Thunderbolt logo

Retro City Rampage

Retro City Rampage wastes little time attempting to dictate its manic pace and tone. As the role of Player, a thug on the fast path to super villainy, the game begins with an elaborate restaging of The Dark Knight‘s iconic bank heist, complete with henchmen on zip-lines, school bus getaways and a clever homage to Frogger. The sequence deftly weaves bits of comedy, story and gameplay together, creating a high precedent that’s rarely matched the rest of the way.

On a couple of occasions Player works with the Solid Snake-like character Major Lee Solid, and not surprisingly, his missions involve stealth and cardboard boxes. In these instances the parody is still hard at work, but it’s times like these when Retro City Rampage is also funnier in concept than it is in execution. Stealth is both tedious and increasingly frustrating because once a guard detects you it’s an instant fail state – a game design choice which has never been funny. Admittedly, each stealth sequence is short but the comedic value is never worth the annoyance.

screenshot

Retro City Rampage‘s rapid-fire mission design ensures that you’re never doing the same thing for too long. One mission you might help out Major Lee Solid, but a moment later you could be filling in on a local newspaper route, or returning a favor for the Grim Reaper. The mechanics associated with each new mission are basic enough that it doesn’t take long to learn but is so simple that it couldn’t possibly sustain multiple missions. And that claim unfortunately extends to the rudimentary twin-stick shooting, which at times is leaned too heavily on, especially during the story’s exasperating final act.

Some of the better missions lampoon open world genre tropes, like time-restricted waypoint driving. For the most part driving feels mundane because the cops pose little-to-no opposition at low and moderate threat levels. Your car feels nearly indestructible, leaving you to plow down sidewalks and rack up civilian casualties until you’ve grown tired of it, or you miraculously get the military involved, which does expose the mortality of your vehicle. But, when you’re driving on the clock there’s a feeling of urgency and risk that’s sorely missing from the normal moments of mayhem – which is the same reason stealing a cab and running fares is one of the best world distractions.

screenshot

As an open world crime game Retro City Rampage just doesn’t feel as dynamic as the games it intends to lambast. In Grand Theft Auto III many of us spent hour upon hour getting into random mischief, passing the controller to a friend when we were finally arrested or killed. Wanton destruction just doesn’t hold the same lasting appeal here, even when it’s combined with the various power-ups you can buy, including Sonic-like running shoes and a bionic arm. In great open world games there’s always a feeling that anything could happen, and in Retro City Rampage the unexpected always comes from the premise, not your actions, a fault the game tries to mask with its various hi-score challenges.

When you’re on the run it’s difficult not to appreciate the accomplishment that is Theftropolis. Tons of locations can be explored, revealing hidden packages and other Easter eggs to those dedicated enough to search them out. Cruising from one street to another it’s impossible to ignore the obsessive attention to detail put into every set-piece. There’s a hat store complete with sharp to kooky headware for Player; there’s an arcade populated with a selection of mini games, including an addictive demake of Bit.Trip Runner. The amount of love poured into Theftropolis is staggering, and a large reason to stick Retro City Rampage out simply comes from the desire to see and experience it all.

screenshot

At times Retro City Rampage is every bit as brilliant as many of us hoped it might be. When it successfully marries comedy and short-burst gameplay it’s an absolute blast. Theftropolis is a wonderous amalgam of humor and video game nostalgia, but, no matter what you’re doing, frustration and exasperation always seem to be gaining on you in the rear-view mirror. And ultimately that’s what makes Retro City Rampage so disappointing, because there are several disparate elements of it that are truly great, and only occasionally do they cross paths, revealing the game that could have been.

5 out of 10

The author of this fine article

is an Associate Editor at Thunderbolt, having joined in April 2008. Get in touch on Twitter @_seankelley.

Gentle persuasion

You should follow us on Twitter.