Review - Road Rash (3DO, 1994)

When Electronic Arts debuted Road Rash for the 3DO at the Winter Consumer Electronics Show (CES), it received a very warm reaction, and became one of the most awaited titles on 3DO. Perhaps it was because Electronic Arts was producing it, or perhaps because it was a hit title on the Sega Genesis; more likely, it was so well received because it appeared to be one of the first 3DO games to really showcase the horsepower of this 32-Bit multimedia CD-ROM game machine.

Road Rash is a unique blend of racing, combat and money management, now enhanced with a multimedia twist. You play an underground motorcycle racer, who takes part in a number of un-commissioned races again 13 others. Since these races are illegal, the roads are filled with cars and pedestrians, not to mention the police, who will be hot on your tail, especially after racing at speeds topping 150 miles per hour.

Before even fastening your seatbelt, you will have to select a character to use and abuse. These characters are not exactly model citizens, ranging from ex-convicts to high school drop outs. Nevertheless, they are the perfect drivers for the two wheel highway machine.

Before using the on-ramp to the highway, players will stop by the local bar to "schmooze" with fellow drivers and learn who is their friend or foe. Then, it's off to the racetrack, where you will challenge 13 other racers for top spot. There are 5 tracks to choose between, ranging from the busy city streets, to the coastal mountain region.

The main goal in Road Rash is to place within the top 3 in each race. Then, you are considered a "winner," and awarded a large sum of money to put toward a new bike. There are 5 different courses that you need to "win" before the game will bump you up to the next level. The next level does not include new courses, but instead extends the length of each of the 5 existing courses. Thus, once gamers have played through the first level, they've really seen most of the game graphics, although there are a few surprises on later levels. I would have liked to see some brand new courses on later levels, but the current courses have so much variety, and are so well designed, this disappointment is trivial.

Of course, this game is not just a pure motorcycle racing simulation. Interspersed with the regular race are feuds and quarrels between all racers. If someone cuts you off, do something about it! You can hit, kick, punch, and even whip opponents, hopefully making them "crash and burn." Since "rash racing" is illegal, the streets are not closed down, resulting in cars, taxis, and even pedestrians turning the streets into an obstacle course. If you're not careful, cars may run you over, and a few pedestrians can easily become road-kill. Finally, to add a little more fuel to the fire, there are police officers who are just waiting to write you a speeding ticket.

The races don't take place in a first person perspective – making you feel as if you're sitting in the driver's seat – but rather, your motorcycle is shown from behind, where you control the speed and left/right veering of the cycle. More options are available on better bikes, which can be purchased from the local bike shop. These bikes are so expensive that they can't be attained until you've won at least a dozen races.

Technically, Road Rash delivers the goods. Electronic Arts has licensed CD music tracks from a number of alternative bands (including SoundGarden) to use during the cut scenes and menus. Unfortunately, the fact that these tracks are replayed as CD audio, they cannot be played during the actual game. Gameplay features MIDI music created by an in-house composer. As usual with a 3DO game, full motion video "cut scenes" are used between levels and for special occasions. The video is well produced, with nice motorcycle stunts, and well acted scenes. Graphically speaking, the game is beautiful. In fact, the graphics look better than some of the coin-op motorcycle games I've played in recent years. Electronic Arts has really made the 3DO glow, because Road Rash is a technical ecstasy.

In summary, Road Rash combines positive elements of racing, combat, and strategy, into a very enthralling game. The technical achievement is unparalleled, the gameplay is well thought out, and the control is perfectly balanced. I would have enjoyed additional courses which became available on later levels, and the inclusion of rear view mirrors, but there is always room for small improvements on any game. Road Rash is a rollicking good time, and a must buy for any 3DO owner. It's a glimpse of what the 3DO is capable of, and shows me - finally! - why I spent $700 on this 32-bit gaming system.