The Road Rash series created and popularized the motorcycle racing/brawler sub-genre. It was a highly-respected franchise on the Genesis and achieved a solid level of acclaim until the early PlayStation days. A series of weak entries crippled it, and while a 2003 Game Boy Advance release was well reviewed, it wasn’t enough to keep the franchise alive. For over fourteen years, fans have been left wanting something to fill that void. Road Redemption was the first such game when it hit Kickstarter, while Road Rage aims to offer up an open-world variant on the concept.
While Road Redemption goes for a more straight up menu-driven race approach, Road Rage gives you an open world to explore before getting missions. You get in-game texts for upcoming missions, go to the meetup point and then just start off the race or task of your choosing. As part of a badass biker gang, you go on various missions put before you by your friends — or really, just jerks that tolerate you. It’s amazing how many biker gangs use “Mr. Tough Guy” as an insult in the gaming industry — it’s becoming a bit of an epidemic.
The world of Subtroit is overrun by biker gangs and your job is to just keep the peace as much as possible. The key to this is just beating everyone in time trial and elimination races, which highlight some of the biggest issues. The main problem facing Road Rage is its lack of polish in most areas — with its controls being a constant sore spot. The control layout is logical enough for the races, with the usual right trigger for acceleration and left for braking — but the other aspects are odd and strangely not able to be changed around. Attacks to the right are mapped to the right hand-side face button and the opposite holds true for attacks to the left — but you can’t just map them to the left and right bumpers. It’s strange and makes racing while also attacking a bit tougher than it needs to be. Input lag is a problem as well, with attacks not quite happening when you plan them — despite the limited animation being a benefit in a game like this since things aren’t so elaborate that they could slow down the action. Menu navigation also has a bit of a delay to it even when you are just buying items for your bike or buying new weapons. Nothing about the game is as smooth as it theoretically should be and everything feels like it’s less than the sum of its parts. In theory, taking the Road Rash gameplay model and adding an open world and a biker gang stucture should work fine and add to what existed in the past.
Road Rage gives you an experience that is similar to Road Rash when you check off boxes, but doesn’t deliver the goods as a game. Both games have combat-heavy racing, but the races here feel less polished than anything in Road Rash. Here, your bike never handles properly — with wheels that seem glued to the road more than they should be on what are often rain-soaked streets. There’s no handbrake either, which means that you are usually left to reduce your speed or brake early in order to avoid oversteering. No matter what kind of upgrades you go with, your bike controls never feel right.
Road Rage‘s core mechanics are broken too. Beyond it being too easy to get stuck in parts of the environment and restarting a race — technical issues throw you off regularly. You could be doing well and then all of a sudden have a rival in last place just fall out of the sky and through the Earth. It’s strange, but hilarious to see. Enemies may also opt to run right into houses and get stuck rather than race beside you. The busted collision detection can work in your favor, though, as it isn’t impossible to run head-on into something only to clip through it and escape unscathed.
Road Rage‘s combat could be its greatest strength — but winds up being another underwhelming part of its design. Attacks are few in number and where Road Rash gave you a nice kick for distance and then more powerful weapon attacks that had to be earned, Road Rage limits you to just weapon attacks. There’s no thrill of grabbing a weapon from an enemy here, and that makes the combat feel fairly hollow. Every race starts with a weapon and that eliminates the thrill of getting something like a crowbar right before a race would end and moving up a few positions due to it.
Road Rage‘s mode selection offers up a mix of the original Road Rash‘s races and more modern-day offerings like elimination races and time trials. Since all of these modes rely on the same flawed core gameplay, though, none of them quite live up to their full potential. Elimination races are probably the most exciting offerings due to the feeling that a single mistake could end your run — but even they fail to truly get your blood pumping since the iffy collision detection could mean that your attacks don’t hit and thus force a restart for all the wrong reasons.
Visually, the game does have impressive texture work at times. The road themselves look solid, while the character models lack detail. Their bodies are lean and barely look large enough to support bones — which kind of makes the ragdoll-esque physics funnier. The leather jacket-wearing characters are nicely hidden from flaws thanks to their clothing, which doesn’t move against the wind no matter how fast you’re going. Animations are stilted for attacks and don’t feel satisfying as a result. The environments are also disappointing and seem barren outside of a ton of fog that inhabits the world.
Musically, Road Rage delivers a rock soundtrack befitting the tone. It’s loud and aggressive, but doesn’t leave much of an impression when it’s over. It does get your blood pumping during races — so it accomplishes its goal there. The sound effect work when it comes to weapons needed some improvement. Nothing gives off a satisfying thud like it should and attacking with every weapon feels far too similar — without a sense that there is a tier system in place to make them more rewarding to use.
Road Rage takes the Road Rash formula and fails to live up to any single entry in that series despite great advances in technology since its last entry — let alone its heyday. The racing action struggles due to poor controls, while the combat rings hollow with poor weapon selection and sub-par sound effects. Glitches and other technical problems muddy the experience further, while a lack of polish on everything makes the game feel like a cash-in on a minor “Road Rash revival” sub-genre. The key to any kind of spiritual successor is to do it well and Road Rage does very few things well. Minor graphical flourishes on the roads themselves are undone by sloppy animations and the bland rock soundtrack fails to deliver a lasting impression.