Retro City Rampage
Publisher: D3 Publisher
Developer: VBlank Entertainment
Platforms: PC, PlayStation 3 (October 9, 2012)
Genre: Open-world action
Official Website: RetroCityRampage.com
Reviewed By: Eric Neigher and David Wolinsky
Eric Neigher, Jocko Homo: So, I just spent a couple of hours in Retro City Rampage shooting pixelated people in the face with other pixels, and I’m still not sure what they did to deserve it. I just tell myself they were Grateful Dead fans, and that comforts me to some extent. One thing I like about this game a lot is your ability to just not give a crap about what you’re doing. Your character, “Player,” just kind of goes around and randomly runs into pop-culture references and other video game stuff, and it really doesn’t seem to matter what you do or how you play. RCR’s gameplay has a weird, “maximalist Zen” quality to it, where you just kind of roll along and the game almost seems to play itself. I’m not sure if I like it, or if I find it shallow. I know you’ve played in more depth than I have; what are your thoughts?
David Wolinsky, Whipper Of It: I’m so glad I’m not the only one who feels this way. I’ve been waiting for RCR for years, and even though its prologue is a super-fun roller coaster of nostalgic game references and movie parodies, I began to realize that’s just the track RCR runs on. Eventually, it begins to feel like autopilot. It is, basically, what Grand Theft Auto would have been like, had it come out on the NES — it’s novel and cute, but not enough to support an entire game, because it is pretty blatantly dishing out stuff we’ve all seen and played before. It’s a lot like eating a Nestle Crunch bar with a new wrapper: It might look different on the outside, but we all know what to expect. It’s fun, but I also felt that it wore thin pretty quickly: The missions are repetitive, the references have all been made before, and it has all the same pitfalls that open-world games tend to have. But I don’t hate the Player, I hate the game. Well, not hate… but I’m just pretty bored with it overall. But, hey, let’s shift gears and discuss what we thought worked. What did you enjoy about the game?
Eric: Yes, but what if you eat the Nestle Crunch AND the new wrapper? Ha ha! I have you there, sirrah! I agree with you about the repetitiveness, but that kind of puts in perspective the fact that when you first start playing RCR, it’s really quite fun, and I think that says a lot about the underlying idea here being a good one. It’s the execution that falls flat, or maybe the idea runs out of steam. Speaking of Steam, I really appreciate RCR’s PC controls, which are nice and tight and customizable. I also like the variety of decorative skins you can put the game window in, to further enhance the retro feel.
But I digress; that’s all not-very-important good stuff, right? Lessee, I like how easy it is to just jump into the game and start playing. Leaving aside the various set pieces in the game (most of which ape other classic video games, like The Legend of Zelda or Metal Gear), RCR does a good job of just giving you a big sandbox filled with people to kill. And who doesn’t love killin’? Also, I appreciate some of the pop-culture and inside game references, although many are either too obvious or too weeaboo-ish to appeal to someone who’s just looking to have fun with a game on its own terms. I guess that’s a good thing to ask you: Was there anything in RCR (aside from the repetitiveness of the gameplay itself) that outright surprised you? Anything that you weren’t expecting? Or did it end up being as predictable as a college student’s thoughts on economics?
David: You liked how you could customize the controls and how easily you could pop in or out to play. and I enjoyed some of the references — but these are all peripheral things to the game experience itself. I’m surprised that after all this time, RCR wound up underwhelming me. It’s fun at first, but only at first… and I get a bit of cognitive dissonance from the perspective. I am by no means am a Grand Theft Auto junkie, but the series’ earlier games utilized a bird’s eye view. Do you remember that? Like those games, RCR puts you in the position of an observer instead of making you feel like you’re part of the action — that you’re the one causing all this chaos. It distances you from the game itself somewhat, and that’s probably why Rockstar never returned to that POV. On the other hand, maybe this whole type of game is just getting played out, and dishing it out as an 8-bit homage (albeit a very clever one) isn’t enough to jumpstart the old girl. Eric, I wanted to like this game, I really did. But, at best, I’m merely amused… and only for a little while.
I’ll let you take it to the hoop, my good sir. What are your final thoughts on RCR? I’m also curious to hear what you think would have improved this game; I feel like we’re both reacting to the lack of something here, but I can’t seem to put my finger on it. Maybe you can?
Eric: Yeah, you make a really good point. Sometimes a game just lacks that je ne sais quois, and it’s impossible to know exactly why. If it were up to me, I would’ve added some more character customization options to the game — not graphically, necessarily, but RPG-like elements that let me experience the wide-open game world in different ways. If you look at some of the best open-world titles of recent days, especially Sleeping Dogs, you’ll see that they allow you to unlock new abilities (and therefore new ways to experience the game world), as you play. It gives it a kind of Legend of Zelda-esque aspect that makes old areas feel new again. RCR largely (although not entirely) lacks that aspect. I also feel like the game is trying too damn hard sometimes. Like a stand-up comedian at a Star Trek convention, it just keeps hammering on the inside material over and over, until you start to hate gamers, gaming, and, ultimately yourself. Or maybe that’s just me.
FINAL SCORE: 11,437,188 out of 28,592,970 pixelated rounds of ammunition