"Cars, Gadgets and Combat. Three cool things which can be rearranged in a mighty six possible permutations if you lay them end to end, but that's not important right now. What is important is that the transition of this kind of car combat fun from James Bond movies (''Now pay attention 007! This cigarette lighter also triples as an eyebrow trimmer and portable napalm thrower.'') to videogames was as inevitable as my completing this sentence with the word inevitable. From Spy Hunter ..."
Cars, Gadgets and Combat. Three cool things which can be rearranged in a mighty six possible permutations if you lay them end to end, but that's not important right now. What is important is that the transition of this kind of car combat fun from James Bond movies (''Now pay attention 007! This cigarette lighter also triples as an eyebrow trimmer and portable napalm thrower.'') to videogames was as inevitable as my completing this sentence with the word inevitable. From Spy Hunter and Autoduel, and... The Last V8?.. in the eighties, to Twisted Metal in the nineties, we can take a detour in Playstation land to a slightly zanier and somewhat underrated take on the same stuff: Rogue Trip.
Rogue Trip (RT) bears a special distinction in my gaming library. It was actually my original Playstation game, the one which came bundled with my console in 1999. I've bought, sold, swapped, loved, hated and traded my way through scores of PSX titles since that Christmas, but RT remains with me. Not just out of starry-eyed nostalgia, but because of its quality and longevity. It's also the only car game I own that isn't about racing, and it's the only multiplayer game I own that I've never grown truly sick of in great episodic fits.
To the Cars, Gadgets and Combat, and the Twisted Metal rear-view engine (both games were made by SingleTrac), RT adds Tourism. In one of those radioactive futures where everything looks a bit decayed and orange - but still glitzy! - the world is a way dangerous place. So dangerous that tourists who want to see such sights as Hell-O-Stone park, Daddywood or XLAX airport(?) need protection in the form of an an 'auto mercenary': a daredevil cabbie, tour guide and homicidal killer all rolled into one. The tour business was an over-charging monopoly controlled by the evil Big Daddy until some freelance auto-mercs decided they wanted some of that sweet pie. In RT, you get to play one of these auto-mercs, who are dressed variously as clowns, dominatrices, Daisy Dukeses, Elvis impersonators and Gulf War veterans, and who drive buses, trucks, tanks, dune buggies and giant hotdogs, and you must fight off the other mercs and Big Daddy's flunkies as you drive around trying to 'nab' the tourist who will then pay you to show them the sights in each level.
It's a trip. It's a veritable ROGUE TRIP!
The game is a freaky mix of stunt driving, squabbling over the tourist (as if they were a football you needed to prise away from your opponents) and torching other cars. To get the tourist away from another driver you need to either (a) Kill their car (tougher option) or (b) Hit their car with a weapon known as the Ejectulator - I.E. It makes the tourist eject from the car and go pedestrian again. Don't fire the Ejectulator prematurely!
Admittedly you don't have really fine control over your armaments. Trying to mess people up with manual weapons like your unlimited (but overheat prone) machine gun - especially while screeching over bumpy terrain on the harder levels - is tough. Au contraire, there are plenty of fire-and-forget seeking weapons, but with erratic success rates. The Stinger missiles are cool to behold even if they do piddly damage, but the 'Stalker' always seems to just fly off into the sunset. With the Prowler, you can actually steer the missile yourself in a first-person view! Admittedly I never hit anything with it but it's fun trying. My personal fave is 'The Meteor'. Aim vaguely at the victim, hit fire, and a few seconds later they're pelted by great chunks of flaming rock from the sky! There are weapon upgrade portals you can drive through and you're supposed to spend money upgrading each 'shot' in a weapon, but this is always so fiddly and annoying I almost never use it. The medical portals are easier to handle. Just get close and lightning flies out and heals you as your cash is sucked away. Whoa!
So the skill of combat isn't in the nitty gritty execution of shooting people. It's more about timing your encounters to suit the environment, your weapon choice and strategy. And the odd bout of button-mashing when you're stuck on some guy's fender and you just want to to see who will blow up first.
