Road Redemption is pretty unabashedly simple stuff, its soundtrack is meek and often bland, its controls poorly mapped, and it boasts the graphical fidelity of a title from the previous console generation. It is a testament then, to Road Redemption’s core gameplay loop, that I actually quite enjoyed my time with it.
In fact, there were moments whilst playing it which I was reminded of Criterion’s stellar, and commercially successful Burnout series. Moments, where I was dodging enormous spinning car wreckages or shunting an opponent into an oncoming truck, harked back to this. When the game is letting things like this happen, it is one of the more enjoyable arcade racing titles I’ve played in recent memory.
If this all sounds a bit familiar, it should do. Road Redemption is to all intents and purposes, a spiritual successor to the beloved motorbike game, Road Rash.
Initially released by EA in 1991 for the Sega Genesis, Road Rash had a premise as simple as any other. You control a nameless motorcyclist that must reach the end of a given racecourse either before time runs out, or before anyone can beat you to it. Simple enough, right?
Road Rash had a twist though, whilst racing you were able, and actively encouraged, to fight off opponents with bicycle chains, baseball bats and all manner of blunt weapons intended to leave your opponents laying in a crumpled heap at the side of the road. These opponents would attempt to fight you in kind, and they’d have cool names like ‘Ace’ and ‘Axle’ and ‘Dex’ or ‘Grubb’ which made you want to wipe that smug visor right off of their helmet.
Suffice it to say, this slice of nineties escapism didn’t age quite as elegantly as the creators might have expected or intended. Nevertheless, Road Rash’s simplicity lent it a market relevance and cult-status which kept it in play all the way up to the days of the original PlayStation with Road Rash: Jailbreak.
That’s enough of the history lesson though. Road Redemption is developer Pixel Dash Studios and EQ Games’ attempt to recapture the simple joys of putting a baseball bat through a stranger’s head whilst hitting close to 110 miles per hour as you head towards the nearest oncoming wall. It does this with mixed results.
Beginning with the gameplay, there’s a lot to sink your teeth into here. The game boasts a total of 16 playable characters and 9 bikes all with unique stats and game-altering effects such as increased difficulty or increased damage output and player health. Customization options don’t end there though, with the addition of a relatively impactful upgrade suite which lends a permanency to your choices.
At the end of each single-player run, you are able to use XP to purchase lasting upgrades which slowly help you build towards beating the campaign; new-game-plus or quick play suite should it take your fancy. The upgrade options encourage you to brush up on your skills and reflexes and to play in different ways; do you play fast and aggressive or slow and defensive? There is a surprising amount of depth to the system and the Road Redemption certainly provides ample room for player growth and extended playthrough sessions.
Take for example the game’s central campaign mode. I was surprised to see that Road Redemption adopts a randomized structure between individual sessions a la The Binding of Isaac. Each run offers something new sometimes whether it’s a simple race to the finish or elimination round which keeps things feeling fresh. Tracks also randomize between races which means that the player must successfully adapt to their environment or risk crashing out of their current run early.
Conversely, although this promise of choice is initially alluring, the game generally loses its way as it continues to force options on the player. There is no clearer example of this than the game’s frankly mind-boggling controls. Whilst progressing through Road Redemption’s campaign, you are slowly drip-fed a toolset of increasing complexity, with new equipment such as shotguns and booster jets. Achieving many of these separate feats at once often asks your hands to switch into impossible configurations which will simply not be possible to the less dexterous, something which harms the game’s potential audience.
The story here is also pretty unremarkable stuff. Aside from a throwaway cutscene at the beginning, it is almost non-existent. You play as a nameless soldier for the Jackal Biker Gang informed that an assassin has killed the leader of the Ironsight Weapons Cartel. The cartel has offered a bounty of $15,000,000 to whoever brings in the assassin, dead or alive and every biker in the country, including yourself, now races to capture him. In its defense, this doesn’t need to be Hamlet and I suspect that the simplicity of its plot was meant to recall the old days of the arcade or home consoles where the gameplay experience was paramount and any narrative experience was secondary, it’s still worth bearing in mind though.
This problem can also be negated by the fact that the game offers 4-player split-screen co-op options and online modes should you really want to reminisce back to the days of Road Rash and just simply play with friends.
During my playthrough, I did also experience a number of glitches, some visual and some, unfortunately, game-altering. For example, the game’s unpredictable collision detection can make interacting with some enemies dangerous and unfair. On several occasions, I would go to attack enemies and be shot across the track and map for my insolence. At other points, I would pass through mountains and other objects seemingly at will. The game’s lack of polish is especially frustrating during moments like this.
The soundtrack is also nothing to write home about, an amalgamation of gritty biker rock and generally uninspired and thematically uninteresting stuff. The sound design also suffers in this regard with some audio samples peaking within the game’s mix, something that will be especially painful for headphone users.
Road Redemption is an inessential but unquestionably enjoyable game marred by its overall execution. There are moments of brilliance here but they are often overshadowed by a general lack of quality and weak design. If I were to suggest purchasing any version of the title, it would have to be the Nintendo Switch version of the game. The fact that this can be played in short incremental bursts whilst on the go, as opposed to extensive sessions on the more technically advanced modern consoles does it the world of good. However, I’d encourage waiting for a sale unless you really feel the need to satisfy your nostalgia.