.
I recognize the hardships it took to get the game this far, and like I said, it’s very impressive. Road Rash is genuinely in there! That was the goal, that’s what this game is known for, and it’s a resounding success. I really hope that there is more development of the basic elements, or at least more world building tie-ins for the random ones that exist. Like, when trucks are falling out of the sky, just let there be a wizard motorbiker present for some reason, that’s all I need. Probably. IMO, having logical elements that combine and build up into chaos is more interesting than straight up injecting a chaotic scenario. But IMO is IMO, no matter how lengthy I want to make it; the game has massively positive reviews all around, and is doing just fine without my input. If you liked Road Rash, I don’t think you can find anything better this side of the millenium, which is sad for our world, but great for this game.
Road Redemption has the potential to offer a modern nirvana for combat racing fans. It delivers high speed, powerful action with responsive controls and wild scenarios. Unfortunately, though I seem to be the only one complaining, enriching the game’s core qualities seems to have been held back in favour of newer, flashier content. While it has not been poorly implemented, the base elements of the game remain feeling unfinished, causing the familiar to become repetitive quickly, and the newer elements to be disjointed, even confusing.