I've always had a soft spot for SpyHunter. Although Twisted Metal and other arena-based shooters are great in their own right, there's something special about an action racing game that lets you hit the open road.
LocoCyle is kind of like that. But add in a few sentient talking motorcycles, crazy biker gangs, a plot for world domination, and an innocent mechanic forced along for the ride. Yep, it's pretty hard to explain, but I'll try.
LocoCycle (Xbox 360, Xbox One [reviewed])
Developer: Twisted Pixel Games
Publisher: Microsoft Studios
Release Date: November 22, 2013
I wasn't expecting LocoCyle to be as off the wall as it was. Think back to how Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon payed homage to '80s films -- that's similar to how LocoCycle plays out, but a little less dystopian and bleak and more "buddy cop." In a rather weird set of events, the game has a ton of real-life film footage spliced in-between gameplay that tells a mini-movie of sorts. Think Toxic Avenger meets Tron, with its own bit of craziness.
Actress Lisa Foiles lends her voice to I.R.I.S. the blue sentient motorcycle on the "good side." As your rival, Robert Patrick (of Terminator 2 T-1000 fame) plays the "bad" in the form of S.P.I.K.E. Stuck right in the middle is Pablo (Freddy Rodriguez), who is attached to I.R.I.S. as she breaks free of the evil organization that is auctioning her off to world powers as a weapon. James Gunn and Tom Savini also add their talents to the mix in these sequences, adding a good amount of cheese/camp factor.
Confused yet? I was too at times, given how insane the game is on a constant basis. I don't want to spoil much, but at one point S.P.I.K.E. is sitting down in a real-life film sequence, being cheered on in a bar to eat a giant burger. It's surreal and extremely corny, but it's nice to see Twisted Pixel try something vastly different from the rest of the gaming industry in their biggest production yet.
Pablo is, of course, reluctantly along for the ride, being dragged by I.R.I.S. He only speaks Spanish the entire game, with a "Pablo-only" subtitles option to explain what he's saying. I'm not fluent in Spanish but I do speak it, and knowing some does enhance my enjoyment since I'm not having to constantly look at subtitles. If I didn't know the language though it would be an odd juxtaposition, to see him babbling about while I'm in the middle of dodging a missile.
I.R.I.S. gives off a different personality as she drags Pablo along the road, trying to stay positive in an innocent sort of way -- but she's downright cruel at times, ignoring his constant screams of pain. She's not always that funny either, so I expect her to be a divisive character among players. Pablo never really has a chance to shine, as he's constantly yelling things like "Get me off" and "Let me go!" and it isn't until the end that he has any real growth. In a sense, LocoCyle has created a way to present characters that you both love and hate at the same time.
So what's the actual gameplay like? Well, combat is a lot like SpyHunter, a fighting game, and Road Rash all mixed into one -- with results that are often less impressive when directly compared to its influences. I.R.I.S. takes care of the former, with the ability to shoot her machine guns, and Pablo is in charge of the latter two styles, slicing enemies with his wrench as he's being dragged.
Some enemies must be shot, some have to be fought hand-to-hand, which initiates a zoomed-in sequence where I.R.I.S. and Pablo attack enemies in tandem by mashing the X and Y buttons. X is a normal attack, Y throws Pablo at other enemies, interrupting their attacks, and A switches targets and counters. It's a simple system that lacks depth, but it works -- especially in some of the more intense fights.
In short, varying sequences of driving and shooting with fighting portions is basically how the game plays out -- like an arcade game, in the purest sense of the term. You'll race across various locales, completing objectives like "defeat these enemies within this time limit" or "escape this foe" -- but most of the gameplay is just going to be "blow stuff up," which can get repetitive after lengthy play sessions. There are also some QTEs present, but they are inoffensive, and you don't need to complete them to continue on with the story.
Since this is a rather short game, I'm glad the enemy variety is a priority. You'll encounter tons of different things to smash and shoot at, from jetpack soldiers, to rocket surfers, to mechs, to bikers that pay a clear homage to Road Rash. There's a good mix of designs and combat variety to keep you on your toes, with mini-games included as well, one of which mirrors a shoot-'em-up. The boss fights are a mix of repetitive and enjoyable encounters, with S.P.I.K.E. being the usual highlight. It sounds ridiculous -- two bikes fighting each other in hand-to-hand combat -- but that's what happens, and it feels deliciously old-school.
You'll earn experience points depending on how well you do in a mission, which can be used to upgrade I.R.I.S. in the form of offensive and defensive capabilities like increased speed, weaponry, and health. These upgrades aren't just cosmetic and can change your playstyle drastically, which is a nice touch as this part of the game could have easily been lazily implemented. It also gives the game a sense of progression, rather than aimlessly shooting for hours on end.
The game's campaign is around three to four hours, and it's worth playing again to grab all of the hidden content. The extras you'll unlock are meaningful, with additional behind-the-scenes movies, concept art, and even a backstage look at Twisted Pixel themselves. There's nothing major like new characters or anything, but if you're at all interested in the lore or the design process, there are a few gems in there.
LocoCycle tries a lot of new things thematically, while simultaneously paying homage to classic arcade racing shooters. It doesn't succeed in everything it sets out to do, but if you're looking for a decent arcade shooter to toy around with on your new Xbox One, LocoCycle is it. For everyone else, you'll have to wait until it hits the Xbox 360.