More of the skill overall is in the driving. The tourists are ornery little critters who run in circles a lot when they're on the loose, and it's tough enough to get one into your car in the first place. Come to think of it, they're actually invulnerable to damage (though they're 'knocked away' when you shoot them) which raises the question of why they need protection in the first place. Let's overlook this little logic hole or there wouldn't be a game and you wouldn't be reading this review. So once you've got the indestructible tourist in your car, you need to be able to navigate (by radar) to the next 'tourist site' pronto, because everyone will be trying to Kill The Dill With The Pill. Sites are marked with arrows, and you have to park on the arrow and stay there for several seconds before the tourist snaps their photo and you get the cash. So the emphasis on speed and accurate driving creates good tension.
Control is excellent and essentially lifted from the Twisted Metal games. There's a great feel in the analogue controller for accelerating and braking with one stick (feel the rumble) and steering with the other. Toggling up weapons with the top shoulder buttons is easy, and they're fired with the lower ones. The cars satisfyingly bump, skip, screech and thump their way over some hectic scenery, and you really get the sensation of being tossed about. Fortunately they have all the resilience of those arcade Daytona cars which can stack headfirst yet remain unscathed.
(This reminds me of the warning on the 'Thrill Ride' arcade machine: 'When driving in real life, always drive carefully and sensibly.')
A level only ends when all your opponents are dead, but the emphasis is kept squarely on the tourist, 'cos the money you make from showing him/her the sights is crucial for repairing your car and earning the extra lives necessary to keep you afloat to the last level and the confrontation with Big Daddy hisself. If you slack right off, the computer players will snap all the photos first and leave you monetarily destitute.
RT also makes a big deal about its massively combustible scenery, and so it should. These are huge free-roaming levels, and if something's not nailed down (and sometimes even if it is), you can probably ram or shoot it to pieces. Trees, signs, lamp-posts, gates, windows and shop-fronts fly and shatter, creating a great sense of perpetual chaos. You can even go inside buildings like casinos or banks, smash open the walls and rip out the cash bonuses.
Pick-ups are generally strewn all over the levels in a regenerating manner that reminds me of multiplayer first-person-shooters. Admittedly the player can be a bit lazy with these, just cruising at random and picking up goodies. The enemy AI doesn't have a lot of variety, but it does put up a good fight and can certainly induce major stress when a group of cars decide to all gang up on you at once.
Potentially it's not a good sign that on the later levels you die from environmental hazards far more than you do from fighting the other mercs. There are some nasty unheralded canyons, rivers and clifftops your car can go flying over for instant loss of life - in Hell-O-Stone park and Nuke York especially - without much of a lead-in of this kind of thing in earlier levels. So the only way to deal with these is to LEARN THE LEVELS!
RT has many fantastic visual jokes scattered throughout its levels, which are all twisted post-apocalyptic versions of famous American locales. Fight around what appears to be the White House. Discover alien foetuses in tubes in Area 51, then predictably for RT, drive over them or blow them up. And stack amongst the skyscrapers in Nuke York. All objects and buildings are reassuringly solid, with murky colour schemes that I like to see in my post-apoc futures. The cars are well-detailed, react dynamically onscreen and the details of destruction and debris flying are all good too. Things can get a bit shuddery in some of the most hectic multiplayer moments, but no more than average for a PSX multiplayer game.
Individual effects are fine if unsurprising, but en masse they blend together too much. There's just so many people shooting and so much stuff blowing up all of the time in RT that the total effect becomes a bit muddy. I only really use the sounds for the following cues which help me play:
1. To get a sense of my own movement by listening to my car's engine.
2. To keep tabs on the tourist. The tourists' vocal hijinks are the loudest sound effects in the game. It's a good joke to hear pithy comments on a tourist attraction like 'How nice!', complaints like 'STAND STILL', or to hear the alien tourist drone 'NOT IMPRESSED.'
3. To listen for the 'screaming fireworks' effect accompanying a car explosion, so that I know someone died.
It has to be said that the intro quips from each driver are good too, for instance 'Get down on your knees,' from Sister Mary Lascivious, or 'Here's spit in your eye!' from the Clint Eastwood-impersonating freak. But snappy one-liners alone do not a quality soundtrack make.
