Retro City Rampage
by: John Bower
You know what I miss? Old school games. They sure don't make them like they used to.
But what if they did? What if someone made one like they used to, but also like they currently do? Does that sentence even make sense? I didn't think so, but then I found out about Retro City Rampage.
We have been eagerly anticipating this particular title for quite some time now. At first it seemed like the game was having some trouble getting passed the certification stage, but when you think about it, it all makes sense: Why would a modern publisher want to give the thumbs-up to a game that thumbs its nose at military shooters and bulky space armor in favor of the simple pleasure of mashing the assorted blue and white pixels of a policeman with your sprite-rendered fist? Certainly not one hoping to make a killing with a new game that showcases advances in motion blur and bloom.
All you really need to know about the game is right there in the name: it's retro, it's in a city, and there's a rampage. It's retro, and there's a city-wide rampage. In a retro city, a rampage takes place. And you are that rampage...
You play the role of a two-bit greaser named "Player". Lured by the call of easy money and the chance to cause mayhem, you sign on with an enterprising villain named the Jester. Three years later, you embark on an elaborate bank heist that ends in disaster, prompting you to take advantage of a convenient time-traveling phone booth that just happens to appear right in front of you (WYLD STALLYNS RULE!). You manage to travel just far enough back in time to avoid enlisting with the dangerously unhinged Jester, but then your time machine breaks down. Once again, though, luck is on your side as you run into a wily old man who can fix your time machine with just a few spares parts. Soon, you'll be time traveling again, and you'll teach those smarmy cavemen not to look at you twice!
Gameplay-wise, RCR has a lot in common with the Grand Theft Auto series, but it's more than a mere sprite-based adaptation of the series.
At its heart, RCR is a game about stealing cars and shooting, but mainly shooting. Guns are everywhere, and there's even a cover system if you feel like a little pop-and-shoot. Why crouch behind a chest high wall when you can give your enemies...
Like any old school platformer, many of your enemies can be dispatched merely by landing feet-first on their skulls and driving them into the ground like human tent pegs. It can be a bit tricky, trying to thread the needle in a 3D environment while simultaneously dodging bullets and speeding cars, but that just makes it all the more rewarding!
And what self-respecting open world game would be without minigames? Certainly not one that delves this deep into gaming history.
An arcade hosts a collection of games derived from more modern fare, like bit.trip runner and Super Meat Boy. Beat them, and you can strut around town in the likeness of your one of your favorite indie game heroes. Or guide the Epic Mealtime crew as they consume massive amounts of bacon strips and bacon strips and bacon strips and bacon strips! Who's hungry?
All this, though, is just a small part of the big picture that is Retro City Rampage. You can drive around town wrecking people's 8-bit lives and sweeping up the coinage from their broken remains, you can stop by the arcade to blow off some steam with some lovingly rendered minigames, you can get "sick" off drinking too much "milk" at the local "milk" "bar", but when you're ready for the main game, you have an impressive variety of missions to look forward to.
I don't want to spoil too much, but here are a few of my favorites:
Sneaking into an enemy base, looking down a long corridor, shooting at distant panels because there's a electric barrier blocking your way? All you need now is 30 extra lives and a spread gun. And a friend you can blame for weighing you down when you screw up.
When a costumed villain preoccupied with shredding gave me a job planting bombs at a dam, I had a bad feeling that I knew where this was going. If just seeing this scene is giving you flashbacks to unpleasant turtle-based memories, then you are definitely the right sort of person to play this game.
Big money! Big throwbacks! I love it!!
I suppose it goes without saying that Retro City Rampage is a game rife with callbacks and references to when gaming was in its infancy. Nearly every square inch of Theftropolis is a tribute, homage, or a straight hearkening-back-to of some aspect of 80s and 90s, with a special emphasis on early video game culture.
And that brings us to what is arguably its most impressive feat: in spite of the innumerable references, the old school love, the familiar characters and scenarios, the game manages to be more than just a pastiche of old things. It feels like a genuine labor of love from someone who just wants you to appreciate these things as much as he does. I don't think such a thing is possible, but Retro City Rampage is a damn fine game all the same.
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