I always found Road Rash to be an evocative name for a game. Having the flesh ripped from your kneecaps as your leg hangs too low from your bike, leaning into a hard turn. I have no idea how many applications of Savlon it takes for a wound like that to heal up.
The original Mega Drive game stands as one of my most played games of all time. Tearing up windy tracks across California on my Diablo 1000, looking for racers on the track holding a club, stealing it, and start breaking some skulls. I could spout nostalgia for all three of those classic Mega Drive games, but nostalgia isn't what I want to achieve here. I want to introduce some of you to something new. Something old.
Please check out my video of me playing the game below!
In 1994, Road Rash made its first appearance on a CD-ROM system. The Panasonic 3DO version of the game was essentially a remake of the first game, using the same locations, but with some of the features seen in later versions, such as the ability to knock police officers off of their vehicles and a variety of bike classes to upgrade to.
Being a CD based game, Electronic Arts took full advantage of the format, signing on bands such as Soundgarden, Paw and Swervedriver to provide the soundtrack, with FMV cutscenes punctuating the action. We shouldn't understate the importance of the soundtrack, as it was one of the first times licensed music had been used in a video game. This was a precursor to what would eventually be commonplace for EA games, with "EA Trax" adding colour to many of their titles over the next few generations. Commonplace now, but groundbreaking back then.
This version of the game introduced "Big Game Mode", which is essentially a career/story mode, where you level up through the ranks by coming third-or-better, earning money, buying better vehicles and repeating until you win the Road Rash Cup. You can select one of eight outlandish characters, each starting with their own vehicle, cash and weapon loud outs, giving the franchise a depth beyond the already addictive race action.
It's here that I want to briefly mention the different versions of the game. After the 3DO release, the game was ported to PlayStation, Saturn and Mega CD, each with their own pros and cons. Some say the PS1 version runs fastest, some say the Saturn version looks sharpest. Purists will say the 3DO is the best, as it was the original intended platform for the game. I want to introduce you to the Microsoft Windows 95 version of the game. This is the version I play in the video above, and compare to 3DO in the video below.
The Windows 95 version ran significantly smoother than its console cousins, with a much higher graphical resolution to boot. If you can stomach the hoops you need to jump through, I feel it's well worth it, despite the slightly unfortunate MIDI music which plays during races.
Regardless which platform you choose to play the game on, the 1994 version of Road Rash holds up brilliantly and still feels unique to this day. Although the upcoming Road Redemption is attempting to replicate the themes of the series, it has a very different feel. Road Rash gives an incredible sense of individuality in each of the AI racers. You get to know your rivals by name, and they get to know you too. Did you kick Spike off his bike last race? He'll backfist your helmet off when he next sees you. The random events that take place not only directly around you, but miles ahead of you, give the impression of racing in a living, breathing world. You'll encounter foes hiking back to their wrecked bike on foot, as you rush past them. Cars will plough into packs of racers with no remorse, sending vehicles spinning inches away from your head. There will be upsets as usually dominant racers spill near the finish line and are overtaken by usually mid-pack AI racers.
Road Rash 1994 unfortunately marks the last game in the series that was really any good. Later attempts by multiple studios on PlayStation and N64 never met the standard that was set on Mega Drive and then perfected on 3DO et al. If you haven't played this version of the game before, I implore you to head to eBay right now and go play it on your platform of choice.