Cheap kills and cheaper thrills.
I remember the day I got my driver’s license. I’ve even got a picture of it in my wallet. I’m all big, innocent smiles with braces and glasses, so pleased that someone’s finally given me a license to drive a huge piece of metal around in a responsible way at reasonable speed limits. I had no plans of driving outrageously, tearing up elementary school lawns, peeling out of my driveway at two in the morning or racing other teenage idiots on two-lane roads.
Somehow, I don’t seem to have many memories of those times at all, just impressions of speed, violence, and lots and lots of expletives. That’s why I kind of enjoy Midway’s new RoadKill. It’s a mindless death-spree through an industrial wasteland full of evil clowns, sleazy hookers and monster cars with guns.
Even though it’s easy to see RoadKill as derivative of titles like GTA 3, Carmaggedon and Twisted Metal, I see it as an appropriate reinterpretation of those games. I’m sure those of you still gunning for that elusive license will have a blast with RoadKill‘s senseless violence and creatively degenerative story. Between bong rips, that is.
On the other hand, RoadKill is not a game that seems suitable for anyone other than those in the midst of their own teenage wasteland. If you’ve already vicariously experienced gratuitous sex and violence playing Twisted Metal while blasting Marilyn Manson, RoadKill won’t offer anything new. On top of that, the game RoadKill is most clearly comparable to, GTA 3, is a masterpiece, while RoadKill is just a piece of mediocrity.
Set in a plague-stricken world at the end of civilization where ruthless gangs rule the only three cities left, RoadKill draws pretty heavily on The Road Warrior theme. You play Mason Strong, a humorless silent type obsessed with vengeance in a world where the weak are picked off the streets by buzzards. In true GTA style, you’ve got to work your way up from the bottom of the gangland hierarchy to get a shot at killing your nemesis, Axl.
The story is played out through cut-scenes in between missions. These can be divided into three parts. Part one: Gang-boss or gang-boss’ crony makes lascivious advances towards sleazy hookers or threatens a spineless underling. Part two: Gang-boss or gang-boss’ crony gives you instructions and background. Part three: Gang-boss or gang boss’ crony continues making lewd advances on equally lewd hookers or kills spineless crony. As insipid as this seems, the writers did a good job of making the situations humorously amoral and lurid. The situational conventions the writers used aren’t unique, but at the same time they clearly had fun with them and as a result the story is surprisingly enjoyable.
The in-game tone is consistent with the cut-scenes as you cruise your war-machine through wrecked city streets. The controls are very simple and appropriate for a game based on mindless destruction and violence – you can accelerate, brake, hand-brake, and use primary and secondary weapons. Your standard primary weapon is a weak machine gun that never runs out of bullets and you can eventually deck yourself out with gattling guns, cluster rockers, air-strikes and more. Also, every car (and there are a LOT of cars) comes equipped with a rear-mounted machine gun that is usually manned by your wing-man, who will shoot at any hostiles in range. However, when precision is called for, you take control of the mounted cannon yourself for some mindless regulation.
With all those weapons you’ve gotta have lots of stuff to kill, and RoadKill certainly delivers in this department. Pedestrians are never off-limits and many are armed. Had a hard day at work? Run down a few of these suckers and watch with cathartic glee as they struggle to free themselves from the spikes mounted on the front of your car. Or, grunt primitively as a prostitute flaps helplessly in the wind while she gets dragged along in your wheel well. Did I mention this wasn’t a game for kids? I mean, it is, but only for the evil ones.
And I haven’t even mentioned all the cars you’ll have to blow up. Blasting other cars is pretty much the name of the game. As cars take punishment, they’ll become damaged in cool ways, smoking like Cheech and Chong before ultimately exploding. When this happens they’ll spew valuable parts that you can grab and sell to upgrade your own car.
The A.I. isn’t exactly sophisticated, but neither is anything else in RoadKill. Your CPU opponents manage to do what matters, and that’s drive around real fast and shoot at you.
Also, new cars and weapons can be accessed by finding the appropriate blue-prints and parts. Unfortunately, RoadKill‘s lasting value isn’t quite great enough to search for these components. The gameplay, while fun and mindless, gets old fast (takes a minute to learn, but a half-hour to master), and you can trick your cars out plenty without having to search for hidden items. It lacks the depth of GTA and the sophistication of Twisted Metal, leaving a somewhat unsatisfying residue.
RoadKill is very dark and grainy across all three platforms (which look and play roughly identically), though this graphical grit fits the feel and doesn’t detract from the experience. Gritty game, gritty look. Makes sense. What doesn’t make sense is the lack of any sort of collision damage. Go ahead and ram into a wall. Not a scratch! Now try smashing into another car. Not a dent! Taking the arcade route is fine when it comes to control and physics, but how about some more realistic damage?
RoadKill‘s audio mimicry of GTA 3 wears thin, as you have a handful of radio stations to choose from and only one plays real, licensed hits. The rest are fake rap, fake metal, and noisy talk stations. The gun noises are jarring and the explosions are okay.
If you live with your mother, smoke pot, watch wrestling, can’t vote, and love The Cramps or have a big brother who does, you will likely have a blast with this game. Not only can you get your violence fix by yourself on a Wednesday night, but you and your friends can have fun wrecking each other in the 4-player split-screen. It doesn’t have the finesse, complexity or scope of GTA, but few games do. Sometimes, the simple things in life are enough.