Road Redemption – As We Play

Format – PC

Version – 0.812

When I was a nipper, my dad worked away most of the time. My mum decided to go back to college which left me and my sister with an hour alone every morning before school. Of course, mum wasn’t anywhere near cool enough to just leave us, so she dumped us at a neighbours. The only positive thing about this was the Sony PlayStation sitting under their TV and its 16-year-old owner’s collection of awesome games, my favourite of which, was Road Rash.

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Originally releasing on Mega Drive to rave reviews, Road Rash continued on the next generation with less success. After 1999’s Road Rash: Jailbreak flopped, the classic series came to an end, leaving many of us yearning for a sequel.

So, tired of waiting for EA to get of its arse and remake it, the indie coalition of Pixel Dash Games, Dark Sea Games and The Fisch Brothers took up the mantle. Billed as a ‘spiritual sequel’ to Road Rash, Road Redemption aims to bring the primal joy of riding fast bikes on dangerous roads and clubbing fellow riders with spades kicking and screaming into the 21st century. Currently in Early Access, I’ve been giving it a go.

From the moment I booted it up, I could tell the developers had nailed the core Road Rash feel. No messing about with cutscenes or story bits. The leader of my motorcycle gang has set off to Washington D.C on his lonesome to assassinate the evil dictator that rules post-apocalyptic America. Clearly a poor move, me and my buddies have set out after him to make sure he doesn’t get his arse handed to him.

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Along the way, various rival gangs – as well as the cops – try to stop us. Road Redemption’s combat system is similar to that of its forefather. Simple attacks to either side of me are supplemented by a vicious kick and a neat deflect move. Timing this right can disarm an opponent and leave them defenceless against my almighty 2×4. There are also firearms, which allow me to aim with the Right Stick to precision target foes. Or precision miss them in my case. Weapons are varied and fun, the Tactical Axe being my current fave. There’s also a long pole with a brutal, Medieval axe head, clearly designed for relieving fellow riders of their bikes from a safe distance.

Riding is fast and dangerous. Roads snake and curve up in vision-obscuring ways, making each turn a roll of the dice. Highways are typically packed with Sunday drivers who get caught up in horrendous crashes as a result of all the bikers zipping around them, clubbing each other silly. Damage physics are surprisingly thorough for an indie game, coming close to Burnout in the degree of destruction on show. And that’s not just the cars. Bodies ragdoll lifelessly through the air before they’re crushed under wheels and smashed on rocks. There’s a real weight to everything and every hit feels like it hits hard.

Thankfully, for a game primarily about biking, the controls and physics are almost spot-on. Turning and weaving feels natural and sharp. Acceleration is well-balanced and I never felt I was going too fast to react to the obstacles on the road. Braking is kind of rough at this stage, basically being an immediate ‘slow down’ button with no real physics attached. It makes the riding feel a little arcadey and is likely something that’s on the list of future improvements already.

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Progression is novel and almost roguelike in its design. Starting at level 1, a random track and mission is chosen for me. Throughout, I earn cash and XP for battering my opponents in inventive ways. Finish the mission and I get a big XP and cash payout. I then get to spend my cash on upgrades good for the next mission, ranging from extra health to 2x damage and more durable weapons.

As I progress through the levels, the challenge gets increasingly more difficult and complex. Eventually I die, resulting in a refreshingly old-school game over. All my level progression is lost but I now get to spend the XP I’ve earned on permanent upgrades. These give me a better chance of getting further next time and range from a tougher bike to more health to starting with a better weapon. This system, coupled with the short loading times and enjoyable gameplay, makes Road Redemption a game you want to have just one more go at. It’s promising that, even in its early phase, the game has that sticking power.

Now on to the not so good parts. While the current build is pretty stable overall, there are some serious frame rate issues going on. Sometimes they’re understandable; the mode that has a tornado raining cars from the sky clearly cripples the build. However, I experienced chronic slowdown on some stages following a small pile-up with just a few cars. I’m not too concerned though; frame rate is often something ironed out in the final polish phase of development.

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Graphically, the game does well, although I had to drop it down to Medium on my machine as the build I played clearly wasn’t optimised. For my rig – which can run most games at full spec, 1080p – to grind through full graphics settings was surprising. Again, optimisation is a late-phase task in more development cycles and hopefully it’ll be fixed before launch.

There’s also no way to customise your rider or bike. Although I’m not sure if this is a planned feature or not, it would be nice to add some personality to your avatar. On that note, while the game apparently has a plot, it’s not very apparent through gameplay. It strings together the locations and gives you a reason for what you’re doing, but serves little other purpose at this stage. In order to keep the single player mode engaging in the long-term, deeper implementation of plot needs to happen.

Road Redemption has a great technical foundation; it would be shame to see it not reach it’s full narrative potential.

The Good Stuff

  • Gritty Road Rash feel
  • Great weapon variety
  • Looks great
  • Solid technical foundation

The Bad Stuff

  • Level Variety
  • Stability and Optimisation
  • Deeper Story
  • Multiplayer Mode

Final Analysis

It’s clear, even from this early build, that Road Redemption has the potential to become the Road Rash remake we’re all clamouring for. The team are definitely up to task, having created a playable early build that is already a lot of fun. Despite stability issues and the odd hilarious bug, it’s actually one of the cleanest Early Access builds I’ve played. Getting the core gameplay and progression in place early was a wise development choice and I have full confidence these guys will make a brilliant, engaging game that will be a worthy successor to the daddy of all biker games.

Technical Competency – 7/10

Graphic/Sound Quality – 8/10

Network Stability – N/A

Overall Quality Grade – 7/10