The good thing about indie games is that the developers are allowed to make their games personal. They’re allowed to insert bits of things they love in hopes that the player might identify with the game more or perhaps just as a tribute to the classic games of old. There have been plenty of indie games that showcase tribute to the old-school arcade era. Retro City Rampage, however, breaks from the conventional subtle in-game reference by ushering in an over-the-top retro-style game with nostalgically familiar gameplay mechanics.
Brian Provinciano is the founder of Vblank Entertainment. He started developing Retro City Rampage in 2002 initially as a remake of his favorite game, Grand Theft Auto III. The player takes on the role of the protagonist simply known as “PLAYER” who looks a lot like a Fonzie from Happy Days. Player begins by signing up to become a lowly goon in a crime syndicate headed by the Jester. They proceed to rob a bank a la The Dark Knight style complete with school bus break in. Following the introductory sequence the game leads you around the city of Theftropolis.
Throughout the game, you are given GTA type missions like driving from point A to B, acquire/steal items for favors or kill however many civilians/enemies in a certain area. The game is basically an 8-bit version of GTA. You’re allowed to independently explore the whole city while being able to steal any car and beat up or shoot any civilian on the street. Of course, in accordance to the GTA style, you will be chased and taken down by the police if you do so. However, the police in this game are never really a huge threat neither are they a complete nuisance. They’re more of a fun element that gets added to the chaos you’re causing.
The missions have an unfair difficulty scale. Some stages are quite dull and easy to breeze through while some are unnecessarily hard and might require a few restarts. I had quite a lot of fun with RCR in the beginning but after awhile the gameplay did get quite stale and the missions get really repetitive. There’s the usual “steal this car and bring it back”, “collect money from these guys,” and the ever tedious escort missions that you just want to get out of the way for the sake of progressing the story.
Aside from the main quest-line, there are side-missions called “Sprees.” They’re basically bonus stages where you are tasked with killing as many people as you can with a certain weapon or something else to that nature. Often times the Sprees offer some ridiculous, albeit hilarious, tasks like getting as much air time as you can by firing a rocket launcher at civilians and police at point blank range. The player doesn’t gain anything from the Sprees except for good old repetitive classic arcade fun.
Retro City Rampage features around 20 weapons and plenty of different cars to drive including the DeLorean from Back To The Future and an oversized ape that looks like Donkey Kong. The mechanics are familiar that anyone who has ever played any videogame will be able to pick it up and breeze through it like it was nothing. The game also introduces a very basic cover system that I thought was absolutely useless especially for a game that encourages Leeroy Jenkins style playing.
The controls are a bit awkward especially when operating a vehicle. Most people might find the awkward controls inconvenient but I think it adds to the overall charm of the game’s retro ambience. Also, after awhile it stops feeling awkward and just becomes part of the game’s challenge. At least, that what I like to think it does. The game does offer you the option of playing it with an Xbox controller which makes it a bit easier. Though, personally, I preferred the awkwardness of the keyboard.
The plot is absolutely ridiculous and completely saturated with references to classic games, TV shows and films. While this is perhaps the biggest selling point of the game, it is also what ruins it. At times the game does offer some good jokes but most of the time it relies on pure nostalgia and reference without being clever about it. Because of this, the dialogues get really old that I was prompted to just skip through most of the storyline. It would be quite hard to appreciate this game if you’re not much of a fan of old-school pop-culture. It accommodates a very specific type of gamer and doesn’t leave much space for everyone else.
I have to say I absolutely admire how Vblank created the city of Theftropolis. The graphics emulate the 8-bit videogame era in the most perfect way. The sprites, with their lack of detail and limited color palette, make the game look like it was created back in the 80s. The game also gives you the option of different video filters that make it look like you’re running the game on old-school gaming hardware. The Brick Handheld filter, for example, gives it the classic Game Boy graphics. On top of that, the music completely captures the essence of retro gaming with its catchy chiptune melodies.
Retro City Rampage is definitely a game worth playing regardless of whether you are an experienced gamer or just someone who plays casually. It’s simple, charming, offers a light-hearted storyline and fun arcade-style gameplay. It’s a game made for and by gamers.