Although Retro City Rampage came out some time ago, I’ve only recently picked up a copy and found enough time to play it. It’s a game that’s very hard to describe because it almost doesn’t want to be a game. Instead, it’s a collection of pop culture references and frequent nods towards its ancestors in the video game world. For someone that’s been playing video games for the last 16 years (damn I felt old trying to work that out), I thought it would be right up my street.
The game looks very similar to the original Grand Theft Auto. I absolutely adored the original GTA. Saturday mornings in our house when my brothers and I were 8 or 9 years old, would regularly consist of connecting the home PC to the other PC we had laying about in our garage to play some GTA on LAN. Although you’d always pull the short straw and put up with the freezing cold of the outdoors, it was always worth it. We’d spend hours cooperatively piling as many cars as was possible down a single road and then blow one up to watch the chain reaction, over and over again. RCR’s deliberate graphical choice appeals to the 8-year-old in me, still wishing he was playing GTA in that cold garage.
Unfortunately, it’s similarities with GTA start and end at a cosmetic level. I never played GTA’s story mode and I made the same choice here. I did play the first few missions, but what I really wanted to do was cruise around the city, piling up cars. Thankfully, there is a free play mode that allows you to just mess about exploring the city. The controls are simple enough, with the arrow keys being to move and WASD to shoot in the respective directions, but felt backwards to me after coming from 150 hours clocked on The Binding of Isaac. Changing them was simple enough, which is worth mentioning as so many games; especially console games, will restrict you from remapping your controls, which is frankly nothing short of laziness from the developers. I could now explore more comfortably, but with a map so small, I felt like I had seen almost every road within an hour.
The entire world is made up of references to other games and pop culture. The very first mission of the game has you storming a bank with The Jester who gradually kills off all of his henchmen. You then have to try and cross a busy road without being hit by moving vehicles, until you finally escape down a large green pipe. And this is ultimately my entire gripe with this game, it doesn’t have it’s own personality. Instead, it feels like a child jumping up and down and screaming “Look, look! Look at this thing I’m referencing! Oooo, and this!”. Within a normal game that wasn’t tipping its hat so much at other games it was getting serious burn marks along its skull, the odd reference and nod is usually met with a chuckle and a “Ohh, I see what you did there”. Finding Tuco’s teeth in the Sheriff’s office in RAGE was delightful. Walking passed a ‘SixBucks Coffee’ store, a shop called ‘Go Go Busters’ and a lottery shop with the sign ‘CONGLATURATION !!! A WINNER IS YOU!’ all down the same street, isn’t quite as delightful.
This is why I can’t even talk about the game seriously or even take it seriously, as it seems like the entire development of the game was a joke that got out of hand. The whole design of the game feels at odds with itself as well. The choice of the graphical direction was surely done to appeal to the nostalgia of people like myself. People who have grown up with video games as a major influence in their life and like the idea of an homage to the various worlds and landscapes that have helped shape who they are and what they play today. It’s such a shame however, that the execution feels adolescent and characterless.