"What's the point of remaking games?" is a familiar question. The answers can be similarly rote: "modern values", "the audience demanded it", "publishers abandoned the genre prematurely." Road Redemption, which is '90s motorbikes'n'baseball bats hit Road Rash by any other name, offers a stronger answer: "physics." The physics of rending metal and the physics of plummeting bodies.
Sure, we were quite happy crowbar-smacking 16-bit dudes in their barely-detailed 2D skulls at 120MPH on the Sega Megadrive, but we didn't get gloriously horrible ragdoll effects as our riders were hurled dozens of feet in the air by a collision, then bounced brutally along the tarmac. We didn't get raining cars.
OK, maybe we are ultimately just recreating the "ooh! Ouch! Oh God would you look at that?" giggles of 20 years ago, aided by vast leaps in graphical technology, but Road Redemption's alpha does strongly suggest a game that's using this stuff to heighten the malevolent fantasy of it all, not simply add layer after layer of shininess.
The game was Kickstarted last year, and has now reached the point where the alpha's available to buy if you want to take a punt. What I've been playing is unquestionably alpha, with all manner of features (including online multiplayer and a planned full sandbox singleplayer campaign with roguelite elements) missing, and a murkiness to its appearance (the meanie in me wants to say "which screams 'made in Unity!'), but it's done the smart thing and clearly focused on getting the nuts and bolts of biking and skull-cracking right first. It has realised its essential promise already.
Much like Elite Dangerous and its masterful space-feel, albeit at a fraction of the budget, Road Redemption seems to understand that all else is incidental beside realising the foundational fantasy. Vitally, it feels good to drive down a desert highway at high speed.
Hell, it feels great, even if more lighting snazz and sound effects are still needed to entirely convince. It definitely feels great to gun the throttle and waggle the steering until I'm alongside some leathers-clad rival, then lunge out with a shovel or truncheon and get that smack-crack response.
Reaching out and casually sticking a timed explosive to a rival's bike, then nitro-boosting to safety and watching the explosion in my rear-view mirror has kept me smiling during what's otherwise been a grim week. Even cocking it up and hitting a car's rear fender at 100-something miles an hour has been a hoot, as this very much adopts the Trials philosophy: "make failure funny."
Something the alpha also does is to attempt to remix things a little (or a lot) in each of its sequential race-levels. (I'm not sure if that will be the final structure of the game, but for now it's at least showing off the different sorts of challenges the game can have). Sometimes you've got to win the race, sometimes you've got to take down a certain number of rivals (or police bikes) within a time limit, sometimes all the passing traffic goes Spielberg's Duel on you, and sometimes they go Speilberg's Duel on each other. Like this:
The combination of metal mangling at speed and body-hurling absurdity means the best description of Road Redemption (other than 'it's Road Rash, stupid') is perhaps Michael Bay Remakes Wile E. Coyote. (And he probably will eventually, you know). Fortunately, the Roadrunner sensibility definitely wins out over the dead-eyed vehicle porn sensibility. We're supposed to be laughing all the time, I think.
The 'Rain' tracks only confirmed this suspicion:
Oh yeah. Oh. Yeah. This is the one. It's a hundred dumb apocalypse movie trailers made into one wild ride, and even in this nascent form it works beautifully. Arcade controls allow rapid response movement and the ability to avoid certain doom, only to plough straight into it seconds later. It's possible the current build is a touch too easy, but again, alpha. It's here to prove its concepts and without doubt it does. Biking down a highway in the middle of a carnado as is as thrillingly ridiculous as it sounds.
The lingering concern is how little time the game took before racheting up the gimmicks. Does that imply the simple, sadistic pleasure of racing and cracking heads only goes so far? Too soon to tell of course, especially as it's multiplayer that will really test the mettle of Road Redemption's pedals to the metal. Grudge matches, mass take-downs and full-nitro parrying are what Road Redemption will live or die on.
Shared screen multiplayer is in here, but as I share a house only with someone who doesn't like games, someone who's too young to play games and someone who lack thumbs, I haven't explored that yet.
There's much to come, including guns, grappling hooks, jetpacks, missions, cities, upgrades, stores, 18-wheelers, driving over rooftops, all sorts. Part of me worries that it's trying to do far more than it needs to, that it might be better off just focusing on making that core biking'n'brawling as slick and solid as possible.
On the other hand, it's a better world if we wind up talking about Road Redemption in contexts other than 'crowd-funded Road Rash spiritual sequel.' We're on the road to that world already, I'm glad to say.
The Road Redemption alpha is available to buy from the Humble store now, but it'll arrive on Steam Early access on 15th September. I will definitely be coming back to it.