Cars and guns go together like peanut butter and jelly...at least when it comes to games. But RoadKill, which offers an ideal car-to-gun ratio, doesn't stop there with the flavor combinations. If you've played Grand Theft Auto and Twisted Metal, then it would be easy to describe RoadKill to you as a combination of the most recent entries in these series of games. Combining the over-the-top vehicle design and pure shooting action of Twisted Metal: Black with the free-form gameplay, clockwork environments, radio-style soundtrack, and sheer audacity of Grand Theft Auto III or Vice City, RoadKill will appeal to fans of any of these games. It's even got a dash of The Road Warrior thrown in for good measure. Yet, the game manages to have a bit of its own style and feel to it, despite how most of its elements are clearly derived from other games. What's most important, though, is that RoadKill is fun to play. The game is filled with plenty of fast, violent action, and while it would be easy to dismiss it as an attempt to cash in on the success of Grand Theft Auto (which, in fact, it is), to dismiss RoadKill would be to overlook RoadKill.
In the game, you play as a tough guy with a tough name: Mason Strong, who's one of humankind's few survivors of a disease called the rot. Those who didn't die from this disease descended into savagery--the world has degenerated into full-scale, anarchic warfare, and only the meanest and most ruthless can hope to survive for long in this postapocalyptic wasteland. RoadKill's single-player mode puts you as Mason first in the city of Lava Falls, then in Blister Canyon, then in the fabled Paradise City--where the grass is green and the girls are pretty, though it's also seemingly the last vestige of decent civilization. All these places are ruled over by vicious gangs, and Mason will align himself with some and battle head-on against others over the course of the game's story missions, all while earning better and better vehicles, more money, and more prestige. There's no on-foot action in RoadKill; you're almost always behind the wheel of a tricked-out machine-gun-toting car, though sometimes, you'll get to man the swivel turret mounted on the back. You'll deal with your enemies by means of those guns and various other weapons, such as bombs and rockets.
The fact that you can't leave your vehicle (unless it blows up and sends your corpse flying) is indicative of RoadKill's relative simplicity in comparison to Grand Theft Auto III and Vice City. The vehicle physics in the game are seriously forgiving. You can't really flip your car over (it'll just flip right side up), most every vehicle is nice and fast and can turn very sharply if you apply the handbrake, and you can pretty much just ride the "accelerate" button even around hairpin turns. All this is conducive to the game's arcadelike feel, though one aspect of the relaxed physics model that's a little disappointing is that, with very rare exception, there's no collision damage for vehicles. Crashing head-on through a row of street lamps, let alone straight into a brick wall, does nothing to your vehicle. Actually, the brick wall would slow you down, but you get the picture. Collisions with other vehicles don't injure either party, and that's the real issue; in car combat games like Twisted Metal: Black, colliding with enemies can be a viable means of attack, especially if you're in a much meatier vehicle than your foe. Here, it's your guns and bombs that will do the talking.
Your guns auto-target whichever vehicle or unfortunate pedestrian happens to be in front of your vehicle. Your machine guns have unlimited ammo and can't overheat or anything, so you can theoretically just fire away forever. And, in the turret missions, which are like shooting galleries, that's pretty much exactly what you'll do. There's no skill involved in aiming your stock weapons in RoadKill, but some of the special weapons are a little more interesting and proportionally more powerful. At any rate, between skidding around to keep a bead on your enemies and making the best use of your limited special weapons, all while learning the lay of the land so that you know where the closest power-up is if you need it, there's certainly enough to do in RoadKill to keep you entertained. The action is a little on the simplistic side, but there's plenty to shoot at, and when hit hard enough, cars blow up real good, and pedestrians bleed real bad.
The single-player game is structured more or less exactly like Grand Theft Auto III or Vice City...except the little minimap is square-shaped here, rather than circular. Right off the bat, you have a large chunk of territory that you're free to navigate at your discretion. You can explore and search for hidden items--namely, pieces of unlockable weapons and vehicles--and you can take on some peripheral missions (Crazy Taxi-style deliveries, races, stunt drives, and more) as well as the main story missions, which must be accomplished in sequence. While driving around, you can pick a fight with anyone and for whatever reason, and there's no penalty for doing so.
In fact, blowing up other vehicles causes them to spew out a few pieces of salvage, which translate into currency that you can spend on permanent upgrades like improved top speed, extra armor, greater ammo capacity for your special weapons, additional shots of nitrous for speed boosts, and more. These upgrades aren't vehicle-specific, so whichever car you happen to be driving will benefit. The game's vehicles certainly look a lot different and are rated differently in terms of acceleration, top speed, and "health," but they more or less handle similarly and function identically. They all sport machine guns and a rear-mounted swivel turret, which, during most of the game, will be manned by a computer-controlled gunner who'll judiciously fire upon any enemies in your vicinity.
