The Road Rash titles on the Genesis remain some of my favorite “line-scrolling” racing games of all time. The controls were tight, the combat was fun, the music was catchy, and the track design gave a great three dimensional feel. From the rolling hills to the tight turns, the Genesis games gave a realistic sense of screaming down the highway that few racers of the era could match.
Road Rash’s first foray into the 32-bit generation came with the 3DO, PlayStation, and Saturn versions of the game of the same name. These felt nearly identical to the Genesis games, but rendered the track in 3D. 32-bit Road Rash was an especially strong title for the ill-fated 3DO system, and Electronic Arts was defining itself as a premier video game developer.
The next iteration of Road Rash would be a PlayStation exclusive, titled Road Rash 3D. This is actually the very first Road Rash game I’d ever played and I absolutely loved it from the first moment I played it. Not owning a PlayStation at the time, I was stunned to learn there were Road Rash titles on my beloved Genesis. I purchased Road Rash II and have owned the same copy ever since.
Road Rash 3D is a complete reimagining of the series. The graphics engine was all new, as were the motorcycle physics. When I mentioned earlier that 32-bit Road Rash felt identical to the Genesis games, I meant it. The bikes, and even the camera, seem very disconnected from the polygonal tracks.
In Road Rash 3D however, your motorcycle actually feels like it is riding in three dimensional space. The tires feel like they are connected to the pavement. Also unlike it’s predecessors, there is an entire road network all interconnected to each other, rather than simple point to point tracks. The game manages to squeeze in plenty of variety too, with some journeys taking you from the mountains, to the deserts, to the beach, all in one 15 mile stretch of highway.
You start the game with a choice between 4 bikes divided into four categories: Racer, Sport, Rat, and Cruiser. Each have stats in Speed, Acceleration, Traction, and Durability. The price point of each seems skewed to the top speed.
You must place 3rd or better on each of the 12 courses to progress to Level 2. Not every race is available at all times however, as the tracks take place over a highway system, there is some logic as to which tracks are available depending on where the last race concluded. I would also recommend repeating a few courses to make sure you have enough money to afford your preferred Level 2 bike before reaching the Level 2 courses.
As I was making my way through the first wave of races, I wasn’t keeping close enough attention to my cash supply and had to grind through a few bad finishes on Level 2 courses with a Level 1 bike before upgrading. Looking back, this kind of makes the entire monetary system pointless. Just let me choose a Level 2 back before racing a Level 2 track and get on with my day.
Road Rash games prior to 3D put a great emphasis on the combat system. Road Rash 3D offers a ton of new items (batons, chains, 2x4s, bats, cattle prod, etc) but they all effectively work the same. Sadly, the combat is mostly useless. It takes a good second before pressing an attack button before your character performs the action. It’s not a delay per say, but an overly complex animation that takes forever to finish. By the time you swing, your enemy is long gone.
I don’t really mind the de-emphasis on combat however, as the racing is mostly great. The tracks offer a really great blend of speed sections, tight turns, and aggressive elevation changes. Combine this with oncoming traffic on 2, 4, or even 6 lanes of traffic, and you have a tremendous amount of variety.
The controls do leave a bit to be desired and are far too twitchy at low speeds. Road Rash 3D seems to compensate by offering steering via the D-Pad as expected, but also leaning using the left and right shoulder buttons. The steering and leaning feel pretty much the same and I abandoned the shoulder buttons completely as the game progressed. At highway speeds the controls seem to settle down and you are able to quickly move in and out of traffic along with the pack of motorcycles you’re racing against. Once you get into the flow of the game, it is quite addicting.
In all honesty, Road Rash 3D is a lot of fun. The races all have a good length to them and I really dug the progression from Level 1 tracks to Level 2 tracks. Unfortunately, I found Level 3 to be brutally difficult, to the point where I couldn’t place in the top 3 on any of the courses. I’m no slouch at racing games either. Road Rash 3D is simply too fast for it’s own good. The track design and traffic patterns weren’t designed for the game to move this quickly. A few crashes later and your bike is busted, or you’re pulled over by the cops, or you take it easy and finish 5th. Not good.
You can use Nitros with the Level 3 bikes, or attempt to ramp over oncoming traffic with a well timed wheelie, but it doesn’t really matter. The game simply fizzles out at this point and isn’t worth progressing.
It’s a shame the final third of the game is not playable, but the first two-thirds make up for it. The graphics are great for a PlayStation with surprising draw-distances and very dense environments. The soundtrack fits the game well, with a few notable artists including Sugar Ray and Kid Rock. Not bad.
The biggest complaints with Road Rash 3D by the press seem to be the lack of multi-player and the twitchy controls. As a retro-game, the lack of multiplayer is a non-issue. Road Rash has always been solitary experience for me. Like most racing games, driving mechanics vary among games and are easy to adapt to.
It wouldn’t be a CD title without some Full Motion Video and Road Rash 3D delivers in spades. There are plenty of quick full motion clips when you win, lose, or get pulled over by the cops. This was a great feature of the Genesis originals and they are really fun to watch. There is also lots of background chatter on the menu screens between races to make you feel like you’re at a dive bar. The presentation is really slick.
Overall, Road Rash 3D isn’t as perfect as I remember it being back in 1998, but it’s still a fun little romp. The graphics and sound hold up well today, and the cheesy 90’s full motion videos are still enjoyable to watch. If the game didn’t fall flat at the end, I might even put this up there with some of Sega’s best arcade offerings of the 90’s. Instead, we’re left with an above average racer that is certainly worth a go.
Game play 6/10 - Great track design, twitchy controls, final level unplayable
Graphics 7/10 - Great draw distances, decent textures
Sound 9/10 - Solid 90's soundtrack
Overall 7/10 - Flawed, but intensely fun and immersive