Arcade racers have been a favourite of mine since my early years of gaming with the likes of Road Rash, Wipeout, and the Extreme-G Racing series. So when I saw Road Redemption, with its high-speed, ass-kicking, biker action I could not wait to get my hands on it.
Set in a Mad Max-esque post apocalyptic world, the campaign puts the player into a lethal race against a rival biker gang. Both are pursuing a absurdly high bounty that has been placed on an assassin who took out the leader of the biggest weapons cartel. With the weapon market now open and a bounty high enough to purchase the majority of these weapons, both gangs are now at war. While the plot is a side note in the game, it is strong enough to hold the game together and gives a good enough reason to be cracking skulls with a lead pipe all the while listening to a heavy metal soundtrack and speeding across the highway at 100mph.
Road Redemption is most fun when battling for position, and by battling I mean hacking at other riders with a sword or gunning them down with a double-barrelled shotgun. Nothing is quite as satisfying as moving alongside another rider, grabbing him by the helmet and knocking him out on his own handlebars. Combat is balanced in such a way that certain attacks are more effective than others; if a rider is wearing a helmet then a sword with bounce harmlessly off of it, switching to a blunt weapon will knock the helmet off so that the sword can be then used to decapitate them gruesomely and will reward the player with more money and experience than usual. The inclusion of a parry ability makes combat all that more engaging, trying to balance attacking and fending off incoming attacks at the same time can get hectic in the best of ways. When things get a little too dangerous it is sometimes better to slow down or boost away from tough enemies, alternatively a well placed kick can send enemy riders into obstacles or flying off the track. Gunplay takes some getting used to, in order to aim I had to manually move my camera to look either left or right, meaning losing sight of the track and making it near impossible to steer correctly. There is a degree of auto-aim which does help, however guns are better reserved for cruising up behind targets lining up shots with the direction of the bike itself to avoid moving the camera as much as possible.
Arcade racers will often take some liberties with the way a realistic vehicle should handle, Road Redemption takes this with a handful of salt rather than a pinch. The standard turning of the bikes have a wider arc than a fully loaded semi-trailer truck. Holding the left trigger will engage a sharp turning mode that makes the bike suddenly become overly responsive. While a little jarring to begin with this button became almost permanently pressed down as turning any corner other than a very gentle one is impossible without it. Inconsistencies are rampant with the way physics are applied to the motorbikes, especially when getting air or landing. It doesn’t matter if I am boosting or not when taking a ramp, it's a flip of the coin if the game will decide to send me hurtling into the sky with no choice other than to overshoot the landing or a short bunny hop that may or may not clear the jump. When I do land a jump I had a recurring problem of my bike suddenly turning at a 90 degree angle left or right forcing me to crash. Hitting obstacles will result in either crashing and being reset back onto the track or becoming stuck on a piece of environment. Getting stuck rather than crashing is more frustrating because it takes longer to reverse, move around the object than to simply be reset onto the track.
Racing games often have a catch up system of some sort, in Mario Kart that comes in the form of the Bullet Bill power up (this will move automatically and propel the player at high speed and back into a fighting position). Road Redemption lives and dies on whether there is enough boost in the tank, to gain boost players can perform near collisions with oncoming traffic or by forcing other bikers to crash. When I say near collisions I really mean very, very close collisions, often it is not worth the risk of crashing to the amount of boost it generates. The game spawns additional enemies onto the track, these can be the Police or other riders that do not take a position in the race. These additional enemies are designed so that when I take a bad crash I am able to recover by destroying their vehicles or knocking their riders off their bikes to generate boost. When this system works it works fantastically, unfortunately there will be times that I take a tumble and end up spending the entirely of the race far behind last place and no enemies will spawn near me. There is not enough oncoming traffic to attempt a near collision to gain more boost and the risk is not worth it since I am already struggling to catch up. This means that I had several races where I had no other option but to lose because there is no way to generate enough boost. This doesn’t only happen in last place but can happen while in first place too. The game becomes extremely stale when this happens because the tracks and movement controls are not engaging enough on their own to be of any fun or challenge.
The roguelike feature is a nice addition to the game, health and boost will carry over from the previous race. Once health reaches zero the game is over meaning I have to start from the beginning and lose all of my weapons and upgrades. There is a talent tree that will unlock passive bonuses, such as new bikes and level unlocks and health upgrades. Experience and money is awarded by defeating enemies and completing objectives, experience can only be spent at the end of a run. Because health affects the game's victory state it promotes a risk vs reward system. It is possible to avoid conflict only when necessary, but in doing so I would not be awarded with as much experience as if I decided to take out every rider and vehicle on my way to first position. After finishing a level, money earned can be spent on temporary upgrades such as improved weapons, critical damage, boost capacity and health regeneration. It is possible to buy health restores and boost tanks but the option will not always be there because the shop is randomised every time. Losing a race doesn’t mean defeat, instead there is a punishment of -25% to maximum hit points. This in my opinion is a great way to handle losing races rather than having to restart a race and can be great to build up tension in future races.
There are a fair number of game modes spread throughout the campaign, helping to keep things fresh and is a nice change of pace to the standard racing. Some missions require a set number or enemies or a tough boss to be defeated before the end of the race. There are time trial races and some tracks feature a hallucinogenic effect that will have cars rain from the sky. Occasionally a rooftop track will appear which never failed to make me groan, as mentioned before with the difficulties in controlling the bike when taking a ramp these levels become tedious and a case of crossing my fingers and hoping I am able to get enough of a lead so that when I do inevitably fall off the track because of dodgy physics I am able to recover quickly enough.
Different characters can be unlocked and each offer a multiplier or a handicap to make the campaign more interesting, some might generate more cash and experience but have 50% less health than the standard rider. Completing the campaign will unlock campaign +, a much more difficult and faster paced version of the original mode. Road Redemption offers a lot of replayability and supports up to four player co-op, which in my opinion is the best way to play the game. There is an online multiplayer mode with its own progression system which has potential but I found myself joining into races already in progress and of course starting in last place it is impossible to compete and I have to finish the race to be able to start a fresh race.
Road Redemption is a fantastic game to play when it works, but when it does not it becomes a frustrating mess. The systems in place will at times not give the player a chance to recover or in some extreme cases races are lost before they even begin. While I thoroughly enjoyed my time with Road Redemption, the technical flaws grate overtime and the enjoyment is slowly sapped away. Because of that I cannot see myself returning to play this title until these problems are solved.
Road Redemption (Reviewed on Windows)
The game is average, with an even mix of positives and negatives.
Road Redemption is a fantastic game to play when it works, when it does not it becomes the most frustrating game I have played in a while. The systems in place will at times not give the player a chance to recover or in some extreme cases races are lost before they even begin. I thoroughly enjoyed my time with Road Redemption but I cannot forgive some of its technical flaws and because of that I cannot see myself returning to play this title unless these problems are solved.