I hate to start this post with a downer, and I debated keeping this or leaving it out. I decided I'd rather be the guy that “said too much” instead of “not said enough” when it comes to this blog.
I know I'm just some random peon with a modest retro gaming blog, but I want to devote this article (and the other two as well) to Chris Cornell, lead singer of Audioslave and Soundgarden who passed away last Wednesday, the same day as my Road Rash 2 review. The reason I devote these reviews to him is because he actually plays a major role in videogame history, and did so via the Road Rash series. While there is some debate whether it was THE very first game to include a such a feature, the 3DO edition of Road Rash included a licensed soundtrack and is often attributed as the first game to have this (when it came to actual CD audio). Upon startup, the game would play the intro cutscene to the game. The song used in this cutscene was “Rusty Cage” by Soundgarden. This was also the first song that kicked up on the main menu.
The inclusion of licensed music (which included other Soundgarden tracks as well) in the 3DO Road Rash would go on to win it several “best award” soundtracks, and is often cited as a big reason why the 3DO edition (along with its ports on PlayStation, Saturn and Sega CD) is so highly revered.
R.I.P. Chris Cornell. A musical genius taken way too soon.
Welcome to the 3rd and final part of my Road Rash retrospective. If you would like to read my reviews of Road Rash 1 and 2, check them out right here (Road Rash 1) and here (Road Rash 2).
Road Rash 3
1995, Electronic Arts
The third game in the Road Rash Genesis trilogy ended up not releasing until near the end of the Genesis' relevant lifespan in early 1995. At this point though, the Road Rash series was on the critical uptick, having released the well-received 3DO version (simply named “Road Rash”) just a handful of months before. With a PlayStation, Sega CD, and Sega Saturn port around the corner (and oh, how I wish I had a copy of one of those versions), Electronic Arts wasn't QUITE finished with the system the series was rooted in, even if the Sega Genesis was starting to wind down.
This isn't to say that Road Rash 3 was a rushjob by any means. In fact, Road Rash 3 looked, sounded, and played considerably different from Road Rash 2, which itself borrowed a lot of assets from the original game.
The graphics take on a more motion-captured, digital appearance as opposed to the drawn sprites of the first two games. I remember receiving this game for my birthday in 1995, and at the time it was ridiculous to see graphics this real coming from the Genesis (keep in mind, there were several Genesis games I never played during that time). But time hasn't been very nice to the art style of this game. The models look washed out, like they were processed for a stronger system and “dumbed down” so the Genesis could handle it. Some might chalk this up as an “art style”, but there's times where pedestrians, cars, and post-game rider graphics just look straight-up ugly. Also, the movements aren't as smooth as they were in past games. This visual style would also be used in the Sega CD port of the 3DO Road Rash game, and it makes me wonder if these graphics were made for the technically superior Sega CD game and then downsized for the Genesis.
That's not to say the graphics are all bad, though. The bikes and riders are much larger on-screen. You might not notice it much when you play, but if you play this for a time and then rewind back to Road Rash or II, you'll definitely notice it. Also, there's a neat effect where the overlay (which has seen the locations of statistics change, as well as a change from an analog speedometer to a digital one) will change colors depending on the color of the sky in each track. Sure, that's nothing but a simple color trick, but it's one of those little effects missing in past games that is pretty neat. This also carries over into the 2-player mode (which has largely remained unchanged from Road Rash II), but the visual effect isn't so strong.
And the courses in this game have seen an overhaul as well. Having taken the step from “California” to “nationwide” in II, Road Rash 3 takes the fight worldwide. Level 1 starts with races in Brazil, the U.K., Germany, Italy, and Kenya. There's neat touches in each course, such as animal life and props indigenous to each region. In a neat touch, the U.K. course even includes the traffic swapping lanes, and it's a much bigger element than it sounds. Another change worth mentioning is that even though there are still 5 courses per level, there are now 7 courses throughout the game. Reaching the “level 2” difficulty replaces the Kenya course with a brand new Australia course. Once you hit “level 3”, Italy is replaced with a night race in Japan. These courses will swap around some more (Kenya returns in level 4, for example). Also, a good amount of these courses are tougher, with tighter turns and chicanes. I never needed to use the brake in the level 1 courses of Road Rash 1 and 2, but needed to hit the brakes at least once in each course here. Germany especially has some lethal turns that will split your rider from your bike in short order if you try to take them at full speed.
