Midway shows off the fun side of postapocalyptic life.
While apocalyptic events have traditionally been presented as generally unpleasant occurrences, films and video games have shown that they don't all have to be doom and gloom. Sure, society collapses and the majority of the population is probably wiped out or mutated into some form of CHUD, but that's a "glass is half empty" kind of view. The plus side to such a cataclysm is quite a bit more freedom and, yes, some fun. The latest case for the fun side of postapocalyptic life is Midway and developer Terminal Reality's RoadKill, a mission-based car combat game for the GameCube, PlayStation 2, and Xbox. We just got our hands on preview builds of the PlayStation 2 and Xbox versions and are pleased by what we're seeing.
RoadKill's premise is simple: You're put in the role of Mason Strong, a recently wronged average Joe who used to be part of a gang called The Sentinels. While it initially seemed like a good career move, things took a turn for the worse when gang leader Axl opted not to share the wealth after taking over Paradise City. Adding further insult to injury, Axl attempts to have you killed. The good news is he fails. The bad news is you wind up in Lava Falls, which is quite a ways away from Paradise City. The even worse news is that getting back to Paradise City to exact revenge is going to be a challenge, thanks to the anarchic life that's sprung up following civilization's battle with a deadly ebola-like virus that's referred to as "the rot." For those keeping score, the tally at the start of the game is virus 1, humanity 0. As a result, towns are a bit more sparsely populated, and what passes for order is pretty fluid. In order to eke out a living and make it to Paradise City, you'll have to suck up to the local gangs in each city along the way and take on jobs to earn cash. It's not the greatest life, but, as we all know, revenge is usually worth it.
You'll find two modes in RoadKill, single-player and multiplayer. The single-player mode features a standard mission-based structure that charges you with a wide variety of missions on your way to bloody revenge. Once you've paid your dues in a city, you'll be able to move on to another, and you'll repeat this process until you reach Paradise City and face off against Axl. The multiplayer mode is a collection of game types for one to four players, and it adds quite a bit to the RoadKill experience. There haven't been many games that have successfully pulled off four-player car combat, but RoadKill does. The split-screen option isn't ideal, but it's good and playable. The frame rate in the game is high and generally smooth, although the PlayStation 2 version can get inconsistent.
The gameplay is very solid, featuring an accessible control scheme and arcade-style mechanics. You'll be able to hop in and start blowing things up pretty easily, regardless of your skill level. Acceleration, braking, reversing, and firing your weapons are all easy to do. The game offers a solid amount of variety, thanks to the inclusion of 30 different vehicles to use. You'll also be able to upgrade your wheels by using cash earned through collecting scrap from defeated foes. To aid you in your killing, you'll find a wide arsenal of weapons and performance upgrades available for purchase. You can also find blueprints for even better weapons strewn throughout cities.
The graphics in RoadKill are looking very sharp and feature a healthy dose of personality. The game environments are massive and pretty well populated. The cities you'll be making your way through are filled with details such as neon signs and moving elements like Ferris wheels. The look of the cities is further complemented by a buzz of activity. While the game obviously revolves around you, the locals are all going about their own business. Given the anarchy that's prevalent, you'll see all manner of debauchery as you zip through the towns. Pedestrians will start to shoot at each other or at cars, cars will start attack pedestrians or other cars--it's basically madness. You can choose to stay above it all and focus on your missions or stir up some trouble. You'll be able to blow up cars or shoot up pedestrians until your heart is content--or until the riot meter, which fills as you go about your dirty business, charges and everyone turns on you. As mentioned earlier, the game's frame rate is generally high and smooth, with the expected discrepancies between the PlayStation 2 and Xbox games. As far as overall graphics go, both versions are comparable, although the Xbox version obviously edges out the PlayStation 2 version with slightly sharper visuals.
The audio in the game borders on masterful, thanks to strong voice acting and an eclectic mix of classic tunes from a wide variety of artists. The voice acting in the game is solid and manages to successfully work in enough salty talk to satisfy lovers of profanity. Voice also plays a large part in your experience in the game, as there's a radio that clues you into events and the general attitude toward you. The chatter from locals in the city and the DJs on the assorted stations is good and often funny. In terms of music, you'll hear gems such as "(Don't Fear) The Reaper" by Blue Oyster Cult and "Heading out on the Highway" by Judas Priest, along with oddities like "Jessie's Girl" by Rick Springfield, on the game's massive soundtrack. Xbox owners are in for an extra treat, thanks to the game's support of custom soundtracks.
Based on what we've played so far, RoadKill is shaping up to be a fun game with quite a bit of personality. While the game owes quite a bit to the recent entries in the Grand Theft Auto series, that's not necessarily a bad thing, given how well it's turning out. It looks good, plays well, and has a strong multiplayer component. Best of all, it manages to incorporate its M-rated content without sacrificing gameplay. Fans of car combat or anyone looking for a profanity-riddled good time will want to keep an eye out for RoadKill when it ships this fall.
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