Game Review: Retro City Rampage (XBLA)
Retro City Rampage takes itself very seriously. Not in the usual way though: it doesn’t offer anything avant-garde indie game, like deep human expression, an experimental design or a mad colour palette. Instead, it takes itself very seriously about being silly. Set in the city of Theftropolis, RCR is a top down open world ‘crime-em-up’ inspired by the classic Grand Theft Autos of the 90’s and fulfilled by its abundant (and I’m talking constant) references to our rich gaming and geek history.
Playing as ‘The Player’, you are sent back in time in something that looks like a TARDIS and thrown into a city ruled by criminals and super-villains. In order to get back to the present ‘The Player’ employs the help of a local mad, white-haired doctor called Doc-Choc to help him find the parts to get home. Most of these parts are found by helping the mad villians of Theftropolis cause trouble; whether that’s blowing up the sewers to kill some mutant turtles, destroying traffic with a giant Gorilla or helping defeat an egg-shaped scientist in a floating chair. You can already see the less-than-subtle references to famous gaming and pop culture characters.
For the most part then, RCR is a wild example of excessive and blind violence. You run down pedestrians boosting a chain multiplier and score at the top of the screen and murder indiscriminately with a wide range of ridiculous weapons (such as a boomerang inspired by Batman). However, its dedicated 8-bit visuals and soundtrack add a care-free and unusually innocent quality to the genocide, reminding us, and perhaps some of the hysterical public who cried outrage at several similar games in the past, that this is just a game.
While it takes the guise of an open world crime spree adventure, its main charm is its clear celebration of all things video games. This isn’t just in the whimsical appearance of recognisable characters, but also in the way the level design swaps and changes to mimic the classic games of the past. One fantastic moment involves you working with someone who is basically Solid Snake, who insists that you sneak into the military complex rather than blast your way in. It’s often very funny in the way it plays on certain recognisable classics, but it also establishes that while RCR looks like an open-world, it is really based on a long series of different set pieces.
It is good fun, providing several crazy ways to cause trouble across Theftropolis. There are powerups in all shapes, a wide arrange of weapons and several types of vehicles that range in speed and brawn. An Arcade and Free-Roam mode also add to the experience: with the result being a nice balance between energetic action based fun and more story (I use that word loosely) based linear missions. The 8-bit graphics and audio are perhaps a little too advanced to be described as completely authentic, but the loving commitment to the old school is dedicated and charming enough. It looks great, managing to capture specific characteristics in spite of the low pixels, which really adds to the sense of humour.
However, the constant parodies and name-dropping of RCR, no matter how deliberate they are, unfortunately create a sense of laziness. While ‘serious about silly’ is clearly the intention of the developers, it often crosses too far into stupidity rather than remaining firmly in well-witted post-modern cheekiness. This also drips into the main fun of the experience too. While there is a mass of different weapons, vehicles and abilities, there is a real lack of enthusiasm in their design. It sadly feels like Vblank Entertainment have found a bucket of half-drawn ideas and thrown it at the wall to see what happens. Still, RCR is a clear love affair with video games. While the casual parodies aren’t exactly done well, you can tell that they are there as part of a celebration. It’s a homage more than anything, made in the form of a casual but entertaining action game, and its greatest achievement is that it manages to capture an awful lot of the history of video games. Unfortunately, that also means some of its bad parts.