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Road Rash | Jailbreak | review | game | Lollipop

Road Rash: Jailbreak

(Activision for the PlayStation)
by Eric Johnson

Road Rash is an addictive blend of motorcycle racing and fisticuffs that has existed in one form or another for the past nine years. Since 1991, the Road Rash franchise has appeared in at least seven incarnations on three different console systems, with varied results. It's best described as a basic motorcycle race complicated by confrontations with oncoming traffic, angry police, weapons, aggressive Harley guys, speed freak fancy lads, and the occasional farm animal; the result is an extraordinarily fun and surprisingly intense formula that appeals to the casual as well as devoted game player.

Jailbreak adds the first quest-like storyline to the series and includes some long-awaited variations on the standard racing format. It also equalizes the precarious balance between fighting and racing that's been experimented with, with mixed results, in its recently released siblings. The plot: Spaz was the finest rasher of all time, he and his midget companion got busted by the police, they sit in jail waiting for their loyal gang to bust them out. In order to free Spaz, you must join one of two gangs, move up their ranks by proving yourself on the open road, and lead your fellow bikers in an effort to bust him out.

The gangs fall along standard biker stereotypes, the black leather bruisers known as the De Sades ride their Harleys while the Kaffe Boys stick to their crotch-rocket rice-burners. Advantages are simple, the De Sades can take more punishment and have a higher top speed while the Kaffe Boys have faster acceleration, better handling and access to better weapons. Each rank consists of eight races and an initiation rite, essentially a timed race where other gang members try to stop you from completing it. Advancement in rank leads to tougher competition, access to better bikes, and longer and more interesting courses.

The raceways are actually roads on a map resembling a highly-distorted San Francisco bay area intersected by a maze of interweaving roadways running through different industrialized and rural environments. Instead of clearly-defined tracks, each race is a section of road consisting of several forks that get longer and more difficult as you advance. The controls are quite simple -- gas, brake, taunt, kick, and punch. The learning curve is not steep at all and most people will do just fine before their first race is finished. The bread & butter of this series is fighting; it's what sets Road Rash apart from other racing titles. Combat resembles an odd hybrid between the Road Warrior and Road Runner cartoons. A typical scenario: racing toward the finish line, a quick succession of punches from a fellow biker catches you off balance, sending you over the handlebars and sliding face first over the pavement for a hundred yards or so. The time for vengeance is at hand, so you pick yourself up, hunt him down, mace him and kick his debilitated ass straight into a concrete embankment. Another common scenario occurs when all the middle-position bikers have bunched themselves together, too busy exchanging blows to notice the oncoming car that plows right through all of them like so many screaming bowling pins. In addition, a first place position may be lost due to the intervention of a police officer, who will occasionally ruin your good time by taking you to jail.

Spectacular accidents and other elements of high drama endow Road Rash with a peculiar bragging right -- it's one of the most social video games I've ever encountered. Ignore the multiplayer split screen frustration and just switch off races between friends. Several people can be entertained at any given time. It's one of few titles generally successful with people who are unimpressed by video games as well as with those who prefer more complicated fare -- an amusing distraction for the proletariat in general.

In addition to standard game mode, the opportunity to join the force and ride as a police officer is included in five-0-mode. Within a given time limit, the cop is given a specific suspect to detain as well as a quota to fill; advancement through the ranks can be attained by knocking that suspect, or a given number of his fellow gang members, off his vehicle. Time limits actually keep five-0-mode from being as fun as it could be, hunting down a specific biker is a welcome relief but the short period in which to nab him adds unnecessary tension rather than healthy challenge.

So how does Jailbreak stand up against other recent releases in the series? Very well! The balance between racing and fighting has been perfected. The graphics have taken a step down from Road Rash 3D and I miss the amusing cut scenes complete with fire-eaters and red hot dirty biker mamas found in that release. But aside from the lack of cut scenes and the overly cartoon-like graphics, the actual game play of Road Rash: Jailbreak is some of the best in the series.


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