Sunday, April 1, 2018

Ride to Hell: Retribution (Xbox 360) Review

I have been playing games since about the age of five, and over the years, I can say that I have played more good games than bad.  I'm a positive person, if one spends too much time focusing on the negative in life, then he or she might want to adjust their outlook on the world.  In recent years, though, I have played a few stinkers, including Duke Nukem Forever, The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct, and Aliens: Colonial Marines.  However, these games pale in comparison to this thing called Ride to Hell: Retribution.  This title began life as an open-world game that would have seen players establishing a biker gang empire in the backlands of the western United States.  A promising concept, yes, but the game was cancelled not too long after its announcement.

Then, a funny thing happened.  Ride to Hell resurfaced and was released in 2013 by publisher Deep Silver.  Yet, gone was the open world and in its place was a horrifying mixture of shooting, fisticuffs, driving, and lots of fully-clothed sex.  Upon its release, the game was labeled by critics and gamers alike as one of the worst games ever released.  The question remains: Is it as bad as people make it out to be?  Well, considering the timing of this review, the short answer is yes, but let's dig deeper and see where it all went wrong.

Jake Conway is a soldier returning home from a tour of duty in Vietnam.  When he returns home to the town of Dead End, Jake is greeted by his uncle Mack and younger brother Mikey.  Mikey has become close friends with a girl named Ellie, which Mack disapproves of, and when Mikey rebels against his father figure to go to a concert with Ellie, Jake follows in pursuit.  As they try to set things straight, the two are confronted by members of the biker gang the Devil's Hand, who recognize the jacket Mikey's wearing.  They try to escape, but are cornered by the Devil's Hand, and when Mikey reveals to them that the jacket belonged to him and Jake's father, they kill Mikey and shoot Jake, leaving him to die.  Through the power of plot armor, he lives and sets out to find Mikey's killers and learn why him and his brother were hunted down in the first place.

Imagine if the film Easy Rider was recreated by a bunch of twelve-year-olds who had no idea what the movie was about, save for the title, that's the best explanation I can give for Ride to Hell's plot.  It's a generic revenge storyline wrapped around horrendous writing, awful characters, lame voice-acting, and plot holes galore.  Jake Conway is one of the worst protagonists to ever grace a video game.  This dead-eyed, Kurt Russell Muppet frequently astounds with his levels of incompetency he displays throughout the eight-to-nine-hour campaign.  As Jake hunts down those who were responsible for killing his brother, the game stretches this plotline out by having him help out people and get involved with events unrelated to the story.

Playing Ride to Hell makes you feel like this.
When a character needs something taken care, Jake does it; for example, later in the game one of his contacts, a marine by the name of Tyrell, asks him to deliver stolen weapons back to the base.  Had the game retained its sandbox format, such a mission would be optional, but since it's a linear experience, we are required to carry out this task, despite its lack of relevance to anything else in the story.  Additionally, many of the game's attempts to make Jake look like a badass are a sight to behold for their sheer stupidity.  Early on, Jake tries to infiltrate the hideout of Colt, one of the gang members, but he can't get in due to an electrified fence.

So, what does Jake do?  Does he find an alternate route, acquire bolt cutters to create an opening, or try to sneak in?  The answer is no to all of these.  Instead, he steals a big-rig, drives across the county, murdering tons of policemen in the process, breaks into the power plant, and kills dozens of innocent workers before blowing up the plant using the fuel container hitched to the back of the truck.  Props to Jake, he sure does know how to screw over the bad guys, not to mention innocents.

Besides coming off as an emotionless killing machine, Jake is also a bit of a misogynistic, but more on that later.  The rest of the cast is just as bad as our leading "hero," Mack looks like Santa if he was hit by a truck and had the voice of a drunken Sam Elliot, and the gang members Jake hunts down sport compelling names like Triple 6, Greasy Steve, King Dick, and Meathook.  Yet, the one who steals the show, and not in a good way, is Caesar.  Caesar is the founder of the Devil's Hand and is the one responsible for the death of Jake's parents and his brother Mikey, but his reasons as for why he did this are mind-boggling.

To put it simply, he killed the parents simply because Papa Conway didn't want to be friends with him and didn't approve of his ideas of running the Retribution biker gang.  After losing a bet, Caesar hunted down and killed him and his wife.  How this applies to Jake and Mikey, I don't know, the game never makes it clear why he goes after the descendants as well, yet it's pretty clear this plot is not Shakespeare.

Ride to Hell is one-part brawler, one-part shooter, one-part driving, and one microcosm of open-world gameplay.  Whether the surroundings be the deserts, the city, or the country-side, Jake will punch and shoot his way through an armada of similar-looking bad guys.  The fighting is routine; melee combat is heavily derived from the formula used by the Arkham games.  Jake can punch, kick, and counter any attacks thrown at him, but instead of the fighting having depth or strategy like in Arkham, it's just mindless button mashing.  Most of the time, though, enemies will circle Jake as he wails on one of their buddies.  There's a slew of moves to unlock and use, but basic techniques get the job done, especially the kick, which is broken.

