Author’s note: This review was based on experiences playing the game on the PlayStation Vita, with some cross-play time on the PlayStation 3.
At one point, it was believed that this game was going to be the Duke Nukem Forever of indie games. However, after a decade of development and months of uncertainty, Brian Provinciano’s Retro City Rampage finally hit PSN and a number of PC marketplaces earlier this month, with the game also coming to XBLA sometime in the near future as well as WiiWare. (Which RCR was initially developed for.) The game has built up anticipation over the last couple of years as a game filled with tropes of an era in gaming long gone. Does Brian’s open world 8-bit adventure fulfill the wishes of retro gamers out there?
Retro City Rampage puts you in the shoes of a man named Player (yes, you read that right) in the mid-80s city of Theftropolis. While he and his gang of thugs are out on a bank heist, you run into a phone booth that is actually a time machine (Think Bill & Ted) and end up in the year… wait for it… 20XX. Once there, you will meet Doctor Choc, whom through a series of events will require you to gather parts for his time machine as well as retrieve his Delorean-esque vehicle from the clutches from evil. That’s the base on which this game sets its story on, and for a game meant to be a homage to the 8-bit era it actually does quite a bit of it. However, you’ll find that the story will take a backseat to what this game does best: lots of carnage.
If I was asked to write a three word review on Retro City Rampage, the obvious choice of words would probably be Grand Theft Auto. No doubt about it, if the first two GTA games were made in the late 80s, this is what you would get minus all the references. That being said, RCR should be easy to settle into based on the familiarity factor alone; You run around, steal cars, shoot people, and run away from the cops. That is pretty much the foundation that this game is laid on. How it executes itself, however, is something else.
Retro City Rampage does a good job at passing itself off as a retro game on a modern console. Controls are as simple as they come nowadays, using all four face buttons and two shoulder buttons. Despite all this, a few modern systems were added into the game for the sake of the genre, such as a basic cover system and a combat system that will allow you to lock onto a target or even use the right stick to emulate certain dual stick games such as Smash TV. Shooting can be a bit iffy sometimes when using lock-on, but after a while you get used to the mechanics and start. Driving controls can be set to classic gas/brake/turn controls or to the d-pad only, but whatever style you choose you’ll find that the controls are both easy and responsive enough to keep gameplay enjoyable.
RCR would not be a GTA-style game without a number of challenges and sprees that are available outside of the game’s missions. Most of these “arcade challenges” emulate what you would find in the latter series and you’ll find yourself racing, racking up as many kills as you can with a certain weapon, etc… The game also has its own unique challenges that define its zany world, such as getting the highest score by chalking up kills with “speed shoes.”
Retro City Rampage is definitely not a pushover like some of today’s games. The game does start out on the easy side, but obviously in wanting to bring in that legendary old-school difficulty, this game will beat you up as you get closer to the end. There were quite a few parts of this game, especially in the final mission, where I was retrying a stage at least ten times over, sometimes 20 or more. A lot of the game’s challenges can be overcome with some trial and error, but not before it shows you how many different ways you can die in this game. Fortunately, dying during a mission will allow you to quickly retry it from the last checkpoint, allowing you to give it another go without having to prance around town again. Just be prepared to have some gray hairs by the end of this game.
Aside from the fact that the game takes place in a top-down retro perspective, Retro City Rampage doesn’t offer any sort of gameplay that is different from the GTAs or Saint’s Rows of the world, but that’s not what it was trying to do. If you were to take away the 8-bit theme of this game, what would really set this game apart are the numerous references made to gaming, movie and pop culture. Real world stores are imitated with sarcastic names, (Lawsuit-happy Apple better not find out about iPomme) memes and memorable moments in gaming are cited, and if the visual style wasn’t enough, the dialogue will really tip off the nostalgia factor in the end. Brian Provinciano also seemed to take his own local culture into mind when developing the game as well, as among the number of gaming-themed areas in the game, Theftropolis bears neighbourhood names and landmarks straight out of his hometown of Vancouver. (I can’t be the only one that noticed the Olympic countdown clock behind the art gallery!) If that isn’t enough, if you enter in certain codes at a specific style vendor, Player can take on the look of a number of real world people, most notably Mojang, the Electric Playground, and Destructoid.
Even if it’s not 100%, the graphic style seems authentic to other games back in the days of the NES and the Sega Master System. Sprites are small and undetailed, you can make out the pixels of any pictures that do come up, (such as the “item get” stills) and the environment will make bring any adult back to when gaming was more about gameplay than graphics. Brian did an amazing job trying to imitate the style of 8-bit games, and even took it a bit further by adding a number of different color schemes to the game that can be selected in the options menu. If you really wanted to feel truly retro, you could even set the game to display in CGA mode. I’m also just as impressed at the music in this game as I am the visuals. The three musicians brought in to work on this project brought in an impressive chiptune score that will be stuck in my head for ages.
Retro City Rampage was a long time coming, and it ended up being worth the wait. From its easy entry point as a familiar genre, to its nostalgic style and its hilarious pop cultural references, playing through this game left me fulfilled in ways that many games haven’t been able to do for a while. I could easily say that this game is perfect, but in my mind if a game was perfect I wouldn’t have a reason to ever play another game. If you can remember the days of old, playing the NES or a similar console, you have absolutely no excuse to not pick up this game. “You won’t be disappoint.”