Last week, in the Destructoid office, people were up to their usual shenanigans. Nick Chester was talking about how Rock Band gives meaning to his otherwise empty life. Sterling was all, “blah blah, Dynasty Warriors, c*nts, blah.” Then the conversation suddenly took a turn. I don’t know how we got on to the subject, but Brad “The Guns” Nicholson said what I thought might be the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard: “Road Rash sucks.”
This is lies and slander! Why, Road Rash 2 is the only racing game I really enjoyed as a child. There is no possible way that Nicholson is right about this.
Of course, it’s been a very long time since I played. Probably not since I purchased a PlayStation. But it’s motorcycle racing with weapons! How could anyone screw that up? No, no, this is madness. If there’s one thing I know, it’s that Road Rash 2 kicks ass and I aim to prove it.
I can’t really speak to the rest of the Road Rash series of games, honestly. I played the first title once, maybe twice, and never touched any that followed the first sequel. It’s a little weird to think that I had no interest whatsoever in continuing with a series that features a game that I played almost non-stop for months on my Genesis. Maybe there is a subconscious reason that I’m overlooking.
Anyway, Road Rash 2 is about as straightforward as games get. You race against thirteen other motorcyclists on five racetracks around the United States. It’s a no-holds-barred sort of competition, which basically means that you beat the crap out of the other riders in order to slow them down and take the lead.
The tracks are pretty dull, with the exception of Hawaii and Alaska, which are much twistier and seem to have a lot more objects on the road to get you ludicrously airborne. There are some pretty entertaining things lying about on the roads, though. Campers will sometimes have tents set up, which bounce you high in the air, and it’s always funny to run over a prone bovine.
Each of the game’s five difficulty levels extends the length of the track you have to travel down and makes other drivers faster and more aggressive. In order to keep up, you’ll have to place first in as many races as possible in order to buy faster bikes. It takes forever, but you can replay any race you’ve already won in order to earn extra money.
What you can’t do, however, is go backwards in difficulty. If you place in each of the races on a difficulty setting, that’s it; you’re on the next one permanently. If you don’t have or can’t afford a bike that can compete on that level, tough luck.
Your weapons at the start of each race are your fists and feet. Punching deals more physical damage than kicking, but kicking pushes your opponent further away from you, preferably into an obstruction or oncoming car. Some enemies are carrying billy clubs or chains. These can be taken from them by timing a punch so that it connects as they prepare to use the weapon.
There are a couple of problems with the weapons, though. First, the club sucks. It deals only slightly more damage than a punch and moves more slowly. Worse is that you can’t drop a weapon at any time. Once you have one, you’re reliant on one of your opponents to take it from you or you’re stuck with it for the rest of the race.
All riders have a damage meter to show how weakened they are after conflicts with you. If a meter gets taken all the way down, they’ll fall off their bike and sit in a daze for a moment before saddling up again. Of course, you have one as well, but it’s rarely an issue since you’re far more likely to fly off the bike after hitting a sign than you are taking enough hits to go down from enemies.
This is where the bike’s damage meter comes into play. Every time you hit something with force (meaning, not a light sideswipe, but a collision that stops the bike), the bike takes damage. Its meter is much shorter than the one for your health and tends to be depleted after about four good hits. Once the meter empties out, the bike will explode and you’re out of the race; you will have to cough up a considerable amount of cash to get it repaired.
Participating in a race like this would be highly illegal, which is probably why there’s a cop on pretty much every road you ride on. They aren’t particularly aggressive, but they are persistant and will hang in your rear view mirrors for quite some time. They’re just waiting for you to screw up and wreck your bike so they can swoop in and arrest you. Getting caught also ends the race and sticks you with a fine.
There is an aspect of Road Rash 2 which is both really cool and incredibly stupid. Each of the racers that you’re up against has their own personality and behavior pattern. Some are more likely to have weapons than others. Some will gun for you the instant they get the chance, while some are content to simply try and out-race you. Still others will just run the course and wait for you to fall down of your own accord before passing.
It’s pretty neat because you eventually get to identify who is who and can build a strategy for dealing with each. The downside is that they have the stupidest names ever — things like “Public Enemy No. 1,” “Viper” and “Slug.” It’s all very early ’90s. And the things that they say to you after races fall into stereotypical territory more often than not. I’ll spare you what the “surfer guy” character says, but it’s unbelieveably dumb.
When it comes down to it, Road Rash 2 is really just a product of its age. It fit in well there and isn’t a terrible game. But with how far racing games have come in fifteen years, it can’t really compete for play time. Not bad, but not something you’re really missing out on if you haven’t played it before, and there’s very little reason to go back now.