Genre: Racing Developer: Electronic Arts Publisher: Electronic Arts Players: 1-2 Released: 1991
Until Road Rash came along, all driving games on 16-bit systems tended to be presented in an all-too-familiar format. A single car sprite in the middle of the screen that you could move left and right; a curved, stripy track, scrolling down the screen in front of you; a stripy roadside, with sprites created in three different sizes jumping towards you; and finally, a fixed background in the distance that moved in the opposite direction to the car sprite, possibly with two levels of parallax scrolling. Not very realistic, especially when any crashes with the scenery were often poorly rendered and simply resulted in your car or bike appearing back in the center of the road as if by magic.
Road Rash By Electronic Arts blew that model out of the water by vastly improving the animation of the central sprite, as well as the roadside scenery, to give a far more convincing impression of a 3D world. Occasional traffic was added in both directions, giving every corner and blind summit a real sense of danger.
The road graphics were far better than any previous game, with extreme rises and falls, the latter providing you with a breathtaking view of the road ahead. The bike was not limited to moving left and right either ( although you steered left and right). The rises and falls in the road could take your bike right around the screen, enhancing the illusion of movement within a 3D space. On particularly steep inclines the bike would actually take off, leaving you to flail around in mid air for a time while you desperately tried to land it back on the road without hitting an oncoming vehicle.
The road itself was rendered in dark grey, with the central yellow dotted line giving you the sense of forward movement. Although the roadside scenery still used the old stripy technique to indicate movement, it did so in such a subtle way that one would be hard pushed to notice. The roadside sprites were particularly impressive, especially if you happened to fall of your bike and decided to explore the scenery instead of running straight back to your bike, and at first glance you could be forgiven for thinking that sprite scaling was being used (it wasn’t – just very good animation). Finally, the icing on the cake was the rear view mirrors, which showed the riders and road behind you, including the yellow dotted line in the centre of the road. Sadly, this particular feature was scaled back slightly in Road Rash 2, in which that centre line was static, rather than animated.
In the sound department, you have a choice: music or sound effects. That’s not strictly true however, because the only sound effect you lose with the music on is the whiny bike engine noise – you still get the voice samples, as well as the punching and bike clashing noises. The music is by C64 maestro Rob Hubbard and, in my opinion, represents some of his best work. It’s a kind of techno/rock hybrid and the vibrato guitar sound that fades into feedback is something I never thought possible of the Genesis at the time. Every single piece, from the memorable title them (with sample rock drum sounds) to the in-level tunes and the filler material, is all of the highest musical quality.
Road Rash was the first driving game to include apparently fallible computer opponents. Some of the best moments in that game are when you steal that fisrt place position after the leader has unwitting crashed headlong into an oncoming car. Granted, you always start every race at the back of the pack, and the whole pack doesn’t appear on the startline, but the sense of competing against real adversaries has rarely been matched in even the most recent computer driving games. Add to that the police bikes, roads crossing the highway with cars on them, knocking your competitors off their bikes, getting knocked off your own bike and having to run back to wherever it fell (sometimes several yards away) and you may just start to appreciate how advanced a game it was. I think my favourite in-game moment was watching three bikes in front of me getting creamed by an oncoming car and riding through unscathed as they flew past my head.
This game was way ahead of its time and never matched during the 16-bit era. Today it is truly a classic, well deserved of the odd replay and long overdue a release on the latest generation of video games consoles.