The obstacles on the course are also out in full force. There seems to be a TON more cares on the road in this version, with their often being standstills in both lanes. It's somewhat irritating to have to go off-road and lose speed to get around these, while watching the CPU riders often split right through like there was nothing there. Another knock is that while in past games, a car that hits a bike will mow right on through and the bike would fall to the side, in this game the cars will stop in their tracks...sometimes. Other times, the car will continue to mow over the bike over and over again. Sometimes this will tack on just a couple of seconds to the process of getting back on. Other times, they can knock your bike back so far before the bike breaks free that you'll have lost considerable ground. If you're in a level 1 race and are unlucky enough to have this happen, you can pretty much kiss qualifying in the top 3 goodbye. I'm not sure if this was a design choice or a product of the new engine, but it's unacceptable in my eyes. There's also numerous animals that will try to cross the road; some can be ran right over (PETA would have plenty of material if this game came out today), some will send your rider flying off the bike in some way (deer might send the rider flying forwards, while bison will stop the rider and bike outright). While this aspect does take my complaint away of races being dull once you've pulled so far ahead of the pack, I'm not sure replacing “boredom” with “irritation” works out. There's gonna be a handful of races per run where things just won't work out for you. I had races at level 3 where within 2 miles of the 10 mile race, I knew I was screwed with my bike health in red and being near the back of the pack.
On top of that, the police have also kicked into another gear. Not only do the cops come in bike form, but now will bring cars out in hot pursuit (as opposed to them sitting idle in Road Rash 2, though they will do that too). In a moment of overkill, they also appear in helicopter form. They'll actually attempt to descend and knock you off with their landing gear, and can hover over you for a good amount of time, waiting for you to fall from your bike. It's just startling to see extremely low-flying choppers used to bust your rider.
In another curious move, there is also a “last chance” mechanic to this game. If you are arrested or wreck your bike and don't have the money to pay the bills, you're given a last chance to “snitch” or “repo” (respectively, depending on what event transpires when you have no money). “Snitch” will arm you with a billy club and give you one race to KO a specified rider assigned by an officer. Failure to knock this rider from his bike (you can't simply be in the proximity of the rider like the other cops) will result in your game ending, regardless of how well you finish the race. “Repo” is the same, except arming you with the new “crowbar” weapon. You'll typically only get one shot at these per playthrough and that's either/or, you won't get to "snitch" AND "repo" in one run. And you won't receive any money for accomplishing this goal, just the luxury of being able to play on. So you'll still need to find a way to rack up cash (and quickly) once you've made it through this.
Swingin' a crowbar before Gordon Freeman made it cool.
As mentioned in the previous paragraph, there are new weapons in this game. In fact, the number of weapons increases from 2 to 7, a dramatic jump from the past games. The billy club and chain return, with the chain being nerfed a decent amount (akin to how the club was dialed back in Road Rash II). A crowbar can knock enemies off in a couple of power shots, and the nun-chucks take over as the top weapon (based on power), with 2 shots from it being enough to knock anybody off. The game also contains 3 limited-use items that only contain 10 charges before switching off to another weapon. The mace spray can stun enemies for a short time, preventing a rider from steering or accelerating their bike (I guess it's corrosive mace, considering it melts right through helmet visors). Oil cans leave a puddle of oil that will result in an instant KO if a rider runs over it while turning. Lastly, a cattle prod can electrocute and stun riders for a longer time than the mace. A mace or cattle prod shot followed up with a kick off the road is an almost sure-shot way to thin out the competition, but the oil can is totally lame. Even the CPU riders can't use this item effectively, as "Lucky Luc" in level 1 will try to stay ahead and spam this item like crazy, to no avail.
