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Rollcage (PSX) Review

Background Info

Have you ever wondered what Super Mario Kart would look like in Hell? To get an idea, pick up the latest offering from Psygnosis entitled Rollcage. It's futuristic racing that would make Mario Andretti wet his pants.

C'mon! You must be pulling my leg!

Trust me on this one, chum. This game is intense, bad to the bone and a thrill to play. Psygnosis certainly deserves a huge pat on the back for releasing such an entertaining disc. Granted, if you are opposed to mass destruction, KISS concert-like pyrotechnics and on-the-edge-of-your-seat thrills, this game may not be for you. But if you are looking for a racing game with high speed and attitude, look no farther. Rollcage will win you over in an instant. At least that's what it did for me. Still don't believe me friend?

Ehh, I'm still not sure, Doc.

That's fine, Bugs. Just sit back, relax and let me give you the low-down and dirty on the baddest racing game I've played in some time. And hey, buckle your seatbelt. It's the law.

Gameplay : 95
The year: 2410.
The location: some place on earth.
The game: Super Mario Kart in Hell, oops, I mean Rollcage.

Would you get off the Super Mario Kart deal?

Okay ... okay. But those who've played Super Mario Kart on the N64 console will be very familiar with the premise of Rollcage. The similarities between the two games are stunning: a small field of cars (six in Rollcage, eight in SMK) engage in a no-holds-barred dash to the finish line on awkward road courses. Each vehicle possesses abilities unique from the other cars on the circuit. Of course, there are plenty of fun toys (a.k.a. weapons) to collect along the way and just like SMK, you better get the toys before the toys get you.

However, that's where the similarities stop. Rollcage isn't the good time Rock 'N' Roll, Cartoon-laiden love fest which defines SMK. From here on out, comparing the two titles would be like comparing Celine Dion to Marilyn Manson. Unlike SMK, Rollcage is a non-stop attack on your senses.

For starters, your inner ear better be in working order before playing this game. That's because the roadway is not always the fastest path to the finish line. Most of the time, you are better off taking your open-wheeled racer onto the sidewalk, on the side of a wall, or even to the ceiling of a tunnel. This game wasn't dubbed Rollcage for nothing. It's complete and total 360-degree racing .

You see, in this year of 2410, a group of Xtreme sports folk (known as teenagers back in the ancient 20th century) have invented this sport of Rollcage. According to the tale spun in the manual, these 25th-century youngsters, dubbed the Ice cult, have developed racecars with on-board weapons management systems. And since these vehicles are made with indestructible kevlar-polycarbonate shells, nobody gets hurt (very A-Team, very Dukes of Hazzard, but hey. It's a game for goodness' sake, not a gorefest).

Gamers will start off in easy mode (you have no choice about this) in the Gemini League. If you finish first in the points standings after three, three-lap races in the GL, you are allowed to move up to the Scorpio League. And then, the same holds true for advancement to the highest league of all, the Taurus League (as a Sagittarius, I was disappointed Psygnosis didn't use my sign).

If you conquer all three leagues in easy mode, hard mode will be unlocked (note: make sure to either write down the password or save the game to your memory card ... or you will have to redo all three stages). Hard mode puts you back where you started, the Gemini League. But this time the races are longer, more numerous and heck, as the mode implies, a lot harder to complete. Remember, you have to win the league's points championship in order to advance.

If you finish first in all the races of a given league, a bonus mode is unlocked. You can then race against a boss racer to prove your mettle as a driver.

The weapons that are provided will help you attain that goal. For best results, use a homing missile or a driller missile to explode buildings and structures along the racetrack. That will scatter debris into the road, which will slow down other racers. There is also a time warp weapon, which will slow down the rest of your competition, while allowing you to travel at full speed. An ice sheet is handy when other drivers are directly ahead of you. The ice field created will cause those bums to lose 80 percent of their tire friction.

There is also a leader missile, which will not explode until it hits the car which holds first place. Very handy if you are behind, very inconvenient if you are up front. They can ruin an absolutely brilliant run. Sure, an obligatory shield can be obtained, as well as a speed boost. But there is also a wormhole weapon, which if your shot is on target, will transport the car in front of you to a place behind you. Very fun indeed.

Speed is not the most essential element of survival in this game, at least not in the easy level. Just keep your car pointed in the right direction and you'll do fine. But that is not as easy as it sounds. If you make the wrong move up the side of a wall, or hit an unmovable piece of debris, you will get tumbled around like a towel in a clothes dryer.

Presentation/Graphics : 93
Graphically, this game was a treat. For the first time, a racing game finally delivered the true feeling of going fast without making the image on screen suffer because of it. But speed is just a small factor of what the graphics provide. The constant explosions, fireballs and falling buildings are the game's best graphical element.

