First came Rollcage, a mildly innovative Wipeout-on-wheels whose hook was the ability to drive on walls and ceilings. The game had decent gameplay and an awesome soundtrack, but its short courses and frustrating grip physics diminished its lasting appeal. Now comes Rollcage Stage II, a sequel that purports to fix the previous game's flaws while offering a number of new features. Rollcage Stage II seeks to lure a thirsty racing audience with six main improvements: less frustration, lengthier tracks, more vehicles, more weapons, improved two-player support, and a ton of hidden secrets.
The first Rollcage had a major problem with tire grip and surface physics. Turning backward or becoming stuck was too easy, but worse than that, spinning in circles was a common occurrence. In the sequel, developer Attention to Detail has lowered tire grip, sped up automatic centering, and increased turn responsiveness, fixing the brunt of the original's physics issues. Further, since the vehicles in Stage II center themselves quicker while upside down, the game's antigravity premise is more succinct as well. At the same time, Rollcage Stage II offers more than 60 tracks - all of which are longer and more diverse than the original's - that contain any number of alternate paths, shortcuts, and destructible terrain objects.
Not content to stop with just a few improvements, Rollcage Stage II has the most diverse feature list ever witnessed in a fantasy-based racing title. In the single-player section, Rollcage Stage II offers up to 12 modes, with five available initially. The type one campaign is a season mode offering four leagues and 20 tracks of racing, the completion of which unlocks two more campaigns, bringing the total track count to 65. The arcade setting lets you play a quick race against the competition, while time attack allows you to test your skill against the clock. Borrowing from Gran Turismo's license tests, there's also a training mode for practicing braking and a scramble mode for practicing cornering. Hidden options include such things as a survivor mode, an all-tracks race, and a mirror option. As far as cars, you begin with only three, but first place finishes and unlocked modes will increase the overall selection to 60. Rollcage Stage II turns in a decent two-player showing as well, offering 11 total modes, ranging from single race and tournament options to such endeavors as deathmatch combat, boulder soccer, and demolition derby.
In contrast to the game's improved physics and deep features, Rollcage Stage II's gameplay is easier to describe: excellent. As you barrel along the tracks at over 300mph, you'll need to drive along ceilings, walls, rock formations, and other obstacles, all in an effort to beat four computer competitors. The game literally plays just like Namco's Ridge Racer or Sega's Daytona USA, only upside down and sideways. Whether you use the default directional pad or the Dual Shock analog stick, quick and responsive control is the order of the day. Place better than third, and you move on. Place first, and you'll earn some goodies. To aid you in your quest for first place, all the vehicles have two weapon pods, each of which may contain one of 12 weapons, such as homing missiles, gravity distortion bombs, and energy shields. New to Rollcage Stage II is the ability to double up attacks: You can fire your left weapon with L1 and the right with R1, but by pressing both at the same time, you can launch a combination attack. Usually, this only results in multiple projectiles or a greater speed boost, but on rare occasions, beautiful displays of opponent-stunting mayhem are produced.
Visually speaking, while Rollcage Stage II still suffers from the murky textures and haphazard lighting of the first game, it also improves upon its predecessor in a number of vital ways. The draw-in area is set farther down the track, eliminating the pop-up that plagued the original. As a result, the overall field of vision is wider, making for larger, more twisting courses and enabling a tenfold increase in trackside shortcuts. The lens flares, cinematic wipes, and motion blurs from the first game also return, accompanied by revamped interactive weather effects such as rain, lightning, fog, and snow. Rounding out the game's visual experience, Attention to Detail has increased both the number and the explosiveness of Rollcage Stage II's on-track obstacles. Buildings that explode, shattering glass, and bursting flames are just a few of the many jaw-dropping effects Rollcage Stage II has to offer - all with little to no slowdown.
In light of all the other improvements, Rollcage Stage II's soundtrack is disappointing. The first Rollcage featured a decent blend of techno and industrial music from industry stalwarts Fatboy Slim, EZ Rollers, and Aphrodite. The sequel's soundtrack, which contains 12 new tracks from artists such as EZ Rollers, Aquasky, and Technical Itch, lacks the same impact and quality. The repetitive backbeats and experimental crescendos are fitting, but they're not exemplary. On the upshot, the Stage II's sound effects, ranging from loud groaning engines to crisp multiple-projectile explosions, still rock the house.
Long story short, Rollcage Stage II is a superb sequel and an excellent futuristic racing title. The game may not have the lasting appeal of Psygnosis' Wipeout or Namco's Ridge Racer, but it has enough gameplay, eye candy, and bonus secrets to put it near the top of what the PlayStation has to offer. If anything, it certainly delivers on the premise of 360-degree racing better than its predecessor did.