"Gee mommy! Does that mean I can kick my friend in the nuts, too?"
Psygnosis has always been an interesting company. It has, in its past, come out with some groundbreaking original concepts... and then they're either done to death, recreated all wrong, or followed by some frighteningly embarrassing game. Lemmings, Colony Wars, and Wipeout are among their brightest games, but then turnthey around and release Blast Radius, Rosco McQueen, and Spice Wor . . . hold on, we deny that game even exists!
Thankfully, this is not one of those God-awful signs of the apocalypse. Rollcage, while it seems like Wipeout with walls and wheels at first, takes the concept of futuristic racing in a different direction. It was created by another development team that tried to push away from Wipeout, but some of those positive influences did make it in. The result is another vision of future racing that is almost as impressive.
Graphically, the game zips. You really feel like you're hitting those 400 plus mph speeds with its silky smooth frame rate and all that artistic detail. There are the trails of smoke from your missiles as they whiz by and smack into the vehicle that just cut you off. Sweet revenge! The explosions fill the screen, and of minor note, in a snow stage, your tires will get snow packed in them. Nice little details.
Rollcage has music by, most notably, Fatboy Slims, as well as some other techno mixers and independents. I felt that the music was at first an over-hyped aspect of the game, but the more I played, the more I liked it. One song got stuck in my head (incidentally, the Fatboy Slims' entry), and the rest range from good to tolerable.
Each car has a slightly different feel, based on the performance ratings. However, the cars all look really similar, just with different color schemes. How much variation can you expect to get out of vehicles with oversized wheels? One minor gripe is that when two players select the same car, there is no color differentiation to tell the two apart.
It takes time to master these vehicles--because they can drive on the walls and ceilings, so you can sometimes have a problem with flipping. Sometimes when you try to drive on the walls, you can easily over steer and end up looping in circles. There's a "drive the right direction" button that redirects your car to go the right way; it takes getting use to, and the process of correcting yourself seems to take too long. However, once you've got the hang of it, it feels really natural.
There are 4 different kinds of terrain with 20 racetracks spread throughout them. Some of the levels feel way too short. And then there are levels that you don' t know where you're supposed to go. This can get frustrating when you're playing a 2-player game and you don't have a computer opponent to follow. Like the controls, you also have to get to know the tracks.
Weapons wise, the game works like Mario Kart with pumped up weapons. You collect orbs that are randomly either offensive or defensive. These power ups are standard issue, including lock on missiles, shields, and speed boosts. There are also some standouts like the ice ray that creates a frictionless surface in front of you and the hallucinogen that puts the screen on an acid trip, letting you go faster than everyone else.
Ever since Street Fighter 2, it seems like developers are compelled to create world tournaments and characters. If it's not appropriate to the game, don't even put it in! The characters that you play look very sad, like some chimp-human inbreeding experiment, and if you take the trouble to read the instruction book (don't waste that time), you'll get one lousy ass story. Just forget about the story, block those characters out of your mind, and get racing!
As a brief social commentary, another reason I didn't like the characters was that too many of them seemed to be designed around racial stereotypes. For example, the pathetic and somewhat racist opening movie. Duuude, that's just wrong! Wrong in what it says about people, wrong to susceptible 3rd graders, and wrong in that it has nothing to do with the game.
Perhaps in the future we will drive crazy vehicles like these. Maybe we'll also live in high rise space needles like the Jetson's, filled with exotic alien women, and be playing the Playstation 3000. Hell, who knows what the future may bring... but Psygnosis' future will be set and secured if it can only keep its credibility up by sticking to quality games like Rollcage. Just please... please leave the racial groin kicking out.