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Road Rash Jailbreak (PSX)
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Background Info

Did Need for Speed 3 or Need for Speed 4: High Stakes leave you giddy as you outran the law? Or perhaps you are more of the crime fighting type of person. Either way, the upcoming Road Rash: Jailbreak from Electronic Arts will have you busting up punks or running from the law.

Road Rash: Jailbreak is the second Road Rash game to hit the Playstation. In the current installment, Electronic Arts gives us a variety of game modes. For single player action, there's Jail Break, Five-O, and Time Trial. For multiplayer action, try your hand at Skull to Skull, Cops and Robbers, and Side Car. While the preview copy lacked considerable documentation, during the course of playing the alpha version of the game, I think I've got a pretty good idea of what each mode entails.

In Jail Break, you take on the role of a gang member on the loose. You and 15 other thugs race to the finish line, outrunning the cops. Along the way, the other racers try to inflict damage on your rider. To counteract their aggression, you're given a variety of weapons from which to beat them to a pulp. Nothing like a little road rage to better our society. The weapons range from good old kicks and fists to pipes, clubs, chucks, and other wonderful toys of pain. Depending on your place of finish and the damage you inflict on the other riders, you are rewarded Rash Cash, which ultimately advances you in the game. To make things difficult, courses are littered with traffic, both man and machine. Hitting a car sends your punk flying through the air and tumbling down the road. Hitting the occasional pedestrian yields a high-flying bystander to add a little gore factor to the game. And if the traffic and other riders weren't enough, the cops are on the chase as well. If you are caught by a motorcycle cop, your run is over.

In Five-O mode, the tables are turned and you have to nab the thugs. As a cop on the beat, you have a certain amount of time to pull in a required number of riders or catch the leader of a gang. To arrest riders, you either have to beat them into submission or catch them when they are off their bikes, which occurs if they hit an obstruction. Riders from the gang are spread out, and at any given time there will be one or up to a half dozen or more gang members on the screen. As you approach the leader, who is easily discernible by a blinking rider, the other gang members go on the offensive and start smacking you. Like fire ants protecting their queen, these dudes bite back to keep you away from the jewel of the gang. And like the Jail Break mode, traffic makes arresting the leader more difficult. Throw in the time limit, and you've got one great concept. The Five-O mode is very entertaining. The cat and mouse nature of the game with the addition of the clock makes for an intense and satisfying experience. However, one issue with the alpha version is that after each arrest, a blinking message appears on the screen. The message is unnecessary and only obstructs your view. When the message, which reiterates the fact you've just caught someone, pops up you are vulnerable to flying off your bike.

The Time Trial mode is one of the most entertaining around. I am so used to time trials with no traffic or very little obstruction. In this game, plenty of riders are on the road to make it difficult for you to finish with a respectable time. The addition of these offensively minded opponents in the time trial adds to the enjoyment of the usually dull game mode.

For multi-player action, the Skull to Skull mode is the two-player analogue to the Jail Break mode. But rather than just being a head-to-head contest, you and an opponent battle it out against 14 other drivers in a split-screen contest. Similarly, the Cops and Robbers mode is like the Five-O mode. In Cops and Robbers, one player plays the good guy and the other the mean little man. The player acting as the robber must cross the finish line before the cop catches him or fills his arrest quota.

Yet another multiplayer mode is the Side Car mode. Coming in 2- or 4-player versions, this mode is fun. A two-player team drives a motorcycle with a side car. One player controls the motorcycle and can attack to his left. The player in the side car can attack to his right. The object is similar to Jail Break, and the opponents are all single rider motorcycles. In versus mode, two teams of two players battle it out in split screen mode.

The handling of the bikes is somewhat of a mixed bag. The physics are completely on the arcade side, but the control as speeds increase worsens. At high speeds tight turns are impossible, so braking is an integral part of the game. But if you turn too tightly, the bike almost skids out of control and you have a pinball effect trying to correct the oversteer. If you are familiar with the Moto Racer series, the handling is similar to the road bikes in that series. However, the handling changes significantly in the Side Car mode. Bikes are harder to turn. And as one would expect, with the side car on the right of the bike, turning to the left is somewhat easier. Tight left turns lift the side car up the in air, while tight right turns are nearly impossible since the car just wants to dig into the ground.

Graphically, Road Rash: Jailbreak is decent. The graphical elements remind me of Saturn graphics at times with the color palette, but the game tries to stay fresh. Bikes and riders have a fair amount of detail. The riders sport leathers with chain mail type accents. The police motorcycles feature flashing blue and red lights, a large windshield, and everything else you'd expect. I think the programmers must have been fans of Ponch and John. The animations are very good. As bikes accelerate from a stop, tires smoke. Riders shift their weight as they turn, and crashes are spectacular. Riders fly through the air and then roll down the road. After a tumble, the rider gets back up and runs to his bike and tilts it upright. The battle animations are likewise excellent. Depending on the weapon selected, the attacks are quick or drawn out.

Unfortunately the preview game notes came with the caveat that memory cards were not fully implemented yet. As such, I wasn't able to progress through the game as much as I wished. I have only been on a limited number of tracks, but the ones I have raced on had good design. Tracks range from city to country courses. One particular track starts with a jumbo jet taking off in the background. Yet another course ends at an air base. Near the end of the course, two Stealth fighters pass overhead. The tracks have the perfect width and range from two-lane to four-lane roads. The only problem with some of the tracks are hills which launch you like a rocket at the apex. Motorcycles fly through the air, and the whole effect is somewhat ridiculous.

Road Rash: Jailbreak has a great soundtrack. The soundtrack in the preview version consists of music from a plethora of genres, including surf, speed metal, electronica, alternative guitar rock, punk, and plain old garage bands. The music is diverse, and on some courses just adds a special flair to the game. The sound effects equal the music. Police sirens change in volume as the law approaches and oncoming traffic honks when you are in their lane.

There are some issues that still have to get ironed out in the game. The collision detection needs some work. There were some points in the game where I'd hit an object and go from top speed to zero back to about three-quarters speed in a split second. However, to the game's credit, you won't crash if you hit the rear of a car at a slow speed. I found myself hitting the brakes at the last moment to effectively avoid spilling out. The game also slows down at some points, especially when a large number of riders are on screen at once. Surprisingly the two-player action maintained a respectable pace, even at this early stage of the game.

With a little tweaking, Electronic Arts has an entertaining game on their hands. The game offers a significant amount of challenge. While the courses are somewhat easy to traverse, the objectives of each game mode are often difficult, which eventually leads to great replay value. The Five-O single player mode was particularly challenging. Fortunately I didn't mind so much not beating the clock. As presented, the game had a classic arcade game feel to it, like a Spy Hunter or Pole Position sense of urgency. For multiplayer fans, the Side Car modes should provide plenty of cooperative action. Look for the game sometime this Spring.

By: James Smith 1/7/00

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