Game: Retro City Rampage
Developer: Vblank Entertainment
Publisher: Vblank Entertainment, D3 Publisher (Xbox 360)
Available on: PlayStation 3, PS Vita, Xbox 360, Windows PC, Wii
Retro City Rampage has been somewhat of a labour of love for its creator, Brian Provinciano. The game has effectively been in development for nearly 10 years and, in terms of scope and content, RCR is truly a massive achievement for what is basically a one-man team. However, while the ambition of this title may be great, the gameplay leaves a lot to be desired.
Awkward cover systems and mundane fetch quests are presented to the player as satire, but the way they’re implemented in Retro City Rampage is certainly a head scratcher. Provinciano’s game has been on the radar for a number of years, yet the finished product is an example of a good idea that relies far too much on pop-culture references.
The story begins with the player assuming the role of the protagonist (aptly named, Player) who is a lowly criminal in Theftropolis City within a larger crime organisation run by The Jester. Player gets transported from the 1980’s to the year 20XX, via a Bill & Ted phone box, and meets up with a parody of Back to the Future’s Doc Brown, who agrees to help Player in his quest to return to the past. The campaign always feels like it’s built around nods to older forms of media, rather than carving out its own memorable story.
Within the first twenty minutes, among the references already mentioned, Duck Hunt pops up, as does Frogger, Metal Gear, Sonic, Mario – the list goes on. Younger players will understandably miss some of these, but at the pace they’re doled out, even those that grew up with Zack Morris won’t catch them all. At times, it can all feel a bit throwaway as jokes are delivered at such a fast rate. There’s no doubt that some will leave you chuckling out loud, but RCR’s dependency on them doesn’t allow the game to present a unique identity.
On the surface, the 8-bit art style will have former NES owners tearing up. It’s certainly a beautiful looking take on the open-world crime game, and even allows players to manipulate the visuals by adding one of the many screen filters. If you want to replicate a Game Boy, or Commodore64, go ahead. Along with the aesthetics, the sound design would fit right into Nintendo’s first home console. For the most part, the chiptune soundtrack will transport you back to yesteryear, with only a few instances of annoying, muddled and grating ditties. Retro City Rampage is always trying to make the player feel right at home by ensuring they’re experiencing that warm fuzzy feeling.
The world in which you cause mayhem is surprisingly large and bursting with content for the player to consume. Along with the single player mode, there’s a free roam mode to wreak havoc in and plenty of challenges to get through. Obviously, a lot of Retro City Rampage’s inspiration comes from the GTA series and parallels can be especially drawn with San Andreas. In terms of customisation and openness, RCR attempts to give the player a lot of leeway. You can don a hat, get a haircut, go to an arcade, spray-paint your car, get tatted up – you can even get plastic surgery! Theftropolis has plenty of personality, down to the NPCs walking on the footpath and signs above shops that will garner a giggle. Yet, like many things in this crime-riddled urban setting, there are caveats to the sense of joy this game can give you. For example, many of the side missions feel repetitive as you’re required to bloody as many civilians as possible within an allotted time. This tiresome cliché is prevalent all too often, and makes it difficult to come back to Theftropolis when all is said and done.
Sadly, the mechanics are also inadequate and fail to capitalise on other aspects of Retro City Rampage that are done well. Simply walking can feel far too sluggish and driving any form of vehicle can lead to multiple crashes as you swerve from side-to-side like a person looking for a DUI charge. There’s no shortage of weapons here and that varied element brings a little bit of intrigue to the gunfights, yet they’re also flawed in nature. On consoles, once a gun is equipped, RCR allows the player to shoot in two ways; by treating the game as a twin stick shooter, or by pressing a face button which can auto-target. The problem with this is that the auto-targeting is frustratingly jerky, and so generally rules itself out. The cover system falls prey to many of the game’s failings – making fun out of certain video game tropés but then inserting them into the game anyway. As a result, it’s almost impossible to utilise in the frantic gunfights that occur.
VERDICT: An interesting idea that takes its cues from past idols leaves the player asking, “What is Retro City Rampage?” A valid question and one that is difficult to answer. Pop-culture references can be hilarious when used well and there are many moments in Retro City Rampage that are genuinely funny, but at the end of the day, Vblank Entertainment have created a title that relies on such elements so much that it’s left without its own individuality. A large metropolis swelling with colour and vibrancy is offset by gameplay that needs more polish and focus. Offering up some humorous dialogue or commentary on the state of games development brings some entertainment to proceedings, but in Retro City Rampage, that just isn’t enough.