Should a thug block, you can break it by throwing a kick; however, it's possible to defeat bad guys just by spamming the kick since it stuns them every time you use it.  This proved to be quite useful in a level where Jake participates in an underground fighting ring to take on the champion, Meathook.  Nothing says feeling like a winner more than endlessly kicking an opponent in the balls.  Alternatively, you can shoot any foes charging at Jake.  If they are marching towards him or you give yourself enough space, you can just pop the goons one right after the other.

Behold, Jake and the kick of testicular manslaughter!
On that note, the gunplay is just as unfulfilling as the melee combat and is more annoying than it should be due to fidgety aiming controls.  Fortunately, enemies are complete idiots, often standing out in the open when firing at you or refusing to acknowledge that Jake exists.  These guys can also withstand an insane number of gunshots to the chest, but when you get a headshot they fall to the ground.  Similar to the kick, getting headshots is exploitable.  Time slows down every time you fire off a successful round to the noggin, so it's possible to chain headshots together and clear a room without breaking a sweat.

Next is the driving.  When going from one location to the next, you'll ride the road on Jake's motorcycle, and while steering is serviceable, taking corners is a nuisance since the bike tends to magnetize itself to the side of railing when this happens.  Plus, whenever you hit something, the game places you back a few feet from where the mistake occurred, and if this happens two more times, Jake suffers from spontaneous combustion and him and his ride blow up.  Driving on the open road generally feels on-rails due to the lack of environmental variety.  When you do attempt to take an alternate path, your only reward for doing so is a collectible, which is in the form of either paint or a trading card showing off one of the developers who should be ashamed for their work on this game.

Sometimes, enemies will show up to throw Jake off course, and the combat in these sections barely qualifies as fighting.  When a baddie pulls up next to the player, all you do is mash a button and then watch said goon veer off and spontaneously combust; alternatively, time slows down, and Jake pulls out his gun, letting you take some pot shots at thugs, yet these parts go on for an eternity due to the over-usage of slow-motion.  One area of the gameplay that is tolerable is customization.  After each mission, Jake returns to his hometown Dead End, which acts as a hub, while there he can purchase guns, new moves, and sell off drugs acquired from dead foes.  He can also customize his bike, even if it has no real effect on how the fast the bike goes or how it handles on the road.

Imagine Road Rash, minus any semblance of
fun or charm, that's Ride to Hell's vehicle combat
in a nutshell.
As explained thus far, Ride to Hell: Retribution fails at delivering thrilling combat or driving, in addition to these faults, the levels you'll explore are barren wastelands, lacking any semblance of activity or accompanying sound to create ambience.  Then, there are the game's numerous technical shortcomings.  Besides braindead AI, there are numerous spelling and grammatical errors to be found in both the gameplay tips and subtitles.  Key items are represented by floating in-game models, plus some of the tips correlate information regarding mechanics not found in the game, like civilians being able to call the police if you fire off shots, and when you die, the camera freaks out and tends to sink into the ground of the environment!  The cherry on top of this crap sundae is its tasteless and appalling treatment of women and sex.

Throughout the game, you'll come across females being harassed.  As soon as the dude or dudes is dispatched, it immediately cuts to Jake and the woman having sex, before resuming gameplay like nothing happened.  What really kills it, aside from the stupidity of it all, is that both characters are fully-clothed as the sequence plays out.  Even when, and I wish I was joking, Jake is getting it on with five ladies, they all have their clothes on!  Suffice to say, but the women in Ride to Hell are a mixture of trophies and damsels in distress, and nothing more.  There's a right way to handle the topic of sexuality in video-games, but Ride to Hell, with its lifeless, fully-clothed models going at it, is how you do it wrong.  Also, given the limited number of characters, expect to see the same five-or-six females over the course of the experience, sexy time or not.

Ride to Hell: Retribution looks ugly as sin.  The art style is a weird mixture of realistic and exaggerated, so you have people with weird body proportions like huge arms, or outfits that don't make much sense.  The game feels cheaply made; animations are stiff, characters look like robots trying to understand the concept of emotion, and there's a ton of pop-in and textures that take a lot of time to load in, so get used to seeing blurry models that remind you of the Nintendo 64.  Sound is equally poor.  The voice-acting is pitiful; Jake always speaks in a lifeless, monotone voice, which makes his reactions to many of the situations unintentionally hilarious, yet the rest of the acting is just as insufferable.  If there's one thing I can give the game credit for, it's the music.  Sure, tracks are looped constantly, and the main theme sounds like it was performed by a discount Robert Plant, but I appreciate the rock-and-roll direction the score aims for.  Sadly, it's not enough to save this game.

Save up enough money, and you can easily buy
the most powerful handgun and rifle right out
of the gate, and not have to worry about using the
other guns.
Ride to Hell: Retribution is a joke of a game.  The story is meandering and contrived, the gameplay is basic, lacks excitement, and it makes the whole experience a chore to play through.  Initially, the game's awfulness leads to a lot of laughs, but once you settle in to the swing of things, it becomes a boring mess.  Much like the town of Dead End, it's a barren and empty game that makes you feel dirty for playing Ride to Hell in the first place.  In short, Ride to Hell: Retribution sucks, and should be avoided at all costs.

Final Score: 0/10