Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Ride to Hell: Retribution - 1.5/20 hours

I'm a bit disappointed by this game. I came into it with a certain amount of build-up. This was a 16 metascore game. A game that some have called the worst of all time. A game my friends maniacally laughed at the prospect of me playing. So, I was expecting a catastrophe. I was expecting the cardinal sins of gaming - unskippable cutscenes, escort missions, unforgiving difficulty combined with a stingy autosave. I was expecting a game that would punish me for daring to play it.

Instead, Ride to Hell: Retribution is merely kind of crummy. Granted, it boasts an impressive brand of crumminess. One might even say that it has mastered the art of crumminess. There is no aspect of the game that is untouched by failure, and in the hour and a half that I've played it, I've seen nothing whatsoever to recommend the game, but the controls work. The autosave works. And I have not yet encountered anything that makes me want to throw away my controller with frustration.

I think the best way to describe this game is "sub-par." Imagine, if you will, that there is an objective minimum standard for video game quality. A line, above which, you can say (for example) "the voice acting isn't great, but it's good enough." The remarkable thing about Ride to Hell: Retribution is that every single aspect of the, game, when taken out of context and considered on its own, is one or two steps below that line.

The voice acting is bad, but in a game with exciting action, it would be forgivable. The melee combat is dull, but you'd overlook it in a game with an interesting story. The music is annoying, but you'd just turn it down if there was literally any reason whatsoever to play this game.

Even the game's sexism is second-rate. Ride to Hell: Retribution is completely sexist. If I were to give it a grade for its representation of female characters and awareness of gender issues, I would give it an F. Yet, in the first hour and a half, at least, I haven't seen anything particularly hateful. The game treats women in an incredibly shoddy manner, but it doesn't seem like a diatribe against women (unlike, say, certain parts of Grand Theft Auto V), nor does it make fun of its female characters - it "merely" objectifies them to a ludicrous degree.

So, I can't even really muster up any significant outrage about this game. The game literally treats women as collectible power-ups (and I do mean literally - there is a line in your overall progress bar that tracks whether on not you've slept with all the available women during a particular mission), yet the game itself is so damned crummy that a serious reaction to this feels disproportionate, like resenting a cloud. The best way to describe it is thus - what if every part of the script that featured a female character was accidentally replaced by some poorly written erotic Ride to Hell fanfiction? How would you even notice? (Answer - the women would actually take off their clothes).

 The game starts with a confusing montage. I think the point is to show off different aspects of the gameplay and perhaps foreshadow aspects of the story. You shoot some bikers with a turret, threaten a guy with a gun, get in a fist fight, and I think it ends with the main character, Jake Conway, being discharged from the army.

It all happens so fast that I couldn't really say. Before you know it, you're in a town, and you meet Mack, who is some kind of Santa-looking biker mentor, and Mikey, Jake's brother. They have a brief and pointless conversation while watching TV, where Mack hints at (but for some reason, does not directly explain) some kind of trouble between the biker gangs, but this is so vague that Mikey doesn't believe him.

Mikey runs out and Jake follows him, whereupon, after a brief chase scene, the two have an improbable heart-to-heart while riding down the street on separate motorcycles. This mainly concerns Mikey's relationship angst with a college student named Ellie (I'm calling it now - Jake will sleep with her), and it's very strange because Mikey is written as if he's a twelve year old. I don't remember the specifics of his problems, except that he is insecure about some really basic social interaction.

While chatting, Mikey and Jake are accosted by some thugs, lead by Anvil, a big, muscular jerk with a penchant for unsettling animal cruelty (or at least, talking about it). The two characters get on their bikes and flee.

The bike driving is not very good. It could be worse - your bike mostly goes where it's pointed, but there is no sense of mass or momentum. If you run into something, you mostly just glance off and slow down. You can also fight with enemies while on the motorcycle. You do this by getting close to an enemy, doing a quick QTE, and then watching an endlessly recycled animation (this varies based on your equipped melee weapon, but the default unarmed animation kind of looks like a slap fight).

Then the game does something that kind of bugs me. You "win" the mission, and escape from your pursuers, only to jump to a cut scene where Jake and Mikey are prisoners to a rival biker gang. Their leader is "Meathook," who has an unidentifiable accent. In this scene, we learn that "Retribution" is the name of Jake's biker gang, in addition to the name of the game. And the reason this whole thing is happening is because Mikey is wearing his dad's old biker jacket.

The point of this scene is to set up the motivation that will drive the plot by killing Mikey and leaving Jake for dead. It is pretty ineptly done, and there is no real tension or pathos. It ends with a black and white, slow-motion replay of the murder and subsequent beating, that I think is supposed to be affecting, but winds up looking kind of silly.

You then jump forward an indefinite amount of time, and Jake resolves to get revenge. He starts by tracking down Anvil to a seedy motel. Because there is no minimap and the quest markers are easily missed, I wound up wandering into a parking lot where I see a man harassing a woman. I intervene by beating the crap out of the guy and then it instantly jumped to a sex scene. It was actually quite jarring.

The sex scenes are non-optional (although, I learned, in retrospect, that I could have avoided it by not rescuing the woman), but they bear only the most tangential and distant relationship to erotica. If you've ever played Dragon Age, you're probably familiar with that game's ridiculous sex scenes, where the characters tumble around in bed while wearing generic rpg underwear. Ride to Hell takes this one step further, and leaves the characters fully clothed. As in, they didn't change their outfits at all, while pantomiming various sex moves.

It's kind of surreal (especially the next sex scene, about 15 minutes later, with Sarah, who was wearing a mechanic's jump suit). My theory is that each character in the game only has a single model, and that the scenes aren't modest so much as they are cheap. They are also set to porn music. I could be more specific, but there's no point. Imagine what porn music typically sounds like - whatever you're picturing is probably not far off.

It was kind of shocking when this scene ended and it became apparent that it had no plot relevance (because I didn't realize at the time that I had just found a collectible power up).

To wrap this up, Anvil runs away from the motel, taking shelter in a brewery. I can't get in until I meet Sarah, a mechanic who talks like a 20s gangster, whose husband is a drunk who has the brewery keys and also stole her wedding ring. I beat the guy up and recover both, and she rewards me with sex (I mean, why not, revenge against a criminal gang is important, but what is Jake supposed to do, put his whole life on hold?) Then I take a short detour to meet Tyrell Jones, a rogue military officer who makes me beat up his men before he'll sell me weapons.

Then I go back, chase Anvil through the brewery and down the road on a motorcycle, until I shoot him off his motorcycle. He tells me the next story goal (chasing down Meathook's illegal boxing ring), and I am let loose in the town of Dead End, and that's where I stopped.

My verdict - tedious, but it has not yet made me want to gouge out my eyes.

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