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RoadKill is one of those games that appealed to me from the moment I knew about it. I forget if I read about it in a magazine or online but the article mentioned that it was a cross between Grand Theft Auto and Twisted Metal. Open world action and vehicular combat? I was immediately interested. I’m a huge fan of the Grand Theft Auto and Twisted Metal franchises so this just sounded like the perfect ingredients for a game I never knew I wanted. Unfortunately, I didn’t acquire a copy until years after it released and didn’t really get the chance to sink my teeth into it until now. Developed by Terminal Reality and published by Midway Games, RoadKill was released for PlayStation 2, Xbox, and GameCube in October, 2003. For this review, I played the Xbox version. RoadKill is set in a post-apocalyptic world where gangs seem to reign supreme and weaponized vehicles rule the streets. The developers seem to be inspired by films like the Mad Max series and I think for its time, RoadKill was a pretty unique game.
The story is set in the fictional Hell County after a pandemic wiped out most of the population around the world. Violent gangs have basically taken over this new lawless world and you play as a survivor named Mason. He was betrayed by an organization known as the Sentinels and now he’s out for revenge. He ends up working for various gangs as he gets closer and closer to reaching the Sentinels leader, Axl. The story is okay, I guess, but I can’t say I was immersed into it. There are some humorous moments but the writing and dialogue never really got me hooked into the story. The voice acting ranges from below average to decent and many of the characters are just over-the-top. You more or less work for gangs, going from mission to mission, trying to eliminate rival gangs.
RoadKill is an open world game with three major islands or regions; Laval Falls, Blister Canyon, and Paradise City. You start in Lava Falls and must progress through the story to gain access to the others. The regions are connected by tunnels, which are really just loading points. Each region does have its own unique feel to it and there is enough going on in each to make them feel like crazy violent urban locations. There are different weather effects like thunderstorms and tornadoes which can send your vehicle flying. You’re basically free to roam around each region and do whatever you want all within the confines of your vehicle. You’ll never get out of your vehicle during gameplay. Every vehicle you drive is equipped with machine guns with infinite ammo and a mounted weapon. Other weapons can be found in the environments. There’s a large roster of different vehicles you can acquire like muscle cars, SUVs, and trucks among other types and they’re all combat ready and have different stats in speed, health, and acceleration. Each region has a garage you can access where you can save your game, swap out vehicles, and restore your health and nitrous. You can also find health and nitrous pickups scattered throughout the environments. One thing I noticed is how conditioned I became to many of the quality of life features of modern titles. For example, there’s no map legend so you’ll have to figure out what icons mean what on the in-game map. Mission icons appear on your map and minimap so you know where to go but the map doesn’t indicate if you have completed a side mission or not. Some side missions or what I’ll call minigames don’t even appear on the map, you have to find them. You will need to learn the layout of the land so you know where things are and remember what side missions you’ve completed. Many of them offer a reward like a vehicle for completion.
As you traverse the world you’ll see vehicles and pedestrians on the streets. You’ll frequently encounter vehicles battling it out which is pretty cool. Around almost every corner is somebody shooting at someone else. Enemy vehicles are always equipped with projectile-based weaponry, NPCs roaming the streets may be carrying firearms or rocket launchers, and everyone seems to be armed to the teeth. You can easily drive right into a warzone with gang vehicles and NPCs attacking each other. Scattered throughout each region are blueprints and vehicle and weapon parts. You need to collect these to acquire new weapons and vehicles. Every collectible weapon and vehicle has a set of parts and a blueprint associated to it. Some of these collectibles are easily accessible but most are not and are usually located on the tops of buildings or in out of the way places. There are ramps all over the place so there’s always a way to get to the top of a building or across a gap, it just all depends on your driving skills and vehicle stats. Because the regions are somewhat small, it’s not hard to locate all of the blueprints and parts but you may not be able to acquire certain ones until you have the appropriate vehicle or vehicle upgrade. If you’re really having a tough time finding one, you can buy a blueprint hint at the shop. These collectibles are your incentive to explore but exploring can also lead you to new routes and shortcuts which are best utilized for any missions that require you to get somewhere within a time limit. Killing rival gang members will increase your rank and whenever you destroy a vehicle, it drops salvage which is essentially currency. You can spend salvage on vehicle upgrades at shops like increased top speed, nitrous capacity, ammunition, armor, acceleration, and others to make your vehicles more efficient. All vehicle upgrades you purchase apply to all vehicles you own so you don’t have to upgrade them individually. Many of these upgrades will help you survive in battles and others will make it easier to access certain areas of the world. All unlocked weapons appear throughout the environments, usually near your garage, and can be picked up and stored in your inventory but they do have limited ammo so sometimes it’s good to stock up on ammo before starting a mission or going into enemy gang territory. With that said, it’s good to have knowledge of the regions because pickups do respawn and knowing where the health, nitrous, and weapon pickups are can be a big help.
