Road Rash: review by 2TUFF

Electronic Arts have clearly adopted a two-pronged strategy for the 3DO. As well as developing original titles for the machine - Twisted, Shock Wave and Monster Manor - they're also using its capabilities to enhance proven products like John Madden Football, FIFA Soccer and Wing Commander. The company seem to be saying to gamers: `Try this and tell us what you think, but in the meantime here's something we know you're going to like.'

Road Rash falls into the latter category. A motorcycle racing game combining excellent graphics with exhilerating gameplay, it achieved phenomenal success on the Mega Drive a few years ago and remains one of the best games for the system. Given this track record, one would expect the 3DO conversion to be a solid, playable game. What no-one could have predicted, though, is that it would be this good.

The 3DO version of Road Rash is more than a game; it's a fully fledged cinematic production. The experience begins with a CinePak bike chase sequence, accompanied by the pulsating chords of the Road Rash theme song, Soundgarden's `Rusty Cage'. (The front end also includes a couple of superb MTV-style grunge rock videos.) Slick it may be, but EA haven't made the classic mistake of lavishing more attention on the intro, and is there simply to serve as a enticing prelude to the real event: the game itself.

Road Rash contains five seperate tracks, each one different in terms of scenery, traffic volume, etc. There are also five selectable player levels which ditacte the toughness of the opposition and the length of the tracks - the easiest track stretches only five miles, while the hardest is up to 17 miles long.

The game also incorporates two playing modes. `Thrash' offers an immediate pick-up-and-play scenario that lets you select any combination of track and player level. Bit it's the `Big Game Mode' that constitutes the game's main course. First you assume the character of one of the game's eight resident riders. Then you select one of the five courses to race on - these range from the dizzy heights of the Peninsula to the hustle and bustle of the City. And then you hit the tarmac. The object is simply to finish among the first three contestants in any race, which allows you to move on to the next, more difficult, course.

One of the things that distinguishes Road Rash from other, more sedate, racing games (apart from the fact that you're a pair of wheels short) is the attitude of your rivals. The other riders in the race conform to every biker stereotype in the book: they're all chain-wielding maniacs who would sooner split your face than suffer the indignity of having you pass them, and who are prepared to do whatever it takes to stop you reaching the finish line first, even if it means cracking you over the head with a metal pole or kicking your bike out from underneath you. Thankfully, you can give as good as you get: there's nothing more satisfying than exchanging heavy metal with a rival biker while dodging traffic in an urban landscape and then kicking him straight into the path of a speeding Porsche or sending him sprawling into the side of a building. (Although this is not to be recommended in real life, of course, as the ludicrously stuffy in-game caution advises.)

Such excitement is only possible because of the exemplary way in which Road Rash plays. Your bike is responsive and controllable and gives you the confidence to take risks. You soon find yourself pulling stunts like weaving between passing cars and playing chicken with oncoming vehicles, swerving aside at the last minute to avoid joining the flies on someone's radiator grille.

Thankfully, your bike no longer exhibits a tendency to crash after hitting even the most minor obstacle - a problem that severely affected the pre-pro version Edge saw a few months ago. Now, instead of tipping you head-first onto the tarmac every time you brush against a tree or a car, your machine just keeps going, subject only to a slight loss of speed. Of course, if you hit a hugh truck head-on at 120mph the game isn't so forgiving, but luckily, you can buy a new bike from the money you get for finishing a race.

Road Rash's graphical beauty is self-evident. In fact, the detail packed into the gloruisly textured backgrounds is so appealing that they tend to distract you when you're playing the game - you often find yourself admiring the scenery when you should be watching the road ahead. what can't be conveyed by these static screenshots is the smooth 3D update (around 20fps) and the sheer thrill of pelting along undulating winding roads at ridiculously high speeds.

And, not content with making the backgrounds look stupendous, Electronic Arts have contrived to make them truly interactive. If you find yourself on the wrong side of a road barrier, for example, you can't just ride through it; you have to wait until a gap appears. Similarly if you fancy a break from the blacktop you're allowed to venture a fair way into the roadside scenery - although that doesn't stop the police from finding you if you've transgressed. There also a significant degree of artificial intelligence incorporated in the game; pedestrians hurry to avoid your speeding bike (usually in vain), cars stop at red lights, and the other bikers try to beat each other up.

Road Rash's only potential flaw is its game structure. Giving the player access to all the levels from the outset in the Thrash mode detracts slightly from the `proper' game - hacking through the levels knowing what lies in store is never quite as exciting as taking each level as it comes. Fortunatly, tough, the exhilating action more than compensates for the lack of scenic surprises.

Electronic Arts have managed to blend the unadulterated exhilaration of a coin-op like Sega's classic Super Hand On with deeper and more rewarding gameplay, and it's this combination that makes 3DO Road Rash so enjoyable. With the exception of John Madden Football, Road Rash is arguably the best 3DO game currently available. It looks fabulous, it sounds fantastic (the music tracks are genuinely good enough to listen to on their own merit) and it's heart-stopping playable. Road Rash gives 3DO owners a reason to feel proud.

RATING: 9/10

Format: 3DO Publisher: EA Size: 1 CD Release UK: Out Now Price: 50