Ride to Hell: Retribution
July 5, 2013, Author: Trent Pyro
I’ve always generally had at least a few shitty games per generation close to my heart. On the PS1 it was Pandemonium 2 and one of those budget games, some kind of rogue-like thingy. On PS2 it was Beat Down: Fists of Vengeance and Urban Reign. On 360, it has to be Too Human. No idea why; just really like that game.
When Ride to Hell: Retribution was first announced it sounded like it had all the right things going for it. Brutal mêlée combat, tense shoot-outs and bike vs bike action to rival Road Rash. Although GTA4‘s Lost and Damned fulfilled my bike gang fantasies story-wise, the game’s stodgy controls made it a bit of a chore. Finally, I thought, I’ll be able to rock into a town on a beastly Harley and cave some heads with my biker chums. Oh Jesus, how wrong I was…
Okay kids, this story needs to have bikes in it…
Once you know Ride to Hell (I refuse to type unnecessary sub-titles) is developed by Deep Silver, the geniuses behind the practically storyless Dead Island, you instantly get an idea of how little there is to go on here. While there is a plot, it’s so laughably awful you’ll wish there wasn’t one.
Jake Conway, fresh out of the army and a Vietnam vet, returns to his home town of Dead End to find his kid brother rocking their father’s biker gang vest and trying to be cool. It only takes about ten seconds for a rival gang, The Devil’s Hand, to take interest and cut him up. Cue a pathetic tale of revenge that is to scattered, pointless and thin the only analogy I can come up with is confetti. It’s like confetti.
There isn’t one main problem; the entire plot seems problematic. The characters are either so poorly written it’s impossible to care or they are just plain repulsive. Jake is a dumb brick shithouse with about as much personality as a doorstop. When you aggressively want your lead character to shut up every time he opens his mouth, there’s something wrong. Mack, the obligatory Krist Kristofferson-like older father figure, is equally boorish, grumbling through line after line of exposition.
The supporting cast of bikers, drug dealers, soldiers and redneck whores are like something out of a very low-budget action movie. It actually takes work to stay interested in anything anyone is saying, and the only reason I didn’t skip every single cut-scene was that I hoped it would somehow improve. It didn’t.
Many of the plot choices are also horribly illogical. One mission sees Jake leave Dead End, only to come straight back. As the town serves as your between-level hub, the mission location is a plastics factory right next to where you were just customising your bike. In the next mission, Jake is faced with an electric fence. The objective tasks you with beating up some local mechanics and nicking a big rig. To drive through the fence, right? Wrong! Apparently it makes more sense to suffer a horrendous driving section so Jake can lead an all-out assault on the fucking power station. Like using a baseball bat to open a walnut.
The game attempts to capture the mood and attitude of the mid-Sixties and fails wonderfully. Deep Silver have assumed stuffing a desert landscape with hippies, beatniks and Vietnam veterans automatically creates the right environment. I was expecting a tale of Jake avenging his brothers death while adapting to the wild changes in culture and society and bearing the brunt of both his experience in Vietnam and the public’s vicious turnaround on the war. Instead, I have to sit through a muddled, dire and uninspiring story of one meathead’s quest to rid the world of a bunch of other meatheads.
Oh yeah, and fully-clothed sex scenes. Every damsel Jake saves (well, practically every female he meets) turns out to be a massive slag. A million miles from Mass Effect‘s awkward but touching bedroom scenes, these tawdry events are unnecessary on every level and for every reason. Seeing Jake banging his jeaned crotch against the shorts-covered behind of a girl he saved in a parking lot, both of them expressionless and silent, is likely the least arousing or visually pleasing thing featured in a game for the last ten years. Or possibly ever.
Slide to Hell
To call what Ride to Hell has ‘gameplay’ is to assume two things; it’s enjoyable to some degree and it works. Both these statements are untrue. I’ve thought long and hard about a worthy comparison and the closest I can come is Jumper. It’s that bad.
On foot, you’re split between mêlée and ranged combat. The former touts a solid system of striking, blocking and countering peppered with environmental kills and finishers. In theory it’s fine, but it’s so poorly executed it’s only just barely usable. Everything is delayed and choices are taken away from you all the time. If you’re hit and don’t block, you get locked in an endless cycle of beating. Punches will miss regularly for no reason and combos will fail despite being so simple a chimpanzee could do them. Weapons appear to only vary the attacks and do no additional damage which (along with enemies being able to totally block knives, axes and wrenches with their bare hands) makes absolutely no fucking sense.
The shooting is somehow worse. Enemies either pop up from cover before instantly ducking when you aim at them, or just flank you instantly. The cover system is atrocious, with only a basic transition move available. You can’t vault over things, turn corners or do anything that feels natural. It feels like an experiment, as if Ride to Hell was made in a time when the cover system was still a feature. Guns handle like shit overall and there’s no impact or joy to the shooting whatsoever.