With you at all times is an NPC that normally mans the mounted weapon on all of your vehicles and he will fire at enemies automatically. I like that but it’s annoying when a mission requires you to kill enemies in a certain way, like by impaling them, and then your buddy blows them away with the weapon instead, stealing your kill. In addition to acquiring vehicles and weapons by collecting blueprints and parts, you can also acquire them by completing missions and side missions. All vehicles vary in stats so you may find yourself swapping out vehicles often depending on the mission or situation. Some vehicles are affiliated with different gangs and if the rival gang spots you driving an enemy gang vehicle, you will be attacked on sight which can make things harder and/or more enjoyable depending on how you look at it. Although, it can be annoying when you’re attacked during a side a mission like a race so you do need to be aware of what gangs are in what territories and what vehicles are available to you. Driving around the environments often feels like a Twisted Metal game except the AI vehicles will actually attack each other, making the world and action feel somewhat immersive. All weapon pickups have limited ammo but most can do more damage than your standard machine guns. There’s different types of rockets, a scattergun which is like a shotgun, a bolt gun, you can call in air strikes, mow down enemies with a minigun, or maybe you want to snipe NPCs with a sniper rifle. The BGM is a standout weapon because it allows you to fire rockets that you can control manually. Some weapon pickups fall into the secondary weapon category and these include things like bombs, grenades, and different types of mines that can be dropped behind your vehicle which is helpful for dealing with enemy vehicles on your tail. It’s quite satisfying to get into a car chase and then drop a bomb before hearing the sound of a vehicle exploding. You are allowed to roam free and attack and kill anyone you want. Causing a lot of mayhem will draw the attention of the Sentinels or in other words, raise your RIOT level. Sentinels will come after you if they’re alerted and they’ll just try to blow you away. The higher the RIOT level, the more aggressive they become. Your RIOT level will decrease if you can avoid them and you can find peace signs scattered throughout the environments to reduce it as well.
The story mission objectives will be nothing new if you’ve played any other open world action titles set in urban environments. You’ll have to kill people, follow vehicles, retrieve items, and sometimes you get the opportunity to man your vehicle’s mounted gun and blow away enemies while your NPC buddy drives and these sequences are pretty cool. Overall, the story missions don’t have a lot of variety to them but they can be enjoyable. Unfortunately, there are no mid-mission checkpoints so if you die or fail a mission, you have to start the entire mission over which can become frustrating late in the game. Most missions aren’t really that long, and many of them allow you to navigate the environment freely should you need to acquire a health, nitrous, or weapon pickup so the mission length may depend on how fast or slow you tackle objectives. Sometimes going too far off the beaten path will cause you to fail a mission but that’s usually if you’re objective is to locate and eliminate enemy vehicles for example since they will most likely try to drive away. The missions do become more challenging as you progress and you may want to collect salvage and purchase some upgrades if missions start feel a bit too tough. Some of the side missions are really fun and you can participate in these at any time once they’re available. They can also be a great way to earn a good amount of salvage quickly. As expected, there are street races which are easy enough if you stay up to date with upgrades and have at least one fast vehicle in your collection. Others are more action-oriented like sniping targets, blowing up vehicles, killing gang members in specific ways, and surviving waves of suicide bombers. You can also deliver packages around the regions or complete stunts which I’m really not a fan of. Most of these side missions are timed including the stunts and trying to complete all the stunts within the time limit can be frustrating. I just find this side mission to be tedious. You can always travel between the regions once they are unlocked so you may find yourself going back to previous regions often whether it be to acquire collectibles or to complete side missions with newly acquired vehicles and upgrades.