In another change to the fighting system worth mentioning, riders can now (FINALLY!!!) retain weapons through races. Once you obtain an item from someone, it's yours until it's taken from you again. Also, an item with charges (mace, oilcans, and the cattle prod) will refill charges once a new race begins. You can also change items mid-race, allowing you to horde multiple high-powered items. The controls to do this (press start while holding up on the d-pad) is pretty convoluted, but in a game already using all the buttons of the Genesis controller, I'll admit I struggle to think of a better way they could've implemented this. But taking your thumb off the accelerator and preventing steering is not a comfortable way to change items in such a fast-paced, twitch-reflex racing game like this.
The music in Road Rash 3 has transformed radically from its predecessors.
The music and sounds of this game are almost completely brand new. The songs in this game are unique to each territory, with exotic music playing in the Brazil and Kenya stages, while other courses sample well-known melodies from those regions, such as the UK course sampling “Rule Britannia” and Japan sampling “Cherry Blossoms”. The Australia stage simply samples the main menu theme of the game, which is one of my favorite tracks in the entire Genesis library. The yells in the game have been improved, mostly because females FINALLY sound like females (again, I'm only parading this because in past games females have let out extremely manly grunts). At the same time, yells sound more real as opposed to the overdramatic yells of the riders in Road Rash II. Though I'll admit, your rider sounds less like he's excited to place when he crosses the finish line and more like some pro wrestling mark trying to start a Daniel Bryan “yes” chant.
One last upgrade to mention is...well...the upgrade system. The bike shop still contains as many bikes as it once did, with the nitro bikes now being their own unique machines instead of just being remakes of previous models. There is also an upgrade shop, with upgrades available to “performance” (increases top speed slightly), “protection” (your bike takes less damage in crashes), “tires” (better traction), and “suspension” (keeps the bike stable when landing). The prices will fluctuate as you get better bikes with the exception of “protection”, which will always cost a cool $1000. Some of these upgrades will come in handy, as some of the stats on the bikes in the bike shop are only incrementally different. You'll need to strategize what upgrades to buy and what bikes you want to save up for.
In the end, Road Rash 3 is one of those games that takes huge steps forward in its set of features, but takes a slight step back in the gameplay. Whether you'd prefer it over Road Rash II is sortof up to interpretation. Some see Road Rash 3 as a total bastardization of the first two games, while some think 3 adds enough to make it the best in the series running away. I personally prefer II over 3, but could totally understand someone preferring 3. Road Rash 3 is only a slight bump more than Road Rash II, just slightly north of $10. However, the game CiB tends to run higher, with copies recently selling at around the $30 mark. This leads me to believe Road Rash 3 might be rarer than its current price point indicates...I say this knowing full well the last time I said this was discussing “Namco Museum Vol. 2”, only to find the price actually DID spike shortly after that post. I chalk that up as coincidence, but in the opinion of this amateur retro gaming collector, if you have this, I'd hold it tight for awhile. I don't anticipate this ever hitting "extremely rare" status, or ever being the crown jewel of an avid collector's collection, but I see Road Rash 3 considerably less often than I see 1 and 2. And if you find it cheap, go ahead and pick it up, just because the quality of the game is worth the $10 with ease.
RATING - 4 out of 5
And with that, I thank you all for joining me for this Road Rash Retrospective. I know I'm skipping a few noteworthy renditions of the game, such as the highly acclaimed 3DO version, and the set of games in the next console generation in 3D, Jailbreak, and 64. Maybe I'll hit those another time, no promises though.
And of course I skipped “Skitchin!”. I'll never review that...probably.
I hope you all will join me in two weeks for a special 6-month anniversary post. I plan to have a special treat ready and waiting.