Fortunately, a second reason for the sound effects seeming muddy is a 'good' one.
This is what you're really listening to throughout RT. For starters, you've got The Mighty Mighty Bosstones doing the fairly raucous and upbeat 'Impression That I Get' - even though the manual and packaging are bizarrely coy about letting you know the band was involved. I'm told by my man on the street Nate Dogg that if you bought this game in the shrinkwrap, there was a sticker on the shrinkwrap letting you know the Bosstones were onboard, which I'm also told was quite the drawcard. Beyond Bosstones, some people called Big Ideas Music did a fantastic job producing catchy tunes across several genres - sort of upbeat ska, funk, jazzy, rockabilly, car-rally thrash metal, and a dash of techno - that definitely sound so familiar (and so GOOD) that you'd swear they were from other bands you knew. They're not even mixed that fabulously, but they really work with the game. A great part of RT's atmosphere and fun factor can be attributed to the distinctive musical backdrops.
RT is far more fun than it is challenging. Admittedly there's a brief difficulty ramp in initially grasping the game's concepts and learning how to deal with the tourist etc., but once you overcome that, anyone not playing like a total goose should be able to deal with the first half of the game comfortably enough. After that point, and the first of the game's two boss battles, you enter some levels which are a lot more torturous (fatal plummets a-go-go, and don't get me started on the endless hills) and now extra practice, tighter playing and some level-learning will be in order for you to survive to the finish. Then you can bump the difficulty to the higher setting.
The solo game will inevitably feel familiar after awhile, but the addictiveness jumps to what I'd describe with a straight face as 'transcendent' when you add in a friend or three. Though note that for more than two you need another TV, another PSX and a link cable. Blowing friends up is a proven gaming formula, but RT's greatest mode is actually the 'Two Player Co-op Vacation.' The design is really well-considered and suggests all kinds of interesting ways to play. Two players (who can't hurt each other) must make it to the end, sharing the one set of lives but crucially with the money each of them earn during the game kept separate. Now, if one player doesn't tend to hog the tourist at any one time, nobody's stockpile will ever get high enough to buy those much-needed extra lives. So you have to decide in each level - Who'll grab the tourist? Who'll play escort? Or will you awkwardly try to share? It's the kind of gaming that puts the emphasis on what makes gamers feel particularly rewarded: isolating the things they're good at and stepping into the spotlight at the appropriate moment. There's a lot of yelling advice, hatching dumb plans and essentially a great time to be had by all. The co-op vacation has possibly had more playtime on my Playstation than any other multiplayer game or mode.
So obviously, replayability is heavily invested in the multiplayer game, but RT's high production values mean there are lots of elements to experiment with in the solo game too if you're feeling vigilant (or leisurely) enough. You can probably keep finding fine little details, nooks, crannies and jokes in the game's huge levels for months, they're that lovingly put together.
The game also crazily expects you to win with all ten characters if you want to receive all of the cheat codes, one per victory. (Ten times eleven huge, long levels = 110 huge, long levels of playing. No thanks.) It's way too big for that to be feasible, so just hit the internet and get them off gamefaqs if you're interested. The novelty of unlockable vehicles which can fly is short-lived; it removes the challenge, surprise surprise!
-- Tourism is a novel variation on your basic car combat
-- Big in every way: Tons of cars, characters, levels, secrets
-- Clever sense of humour
-- Great upbeat soundtrack
-- Some of the best cooperative gaming you will ever find
-- It's fun! It's sooooo muuuuuch fuuuuuuun!
-- Long levels, long games - it can get a bit samey at times
-- Sound effects could be sharper
-- Eternal Acres level is boring and excruciating! I know I didn't mention that anywhere in the review (it's the hilly level) but I really hate it!
What you have in Rogue Trip is one of the most novel car combat games for any console, with great production values, great co-op play and best of all, a really distinctive feel.
-- Rogue Trip -- 8/10 --
Community review by bloomer (March 08, 2004)
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