"TAKATO! TA GO! TAKATO! TA GO!" --lyrics from Fatboy Slim's "Soul Surfing"
Developer: ATD Publisher: Psygnosis Genre: Racing Players: 1-2 Memory: 1 Discs: 1 Analog: Yes Dual Shock: Yes ESRB: Everyone Difficulty: Intermediate
After San Francisco Rush left a bad taste in my mouth, I was determined to find a different high octane racer that a tually came with the thrills and spill that it advertised. I browsed through the titles at the video store, looking for something worth a test drive. "NASCAR '99...too realistic...3XTREME...too, uh, un-car like...Chocobo Racing...wait a minute, I already played this..." And so on. Eventually, I spotted Hot Wheels Racing and Rollcage, and my eyes glanced back and forth at the two. Hot Wheels was a sleeper hit with amazing stunts, but Rollcage was made by Psygnosis (the makers of Wipeout), and that's always a good sign.
Finally, after having no other way to settle this, I decideed to have the two CD cases race each other around the store. The games took three grueling laps down the aisles, across the candy racks, and through the New Releases section, each wanting to win as badly as the other. In the end, Rollcage crossed the finish after a corkscrew leap of faith off of Monty Python's And Now For Something Completely Different, knocking the entire collection of Mystery Science Theater 3000 tapes onto Hot Wheels. I had made my decision.
But on to the actual review...
Gameplay--"What's all the hoo-ha about this newfangled Rollcage?" you ask. "What kind of yarmickles does this thing have, anyway?" Say no more, McDuff! Here's the poop:
Ever seen those go-anywhere remote controlled cars with tires larger than Palmer, Gato, and Chubby Chocobo combined? You know, those ones that can land upside down and keep going because of the big wheels? Well, you get to play as a futuristic version of these (the cars, not the tires) in Rollcage, and let me tell you this: "These babies are helluva tough!" They can drive on walls and on tops of tunnels, absorb insane amounts of punishment (they're indestructable, BTW), knock down buildings by driving into them, fly off huge jumps a la SF Rush, and generally do what no car has ever done before.
During the race, you can pick up powerups like in most racers, but these aren't just any powerups--these are some innovative Psygnosis powerups! Sure, you've got your standard speed boost and shield powerups, but other than that, the weapons are pretty original. Ever seen a missle that's supposed to target the scenery instead of opponents? Or how about a powerup that lets you transport the racer ahead of you into last place? Or a powerup that puts everybody but you into a time warp, slowing them down by 3/4s speed? All these, along with the insane racing action, are just half the reason why Rollcage is a blast.
Graphics--After I played Wipeout XL, I knew that the developers at Psygnosis weren't amateurs in the graphics department. With Rollcage, this was just another day at the races for them. Gorgeous sunsets light up the horizons of some levels, extras can be spotted during the race, such as UFOs (or my personal favorite: a meteor that comes crashing down just a few feet in front of you, producing a Hollywood-esque explosion that you can zoom through), buildings explode with plenty of fireworks when you destroy them, tunnels feature some nice lighting, and everything you see in the game has a snazzy, futuristic look to it. To make things even better, you can turn on the Motion Blur feature in the options mode. This makes everything slightly blurry, adding to the element of speed and the overall look of the race. They say that graphics don't make the game (actually, I say this too), but Rollcage comes pretty darn close to proving those people wrong.
Music--In yet another similarity to Wipeout, ROllcage features some fast paced techno muzak. Featuring tracks from Fatboy Slim--Soul Surfing and Love Island--and a bunch of lesser known artists that I haven't heard of (one's called Les Rosbifs, or "The Roast Beefs" when translated from French), Rollcage's has some pretty good music, in my opinion. While I don't usually listen to techno that often (exception: Fatboy Slim), I found that the music in Rollcage complimented the action just as well as Rob Zombie did for Twisted Metal 3. This time, the music isn't the only good part of this game--play TM3 and you'll see what I mean.
As for the sound effects, there isn't much to say. You have your standard engine rumbles (which aren't as annoying as they usually are) and tire squeals along with a couple cool sounds here and there (such as the Dimension Warp powerup). Other than that, there's nothing really noteworthy in here, but nothing as annoying as what was in SF Rush.
Control--Aiyiyi! You'd think that futuristic cars would at least have good handling. Wrong. The ones you play as spin out, land off a huge jump backwards, get stuck after running into a wall, and generally do anything but go forward in the early run. It gets especially annoying after you drop back five places just because you started to loop around inside a tunnel. Sure, the weapons can be easily fired with the trigger buttons, you can spin around in the right direction (which costs precious time) with the press of a button, and you can turn the dual shock feature on for some fun vibrations (NO!), but that still can't save the fact that the controls are pretty sloppy overall. If Psygnosis had just worked on this as hard as they did in Wipeout XL (course, these cars don't fly--they drive, so this could never have Wipeout's controls), I wouldn't gripe about this factor of the game as much.
Fun Factor--This game has all the fun that San Francisco Rush didn't have. With a fast pace, neato weapons, a few shortcuts, cars that can stick to walls, insane jumps, and incredible stunts that you can pull, Rollcage offers some of the arguably best racing action to date. I found myself just fooling around on the track, trying to pull off a new stunt during an important race--it's that fun.
Overall Satisfaction--Rollcage can best be described as "a novel idea mixed into a modified SF-with-weapons formula". The game offers some depth by adding a few fun secrets, such as an extra league, mirrored tracks (a la Mario Kart 64), and deathmatch modes for two players. There's also the fact that you can watch a kickspoony replay after each race, which looks almost as good as those found in Need for Speed 3 (but not even close to Gran Turismo, however). It's even more enjoyable to watch after you see one of your crazy stunts or the destruction of a building from a nice camera angle.
Next to the bad controls, the only other thing that bothered me about this game was the fact that the drivers had no personality whatsoever. It's possible to give drivers personalities--just look at the mascot racers and the Twisted Metal series--but the only distinguishing features that separate the characters are their stats. I just pick Leon every time for his stats and cool name, since I have no idea what anybody else is like.
Off course, the characters don't make much of a difference (although it would have been nice to make them a little more interesting). Rollcage is a racing game, and a darn good one at that. If you're in desperate need for a heavy dose of Good Old Fun, don't be afraid to walk, er, roll down to your local video store and give this game a rental.
Or you can just race CD cases instead.