You don't carjack people in RoadKill. To acquire new vehicles, you need to seek out the blueprints and various hidden parts. It can be quite tough to find a full set of parts for a given car, and since the starting car and another vehicle you unlock via the story mode early on are quite effective, you won't feel implored to do so. Instead, you may find yourself concentrating on just wreaking havoc and racking up cash for those upgrades. Similar to how the Grand Theft Auto games throw more and more deadly law enforcement after you as you kill people, RoadKill sends more and more cop car-like sentinels after you as you cause mayhem.
By the later stages of the game, these sentinels actually don't pose much of a threat. Since power-ups that instantly restore your vehicle to full health are strewn about each city, you'll find yourself able to thwart countless numbers of these enemy cars, especially if you've picked up some of the better special weapons. This limits the game's long-term replay value. On the other hand, some of RoadKill's story missions are quite tough--nothing you shouldn't be able to handle by attempting them enough times, though, and the game does a nice job of mitigating any frustration factor by causing you to instantly respawn at your garage if you get blown up. There's no real penalty for getting killed--Mason's just that tough.
Going straight through the story missions should take at least 10 hours, and you could easily spend about as much time scouring the game's big cities for secrets. The cities are mostly noninteractive; the numerous storefronts are mere facades, though each square block at least looks distinct from all the others, and, much like in Grand Theft Auto, there's some occasionally funny (if crass) signage that's always worth keeping an eye out for. Other than the single-player mode, RoadKill offers a Twisted Metal-style multiplayer mode for up to four players. This mode features some power-ups that aren't otherwise available, and since it's not hard to point and shoot in this game, the gameplay here more or less is about making a beeline for the best pickups and using them to get the edge over your buddies. Twisted Metal: Black and some other Twisted Metal games offered a lot more lasting value to their multiplayer modes because their gameplay not only featured some special moves that could be mastered, but also required some finesse with many of the vehicles' special abilities. The vehicles themselves offered much more variety than those of RoadKill.
RoadKill does have variety, in its single-player story missions. Like those of Grand Theft Auto, the missions in RoadKill involve racing against the clock, blowing up or otherwise killing bunches of bad guys, multistep scavenger hunts, straight-up shooting sprees, and more. Each mission is prefaced by a prerendered cutscene featuring the jaded Mason Strong, who patiently takes orders from various thugs in his effort to eventually surpass them. These cutscenes have a simple look to them, but they are animated and choreographed very well and can be quite amusing. As long as you don't have sensitive sensibilities, anyway. Heed that M rating on the box, because RoadKill deserves it and pretty much wears it on its sleeve. The game's got plenty of four-letter words and toilet humor, as well as graphic violence, as when a pedestrian's body becomes lodged onto the spikes of your car and spews blood for a while before finally tumbling off to the side. RoadKill's attempts at humor are hit-and-miss; the game goes for the same exact irreverent tone as the Grand Theft Auto games, but isn't quite as clever or subtle. Still, if you appreciated the GTA games' sense of humor, you'll be in familiar territory here, and you'll probably like Mason as a character.
Just like in the Grand Theft Auto games, RoadKill's musical score is composed of songs you'll hear on the game's fake radio stations. Most of what's on the radio here is actually just talk--there are several different chatty DJs to listen to, as well as three music stations. One's rap, one's metal, and another consists of licensed late-'70s, early-'80s classic rock from such bands as Judas Priest, Blue Oyster Cult, April Wine, and Foreigner, one of whose songs on this soundtrack can also be heard in Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, whether or not by coincidence. Still, this is great stuff, though you'll wish there were more of it. The one station with licensed music on it is easily the best, though switching over to the rap channel can make for a good change of pace. Other than that, RoadKill's voice acting is solid, and the ambient sounds and the cacophony of the battles all sound good. Of note, it's fortunate that the cars' machine guns sound so loud and powerful, since they all sound the same. On the other hand, each vehicle has its own distinct exhaust note.
RoadKill is a good-looking game, and it looks more or less identical on the PlayStation 2, Xbox, and GameCube--the latter two versions are just slightly cleaner than the PS2 version. The game is prone to a little slowdown when things get really crazy, as when you blow up a couple of cars simultaneously, but generally it runs smoothly. The cityscapes are suitably big and detailed, though the textures for most of the areas are simple, while the car models are creative and appropriately deadly looking. Pedestrians and drivers look simple, but through the magic of rag-doll physics, they look great when caught in a blast (or on the hood of your car) as they go flailing about. Some weather effects and natural disasters, like hurricanes, also look quite good.
This game may not be the next Grand Theft Auto, but it's got a lot of the same style and the same spirit, content, and dialogue that would send a PTA meeting into a panic, and lots of good, simple shooting action. If you think the idea of a game about driving around in a machine-gun-toting car while completely ignoring traffic laws and blowing away anything in your path sounds like fun, then you'll get it out of RoadKill.