As I said in the introduction, the cyber-pyrotechnics give you that KISS concert-like feel. And what's more, they don't look hokey and they don't slow down play (unless you run into some debris, of course). They flow right along with the action of the game -- something that cannot be said about other racing titles.

The cars look like a mid-70's Indy car with tires that belong on a Tonka truck. If you are playing the game with an external view of the machine, the car's body is a wondrous sight. From inside the car, the view of the action is wonderful. But make sure this eye candy doesn't distract you too much. You may find yourself in sixth place and out of the league. As with driving a normal car, keep your eyes pointed forward at all times.

If for some reason you make a wrong move on the side of the wall, you will know it. Your car will roll and the screen will too. This is where the good inner ear comes in handy. If your inner ear isn't up to par, this effect may be too much for you after awhile.

Presentation/Audio : 81
The graphics were a little more intense than the sound, but not by much. The explosions and the sound effects go hand-in-hand to transport you into that atmosphere of chaos and demolition.

However, I wasn't too impressed with the sound of the cars. If one area had to suffer in this game, it was probably this feature. I mean, c'mon, what's a racing game without a distinct roar to the engine. That's part of the allure to motorsports, even in the 25th century. Just ask Jeff Gordon's great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-
great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandson. Maybe it's just me, but I was really bothered with this.

Also, while all this ballyhoo was made about the drivers and their attitudes in the manual, they don't speak in the game. You don't get to hear any witty repart3/4e between drivers on the course, which would have made the experience complete.

The soundtrack was okay, but the music didn't move me in one way or another. Most of it was your standard gaming techno-groove which permeates a lot of racing titles. It failed to influence me one way or another. Speaking of "One Way or Another," they could have added that Blondie tune to the soundtrack. That would be a good racing tune, even in this futuristic environment. Oh well, maybe next time.

Interface : 93
Load time between screens is minimal, which increases even a bad game's enjoyability factor. But this game is a goodie, which means that less load time makes the game's enjoyability that much better.

As far as the menus are concerned, this part of a game is the hardest to screw up. And Psygnosis did a good job at keeping this interface simple and easy to understand. Menus are self-explanatory and present you with a sundry of options.

From the menus, you can toggle the sound effect volume, difficulty level, brightness of the on-screen display and the split screen (horizontal or vertical) in two-player mode. You can also make the weather at each track vile and wretched, which only serves to make the game nearly impossible to master. But it's to your own benefit to toggle the bad weather option if you want a real challenge.

Difficulty/AI : 92
In Easy mode, this game can be hard to master. In Hard mode, you better be at the top of your game and have a lot of luck riding on your side. So don't go breaking any mirrors before you sit down and play this one, pal. You'll need all the good fortune one can muster.

The AI (artificial intelligence for those who may have been born yesterday) programmers did a good job making this game a challenge. And that, folks, allows for several hours of enjoyable, yet challenging game play.

You seem to have a little more speed than the other vehicles in the Easy mode, but that advantage is taken away by the time you reach the big time. Your speed is either equal or slower than your competition, so you better be able to effectively use weapons, drive on strange surfaces and recover quickly if you get knocked around like a beach ball.

Developing the skill needed to drive on walls, sidewalks, tops of tunnels etc. will take some time. In order to ride on the ceiling, you have to make the right approach on the side of the wall. If not, you will roll around and most likely, lose valuable track position. Also, when you exit a tunnel which you've been riding upside down, you better be right in the middle upon exit. If you do it right, well, you should go about your merry way. Otherwise, prepare for a harsh landing and a stomachache (barf bags not provided).

Also, the cars seem to be a little heavy in the front end. So if you jump a hill like the General Lee in the Dukes of Hazzard, prepare to hit the ground nose first. That means one thing ... lay off the throttle while in mid air. You will be able to recover faster in such a situation.

If for some reason you get turned around in the wrong direction, you can correct it with a touch of the button in Easy mode. Don't get too used to it, though. That option is not available in the upper levels. Don't develop that bad habit. Like smoking, it's a hard one to break.

Overall : 91
Wow, I rarely enjoy racing games that are non-simulation in nature. Rollcage, however, was an exception to the rule. I enjoyed it to the max. Rollcage effectively transported me from late 20th century America to this fantasy realm of explosive racing machines. From the first time I played it, I found it hard to turn off.

For the first time in a long time, I found myself staying up late at night just to play a game. I haven't had that urge in quite awhile.

Eh, thanks Doc. I think I got the idea now. You better watch out for my 25th century homing carrot. It's a doozy.

No thanks Bugs. Keep your carrots to yourself. I've gotta get some sleep. And if you decide to play my friend, make sure you don't take that wrong turn at Albuquerque.

By: Matt Humphrey 6/17/99

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