Monday, May 28, 2012

Transmissions From Another World

Have you ever wondered what entries in the modern slate of AAA titles might look like if a different genre of game had been triumphant instead of first-person action-shooter-RPGs? No? Well, now you probably are.

Read along to the accompanying audio for enhanced effect. Multimedia!

review by Ryan "Bingo" Milliard (@GLRyanM)
[WARNING: Heavy spoilers to ensue.]
As I pressed Start and created my save profile for the conclusion to this highly lauded tetralogy, I could only anticipate what kind of staggering finale was in store and the closure it would bring. It had been less than a year since I last donned The Captain's regalia, but that only served to keep my memories crisp. As the intro cinematic played and that familiar orchestral refrain surged to the fore, I immediately felt at home. Still, for all my expectations, the rewards that lay in store for me could never truly be predicted.
The save-reading wasn't as blissfully perfect as I had envisioned, but the sense of continuity was more than well-preserved. My allegiances remained intact; while years had passed since The Captain's tragic accident, familiar faces rightfully brightened or glowered in response to my bittersweet homecoming. Hushed whispers of those in my crew who had passed away wafted quietly through the garages and watering holes which too had seen their share of changes. For instance, since my Captain had chosen the more violent response to the infamous "urinal confrontation" scene of the last game, the bathroom of the Boost Pad bar had been remodeled… save for the same blood-spattered ceramic tiles in the texture. Brilliant.

For all its narrative prowess, the game still packs in ample room for customization to both your Captain's visage and their vehicle. Engine class, paint job, ground clearance, torque, boost capacity, and turning radius all play subtle but faintly telltale roles in your kart's handling during the basic interstitial races. For the most part, action stays tight and engaging thanks to ingeniously scripted "rubber-banding"… but no matter the difficulty setting, the faceless hordes are never too threatening. You are possibly the greatest driver ever to reverse-fire a projectile at an oncoming opponent. They know when to keep a wide berth.
Handling operates more or less the same since Redline 3; tweaks have been made to the handbrake and drift boost timing, but the core mechanics remain true to past installments. AI teammates handle more or less the same; there's the occasional instance of friendly fire or watching them drive the whole course in reverse, but nothing a quick reset or nudge generally can't fix. By and large, whoever you choose to recruit for your final season on the asphalt, they share your motivation to win the Universe Cup and save the planet from the dreaded Maldolent, while still earning enough Coin Bits to pay for Zippy's life-saving transfusion.
The "wow" factor in the set piece races, however, is firmly cranked to 11, as expected. Choosing to assassinate either Slegte or Txarra while they both stalled precariously overlooking a lava pit was viscerally satisfying, especially the in-engine cutscene of his or her demise before returning control to the player. There's the illegal graveyard street race on a figure-eight circuit that crosses over itself at Sensei's angel-crested tombstone; the thought of the track shape resembling the symbol for infinity is not lost on me. Driving the 25 laps on the empty moonlit oval track where The Captain began his career as he recited his internal monologue of anguish and redemption left me in awe. It's a master course in character development, showcasing both his dedication to racing and an almost monastic plea for absolution.  And to those who choose to leave the starting line in the team race where your last living daughter is being held hostage: you have stronger stomachs than I.
Even with all these amazing experiences, I don't have it in me to reveal the final "race" (if you could reduce it to something that simple), but know that the mastery of tying together all the loose ends is matched by how difficult the choice you have to make is. Maybe more so than any of the past games' crucial forks combined. Even the inevitable explosion on Lap 49 of the Galaxy Grand Prix that closed the second game pales in comparison.
Versus Mode fares well, even if greatly de-emphasized since the original Redline. The online-only DRM is trivial here; cramming the action into tiny divisions of the screen just for the sake of local multiplayer is a holdover from past games of the genre that has finally been retired. Coin Bits, chevrons, and kills earned online pay forward into the storyline in a bold way; there are endings you can't get without at least 10 solid hours logged on Battle Arenas. (Which, by the way, are as cunning and devilishly fun as ever.) There's a reason the e-sports leagues have stayed true to the series these last eight years, and Hudson Soft hasn't given players a reason yet to defect. Add in Facebook and Twitter integration for achievements, and you're looking at a juggernaut.
Redline 4 is everything gamers could conceivably ask for. High-octane speed thrills, robust multiplayer, and, of course, incredible story direction. While this may be the end of the tale for The Captain, I have no doubt that we have not seen the last of the Redline universe by a long shot. The potential for adventures with whichever characters live in the canonical storyline are rich… but even until then, the details of every player's individual story have left an indelible mark. For all its twists and variations, this is a story for the ages, and one whose essential elements we all share. If being forced to drive over the oil slick in the climax of the last game hushed naysayers of the video game art form, this will  finally silence them for good.
I place the controller at my side, breathe deeply, and, wiping away the tears pooling in my eyes but stoically refusing to fall, I silently bid goodbye forever to a character I grew to love, who I imbued with myself, who was inexorably a part of me, and may well be a part of you, too.
O Captain, my Captain…
--- Design: 9.1 Story: 9.9 Gameplay: 8.2 Presentation: 9.8 OVERALL*: 9.7 [GAMELOCUS EDITOR'S CHOICE]
*Overall Score not an average of component ratings.
(My eternal debt and apologies to Michael Viner for using "Last Bongo in Belgium" for this stupid, stupid thing.)

1 comment:

  1. anyone who hates this game is just racest against motorcycles