“ Developer: VBlank „
Retro City Rampage (PC)
Everyone seems to be going mad over the latest 'theatrical' trailer for GTA V, which is kind of bemusing seeing as it looks no different to the soulless endeavours of previous incarnations. Apart from the occasional fun mission the franchise seems trapped in an endless cycle of taking itself far too seriously (like it needs to somehow legitimise the violence on screen with plot) and introducing ever more mundane features. There's an 18-hole golf course available to play this time round; all of a sudden Red Dwarf's 'Better than Life' is becoming a fully realised Johnny Gangster virtual reality. If any game needs a return to its anarchic roots - where hilarity, fun and mowing down lines of Hari Krishna's in a tank reigned supreme - Grand Theft Auto would be that game.
Yet whilst Rockstar seem to have no intention of returning to Grand Theft Auto's original 2-D top-down, multi-directional blast of carnage and destruction, Brian Provinciano has spent the last decade crafting an 8-bit open-world action parody based on the styling of the big bad franchise. At first glance Retro City Rampage appears to be the GTA V we really want. Pure hokum where blowing the shit out of anything is everything, albeit with a gaudy looking colour scheme. But look deeper and a cornucopia of zany eighties and nineties references, smart satire on the current state of the gaming industry and tonnes of other funny shit emerge that raise Retro City Rampage above its elementary sandbox design.
The first thing you notice about Retro City Rampage, however, is it's not really 8-bit. At 44mb in size there's much more scope to do cool stuff than was ever possible on the revered C64. Purists may bulk at this and suggest the game is a bit of a cheat, but does anyone really want to relive the torturous ball-ache of a tape-deck multi-load? No, of course they blinking don't. Instead, what Retro City Rampage does get right is the all important ethos and feeling of playing an 8-bit title. The pixelated, garish colours and chipset sound are central to this, as are some exquisite keyboard controls. Of course, the frantic speed of out running coppers in stolen vehicles, the perfect collision detection, super sleek scrolling and head bobbing ditties are all up to modern standards but it's likely to make many an old school gamer flush with joy. More so because Retro City Rampage is such barnstorming fun!
Capturing the essence of the original Grand Theft Auto marvellously the simple get in a car, run pedestrians over and bludgeon randoms with whatever is at hand mechanics provide Retro City Rampage with an instant pick up and play quality. Additional quirkiness in the shape of picking up pedestrians with your bare hands and launching them at other passers by along with a range of power-ups (including roaming around the city as Death to slay mortals or jumping on the heads of pedestrians as if they were Goombas) shows that nowt here should really be taken seriously. Once you get bored of endless hit-and-runs and blowing shit up for chuckles then the simple and not too lengthy plot kicks in. Aware of the tendency for sandbox games to become derivative all too quickly (one amusing sequence features a CV for a job with the Go-Go-Busters that lists 'driving from A to B' as a key skill) Brian has in many ways attempted to diffuse any encroaching tedium.
Missions are short and punchy; not the life-sapping endeavours of genre contemporaries. The 8-bit basis also makes the most of said missions by turning them into retrospective mini-games. Memories of Paperboy, Smash TV and The Legend of Zelda, among many, many others are wonderfully evoked. The missions are also frequently hilarious, as are the many eighties caricatures you happen to bump into. Dr Buttnick, The Jester, Vanilla T Cube, Doc Choc and his DeLoren time machine, Guybrush Threepwood, the cast of Saved By The Bell, the aforementioned Go-Go-Busters; its endlessly referential. Any game that quotes Bill and Ted's 'what number are we thinking' gag is obviously doing something right; that it also pokes fun at the practices of modern game developers midway through makes it deserving of your attention at the very least. To a child of the eighties the satirical nature of Retro City Rampage just dilutes any boredom further. However, as these old gits are the target audience much of the content will fly over the heads of younger gamers.
Tellingly, the length of Retro City Rampage is just right. There's enough meat on this bone to provide a short fix of carnage and mayhem which doesn't outstay its welcome. Trophies, free-roaming, rampages and collectibles provide additional longevity, especially for building up a decent high-score as you look to scale the heights of the online leaderboards. However, one area Retro City Rampage does struggle with is the challenge provided. It's just not difficult enough; well, not for old school gamers anyhow. For one thing given the small size of the sandbox environment, bribe tokens for dodging the police are far too abundant. It pretty much means that massacre sprees can be managed and controlled with relative ease and without fear of actually being apprehended. Additionally, fail a mission and one can continually retry until successful and, in general, it does not take long to meet with success. There are some tricky episodes for sure, especially when the game converts to some sideways scrolling platform action, but competent gamers should get through these sections with relative ease (me use keyboard; me successful). This is a long way away from the original GTAs testing five lives and out dynamic and makes for a somewhat missed opportunity in providing that true feeling of a hardcore 8-bit challenge.
Still, this is no game changer. Retro City Rampage remains a quirky and inventive, silly and daft, chaotic and frantic reminder of what gaming should be like. Plenty of hidden substance, with a well-defined (eighties) style to ensure the parody is cleverer than you would initially give credence, but above all damn good fun; not soulless bobbins that requires the almighty piss taken out of it. And for that, Brian must be thanked. Taking on the mantel left by the likes of Archer MacLean, Tony Crowther, Jeff Minter, Sensible Software and many others synonymous with eighties game making, Retro City Rampage is a step back in time (thanks to Doc Choc) to a more colourful (despite lots of monochrome) period of game design. It's also quite retro-tastic! So, you nineties kids that missed out first time round, don't fear the garish colour scheme, tinny sounding soundtrack (which is actually Turrican-esque in quality) or the kitchen sink style route of referencing gaming culture. Here is your chance to catch-up and learn just what the expectations of GTA VI should be. Murder rampages haven't been this much fun since DMA Design...