The biggest issue facing the combat is the enemies. Smart and dumb at different times, some will seek you out and stand next to you pumping rifle rounds into your noggin while others will run in circles before facing the other way and doing nothing. They take inordinate amounts of damage, with the average biker taking ten rounds to the body. Your only choice is to headshot every single one, until the game introduces brutes who march slowly towards you and can take no less that twenty shots to the head. Up close, you’ll be beating on these feckless goons for hours, hammering them like they’re slabs of meat until they randomly go down. There’s absolutely no fun to be had here; it’s so badly made it actively encourages you to stop playing.
For a game about bikers you’d assume the riding would be good. Anyone remember the Ghost Rider game on PS2 that was basically God of War with bike sections? Yeah, that was better. It’s a sad day when, as a reviewer, you have to admit a last-gen movie game does something better.
Rather than taking a free-roam angle, Ride to Hell locks you into tedious, liner racing sections fraught with random obstacles and the worst handling of any bike game I’ve ever played. As you desperately attempt to weave your heavy hog around, the game will regularly grab you and slide you to a different spot so it can slide an enemy next to you. This initiates a QTE battle and feels ridiculous.
No effort has been made to ensure the bike combat is visceral and exciting; Deep Silver have simply built a poor bike racing game, took out the other racers and used a shockingly awful process for getting you into scraps. When you hit something, the screen fades to black and you re-spawn a few hundred yards back. Police stingers hurt you instead of your bike but any cops that hit them by accident spin off the road. To go on would be to write the anti-rulebook of driving in games. For a title based on biker gangs it’s a fucking disgrace.
The only redeemable feature I can squeamishly pluck from the otherwise repulsive mire of utter shite is Dead End. As hub towns go, it’s not bad. Random packets of white powder can be sold to the drug dealer, for no reason other than to earn more cash. New guns and moves can be bought from a soldier out of a van, although bought weapons don’t seem to equip properly. Your bike can be customised with a variety of parts and decals which is probably the most functional part of the game, although compared to the degree of options in the latest Need for Speed games it’s incredibly limited.
Set in the Sixties? More like made in the Sixties…
Visually, Ride to Hell is a joke. Angular figures plod around, clipping into everything and looking like malfunctioning robots. The only things that look remotely current-gen are some of the textures. The roads, sky and buildings would likely look worse on the old consoles but that’s about it.
Excuses can be made but none are really adequate. While Dead Island was not a pretty game it was more than visually passable. It was also open-world, which I understand makes decent textures more difficult to implement. Ride to Hell is a terribly linear experience made by a veteran team. There’s no good reason why it should look this bad.
Jesus, turn that music off!
The audio of any game comes in three parts; dialogue, effects and soundtrack. It’s not unusual for a game to fall short of the mark in one of these areas. Ride to Hell manages to spectacularly fail in all three.
I doubt any of the voice artists used will be putting this one in their CV. I doubt many of them have a CV. I wouldn’t be surprised if Deep Silver came out and admitted that most of the characters in the game were voiced by staff members. From the lacklustre performances of practically everyone to the beyond-slapstick personalities of the apparently terrifying bosses, it’s a joke from start to finish. Jake sounds like a talentless Joseph Gordon-Levitt, while Mack conjures images of Karl Urban doing his best Sam Elliot impression. Not that either of those respectable and skilled actors would ever lend their famous tones to this mess.
Somehow guns sound worse than ever before. Popping and farting like air guns they fail to make the terrible combat any more enjoyable. The standard flat packing sounds that underpin the brawling sound so overused if I closed my eyes I could almost imagine I was playing Street Fighter on SNES. The only acceptable sound effects I can recall are the bikes. At least they sound like bikes.
Any finally, the soundtrack. Imagine Wizard attempting to cover Zeppelin, Credence and Doors B-sides, with no vocals and whatever creativity they had drained out of them to be sold to the highest bidder. I turned it off rapidly and put on some Hendrix. It didn’t help much.
Why would you want more?
While there’s no multiplayer (thank God) the main menu has a joke built right into it. An Online option! Apparently you’ll be able to continue Jake’s gripping journey with upcoming DLC. If any game ever need to just die quietly and forever be forgotten it’s Ride to Hell. I sincerely hope Deep Silver don’t attempt to keep it limping along on life support.
Disc, meet bin.
I’m not sure if I have much more to say. I know, shock horror. This has been an enjoyable review to write, only because I haven’t been able to really go to town with the pejoratives for a while. The actual act of playing the game in order to write this was torturous beyond description. I think the most effective impression of how biblically awful Ride to Hell is would be a short video showcasing the game disc being used for everything but its primary purpose. Coffee coaster, frisbee, clock face, modern art, mirror, reflector. Anything but being played. I would’ve made the video myself but mercifully I only rented the game and I don’t fancy paying £20 to replace it, even in the pursuit of visual comedy.
If someone buys you this game, take it as an insult. If anyone in a game shop attempts to sell you it, spit on their floor. If they try and convince you it’s good, punch them in the face. Well, don’t actually hit them, but you get the idea. The very consideration that Ride to Hell is in any way good is a poison that must be drawn from your mind as soon as possible. I’m glad to be the one to help you out with that. Tips go in the jar by the door.