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I discovered GRIP: Combat Racing on Steam and thought it looked it pretty cool. So I did some reading and evidently it’s a spiritual successor to the Rollcage games. I had never heard of the series before so I did some research and it turns out the games are cult classics. I thought about buying GRIP but then found the first two Rollcage games on an abandonware site and figured I would give them a shot first. I also found a physical copy of the first game on eBay for about nine bucks so I bought it. Developed by Attention to Detail and published by Psygnosis, Rollcage was released for PC and PlayStation in 1999. For this review, I played the PC version, specifically Rollcage Redux which is a “reboot” of the original game. That’s how the website puts it anyway. Redux is the original game updated for modern systems, includes bug fixes, and was developed by one of the coders of the original game.
Rollcage is a combat racing game with limited environmental destruction. The game includes a roster of unique four-wheeled vehicles that can drive on walls and ceilings, flip and keep going, and reach speeds up to five hundred kilometers per hour. There are different game modes to choose from including League, Arcade, Time Attack, Multiplayer, and Practice. There are also bonus death match modes to unlock. If you’ve never played this before, I would highly suggest you complete a few practice races so you can at least understand how the vehicles handle. Rollcage does have a learning curve and mastery of the handling and controls and memorization of the tracks is required to win. Rollcage Redux does allow you to play with a keyboard and mouse as expected and a controller. I played with an Xbox One controller and had no issues.
There is a small roster of vehicles to choose from at the start and you can unlock more. Each vehicle has its own driver but they have no real personality and don’t actually add anything to the experience. More importantly, the vehicles have different stats in acceleration, top speed, strength, and grip. Like any other racing game, the goal is to race opponents around a track and cross the finish line before they do. But to make things more interesting are the weapons. Scattered around the tracks are pickups that grant you weapons or powerups and you can store two for use at any time. The leader missile will automatically target the opponent in first place. You can target enemies and hit them with a homing missile but you can also target buildings, structures, and objects on the tracks to destroy them. The ice sheet allows you to fire beams of ice, causing your opponents to lose control and the driller missile pickup is a weapon that fires three missiles in a straight line. The shield protects you from attacks and the turbo pickup grants you a significant boost of speed. The more unique pickups include the time warp which temporarily slows down all opponents on the track and the wormhole which targets the opponent in front of you and basically spawns them behind you. Your opponents can pick up and use weapons and powerups just like you so you need to be mindful of your surroundings. Missiles will fly past your vehicle, you’ll drive past exploding structures, and the races can become very action packed especially if you’re able to stay in the pack.
Rollcage is all about speed and the gimmick here is the ability to drive on walls and ceilings which is actually pretty cool. You will blast around the short tracks at blistering speeds, dodging obstacles, and I would say the real challenge is maintaining your position. There are three difficulty modes – Easy, Hard, and Expert – and the latter two need to be unlocked. When racing on Easy, it’s harder to lose than to win but racing on Hard and Expert will really put your skills to the test. Or at the very least, try your patience. The physics are neat but it does feel like you’re driving on ice all the time which can make things a bit frustrating. It’s just way too easy to lose control, wipe out, and get turned around. Recovering from a wipe out can be more challenging than it needs to be and the camera doesn’t help. Hit anything, land wrong, or even just hit the brake and your vehicle can start spinning out of control and now you’ve gone from first place to last all in a matter of a few seconds. You can enable or disable a “Catchup” option from the options menu which I assume is related to rubberbanding but even with that enabled, if you don’t have the handling down, you won’t catch up easily. The AI can be relentless. They will attack you whenever they can and will ram into you which can result in your vehicle crashing into something or spinning out of control. I enjoy the hectic high speed action but constantly getting turned around becomes irritating. You really need to master the mechanics. Knowing how to control your vehicle at high speeds, how to brake properly, and how to land properly after a jump are all extremely important. Despite my frustration with the handling at times, if you are able to master it, overtaking a position, maintaining the lead, or just simply winning a race can feel very rewarding.
The League mode is where you compete in championships. There’s three leagues and each contain numerous tracks. Your finishing position determines how many points you earn and the driver with the most points at the end of a league wins. You need to beat the leagues in order and you have complete each league on each difficulty. Each difficulty increases the least amount of required laps for the tracks and you can raise this number before racing. The tracks are quite short so it won’t take you long to complete a league and playing through this mode will reward you with more content. The Arcade mode is where you can just race for the hell of it. You choose your driver, track, difficulty, and can set the number of laps. Unfortunately, you can’t choose specific opponents or how many you want to race against. Time Attack is a mode where the goal is to set record lap times on a track of your choosing and the only pickup you can acquire is turbo. You can complete an endless amount of laps and when you quit, the game will show you your best times. I was unable to try any of the multiplayer modes since I couldn’t find any games to join. But there are multiple multiplayer game modes to choose from including Full Grid, Head to Head, and Turbo Challenge. I should mention that the game does support local multiplayer with up to four players. At the end of each race you can see your times and have the option to watch a replay.
The tracks are very short and you can complete just three laps on some of them in under five minutes. With that said, you can beat the League mode on Easy in under a half hour. There are multiple worlds, each with their own unique look and feel and multiple tracks per world. There are shortcuts you can find and take, some tracks have branching paths, speed pads on the tracks will grant you speed boosts, and many structures can be destroyed. You can crash into various obstacles, you’ll speed through numerous tunnels, some tracks include sharp turns, you’ll slide on snow or ice, and there are plenty of jumps and ways to launch your vehicle high into the air. From the options menu, you can set different weather effects, the time of day, and if meteors will come falling from the skies. You will want to memorize the tracks otherwise you’ll probably lose control and crash often. There are a lot of obstacles to crash into and knowing what’s around the next corner can be the difference between finishing in first or last place.
Rollcage does look dated but doesn’t necessarily look bad. There’s plenty of color and details, the vehicles models look pretty good, smoke trails behind vehicles as they speed along the tracks, fire and explosions look excellent, and the new graphical options in the Redux version make the game look even better. Each world looks unique and contains some excellent scenery like cityscapes, islands, snowy locations, industrial-looking areas, and volcanic environments. One shot from a missile can cause a building or structure to come crashing down in a fiery explosion resulting in a trail of flames on the track. The scenery and visual effects do give the game some charm and it’s all accompanied by a techno-like soundtrack which emphasizes the game’s futuristic theme. The sound effects are okay at best. You can hear the roar of the vehicles but the explosions are not loud enough. On the technical side, I didn’t encounter any bugs or frame rate dips.
I had fun with Rollcage and enjoy its unique gimmick but I do wish there was more content. At the very least, more vehicles. The focus on blistering speeds and being able to drive on walls and ceilings makes Rollcage stand out from other racers and while it has plenty of charm, I do think it needs more personality. The actual drivers add nothing to the game. Rollcage is a racing game that requires practice. If you don’t practice and learn how to handle the vehicles properly, you can easily become frustrated. The physics engine is awesome but it’s just too easy to lose control. Still, Rollcage is the kind of racing game that kept me coming back because no matter how many times I fucked up, I never wanted to stop chasing that rewarding feeling I got from winning. The high speed action is just addictive.
I would recommend Rollcage to fans of racing games. If you like the idea of moving at ridiculous speeds while driving on walls and ceilings and using weapons to combat your opponents and destroy parts of the environments, then Rollcage may just be the racing game you’re looking for. It’s far from perfect, it can be frustrating, but it can also be extremely fun and rewarding. It’s easy to see why Rollcage has achieved the “cult classic” status and Rollcage Redux is currently the best way to experience the game on modern systems. Definitely check it out.