I would say RoadKill doesn’t actually look that bad compared to other open world titles released during that generation but you can definitely tell it’s an older title. I do like many of the visual effects like blood gushing out of NPCs when they’re killed, vehicles do show visible damage as they lose health, and the explosions are visually satisfying. Some textures are blurry and there’s noticeable pop-in but I was actually somewhat surprised at the attention to some of the details and world building. Each major area in a region has its own name, the regions are filled with unique buildings and landmarks, advertisements for fictional brands and products, the news broadcasts on the radio will reflect on events you took part in during the story, and it all helped to immerse me into the world of RoadKill. It’s got a lot of style and the game manages to create a unique atmosphere. The sound effects are kind of a mixed bag. Things like NPC dialogue can be humorous and they’ll scream and yell during combat but things like explosions and some weapons sound a little weak which is a shame because you’ll always be listening to weapons fire and you’ll be blowing up a ton of shit. Like the GTA titles, RoadKill includes in-game radio stations, some of which include licensed music and others are talk stations. The talk stations can be quite humorous in my opinion and the track selection for the classic rock station is excellent. Honestly, most of the soundtrack in this game is fantastic. First of all, the opening cut scene is accompanied by the song (Don’t Fear) The Reaper by Blue Oyster Cult which is one of the greatest classic rock songs ever in my opinion and it’s also included on the station. In addition to songs by Blue Oyster Cult, you’ve got songs by Judas Priest, Foghat, King Kobra, and Foreigner, among others. The game desperately needs a metal station and more classic rock songs. Sadly, there’s no Slayer or Megadeth, no Exodus, no Iron Maiden, no Pantera, no Van Halen, what a shame. I know there’s at least one other station that plays a genre of music I’m not the biggest fan of so I really can’t comment on if its track selection is any good. Now I did play this on an original Xbox and experienced no real technical issues. I did notice the frame rate dip when the screen would get extremely busy but it wasn’t often. From what I researched, RoadKill is backwards compatible on Xbox 360 but I’ve read about an issue where the main menu doesn’t display. You can still play the game, though.
There were several open world titles released during the sixth generation era of consoles that are often considered GTA clones and while some might put RoadKill in that category, I don’t really think it is. Sure, it’s an open world action title but it’s really a vehicular combat game more than anything and I absolutely love it. There’s just something exciting about driving around an open world and having to dodge bullets and projectiles. You can observe gangs battle each other and pedestrians get blown away amid all the carnage. I just think concept of RoadKill is awesome and it’s a shame we haven’t gotten a true sequel. I think the developers tapped into something here that’s really fun and shows a lot of potential. Yeah, the story and writing leave a lot to be desired but this game is just pure fun. It’s got its own world building and atmosphere and the vehicular combat angle is what really makes this stand out and feel unique. I do wish everything was expanded on a little further but what’s here makes for an extremely enjoyable game. It’s got it all. Fun combat, humor, non-stop action, regions to explore, good music, and collectibles to find. I was always on the lookout for new blueprints and parts so I could acquire new vehicles and weapons to mess around with. Exploration is always rewarding and the vehicle upgrades make for a good sense of progression as you improve your vehicle to be better equipped for the threats ahead. I would often drive a gang vehicle into enemy territory just to provoke enemies and get into battles. There’s always fun to be had here and you don’t have to look far, making RoadKill one of my favorite games in the vehicular combat genre. The game does include multiplayer that supports up to four players but I did not get a chance to try it. I do believe there is at least a deathmatch mode and vehicles exclusive to multiplayer.
Roadkill is an excellent vehicular combat game. Maybe not on the same level as the better Twisted Metal titles but it makes up for it with a fun world to roam around in and non-stop action to participate in whether it be due to a mission or because you roamed into the wrong territory in the wrong vehicle. I only wish the story was better, the characters were more interesting, and the world was fleshed out a bit more because what’s here is already pretty great. I don’t know if this game was just drowned out by the GTA titles or other open world games or maybe people were just tired of the vehicular combat genre in general around the time this released. Whatever the case, I would say this is definitely a hidden gem. I would absolutely recommend this to anyone and it’s a real shame it never came to PC. I would have loved to see what the modding community could have done with this. Hopefully one day we get a proper sequel or at least a spiritual successor and I’m not talking about an open world racing game. I’m talking about an open world vehicular combat game with a focus on projectile-based weaponry. Mad Max and RAGE come to mind but they’re not exactly like this. If you’re looking for a game inspired by classic road films like the Mad Max series, with vehicular combat influenced by a series like Twisted Metal, set in an open world like the GTA series, then RoadKill may be just what you’re looking for.