Back in the days of the N64 and Playstation there were a host of racing and car combat games hitting the market. Every week seemed to bring something different as players hunger to race around at break neck speed (and normally shoot at things), seemed to be a gold seam easily mined. The Playstation alone had Twisted Metal, Vigilante 8, Gran Turismo, Wipeout and of course Rollcage among a host of others vying for players attention.
While Wipeout was the cool kid that helped shape the Playstation generation, Rollcage was the niche alternative for the speed heads that wanted something more physical, grittier and that bit more obscure. It still has a licensed soundtrack and all the bells and whistles but, if anything, it requires even more skill and concentration to play well.
Much like Wipeout the game has you racing around a series of futuristic tracks against a host of computer controlled opponents. There aren’t a massive amount of tracks but as Wipeout 2097 proved it’s all about quality rather than quantity (and there’s significantly more than found in that game). They are drawn from a base of four locations with you racing around variations on a neon lit city, tropical island, snow covered mountain and Mars mining colony.
Tracks don’t have the loops you might find in Wipeout but do have lots of walls and tunnels, destructible scenery, speed boosts and jumps. The reason for all the walls and tunnels is of course part of the main draw of Rollcage – that being you can drive on ceiling if you really want to.
Your car is basically a flat vehicle on four large wheels that can operate either way up. This means you can bounce around the levels like a lunatic and as long as you land facing the right way you will keep going. In practice this is easier said than done as you’ll most likely end up spinning around to such a degree that sea sickness will set it.
Rollcage is not an easy game to play when you first start. Any bump or twist in the road is likely to send your car either barrelling across the track or spinning around in a circle and it will take some time to get used to the handling system. Once you have learned to read the track and keep the vehicle balanced it really does begin to show its strengths. Some consolation comes in the fact that the computer is just as likely to spin out as you are so at least you are all in the same boat.
The real key to lasting appeal of Rollcage is the sense of speed that still remains. These tracks are fast and chaotic and that means you have to concentrate all the time. If that wasn’t enough there are a host of power ups to contend with as well. Ranging from shields to scenery collapsing rockets and teleport beams there is everything you need to keep races competitive. Your car is indestructible (a small mercy), so the only thing to worry about is getting back on track after being blasted into a wall.
The Playstation version has league and time trial modes to play with as well as a two player mode. Sadly though it lacks the Arcade mode of the PC version which means a couple of tracks aren’t actually playable in single player against the computer. A strange choice no doubt brought about by the limited power of the host machine.
Overall, Rollcage may lack the refinement and sleek racing lines of the Wipeout series but it makes up for it in sheer aggression and attitude. This is a rough and ready racing game that requires players to drive well to keep their car on the track let stay in the lead. There’s no doubt it can be frustrating and it certainly doesn’t look as sharp as you probably remember but its fast, brain meltingly fast. It’s also very chaotic in the best way. If you’re into racing games and want to try something unique then getting hold of it should be a priority.