"From Dusk Till Dawn" was a fantastic film, wasn't it? It was built up from the start as a simple cut-and-run kidnapping story, but after about an hour or so of calm it exploded into a vampire slaughter fest.
Eventually it concluded with a tattooed and extremely bloody George Clooney leaving a young girl amongst the ruins and bodies of her sibling, father, and truck-driving drinkers on the edge of a cliff. Fantastic. [What the hell does this have to do with Rollcage? - Ed.]
Well, in a bizarre sort of way Rollcage Stage II mimics the film. It starts off as one might expect, but after a while and a lot of experience you are doing back flips and creating cataclysmic explosions in order to thwart your opponents. When you complete a race you are left with a battered and tattered little buggy that has been literally hurled across chasms and through walls of fire and debris.
To continue the "From Dusk Till Dawn" metaphor, the game also shuns realism in favour of out-and-out fun. Instead of staying on the boring straight-and-narrow route of most racers, it lets you defy physics and race along the walls and ceilings, "such is your velocity". Newton, slap Psygnosis for me.
Of course, the original Rollcage did this before, and those of you who came to Rollcage expecting a completely new game using a few of the old ideas will be initially disappointed. It is very much the same, graphically and in terms of gameplay, but it has been tweaked an awful lot.
As far as design concepts go, Rollcage's is a unique one, so any small changes to the physics or arsenal of weapons sway the natural order of things away from the norm.
The most shining example of this in Rollcage Stage II is the even shorter tracks. Rollcage's tracks were pretty short, lets be honest, but that didn't draw anything away from the entertainment. By decreasing the track-lengths slightly further however, Psygnosis have been able to jam in even more death-defying shortcuts and ceiling-boost-pads.
Weapons-wise, Rollcage Stage II still suffers from the same problems as its predecessor. For instance, there is still a power-up that slows down the entire field of cars, giving an incredibly unfair advantage to the person who collected it.
You can turn the power-ups off very easily, but if you do then you'll lose the more interesting ones, such as the heat-seeking rocket that takes out the leader of the race, or just the basic rockets, which actually require skill to use precisely. The mix of power-ups lets the game down somewhat - you should be able to specify which you use and which you don't, that would make for a much more interesting proposition. Ah well, maybe in Stage III...
We've reached a sort of graphical peak in the PC gaming scene at the moment, with increases in quality like those shown in Quake 3 Arena being considered the norm, and other games aspiring to compete.
Rollcage Stage II sidesteps that particular battle by using cartoon-like graphics that better suit consoles. Actually, the game feels very much like a console racer, which can only be a good thing.
Graphically the game is still as pretty and curvaceous as it was a year ago. While your jaw won't exactly hit the ground, the graphics do at least conjure up visions of a neo-futuristic world appropriate to the game's time setting.
It's quite clear though that Rollcage Stage II has been designed for viewing at speed. If you slow your vehicle down you can see that everything is long and sprawling, and even slightly pixellated, but at the high speeds that the game encourages everything blurs together in a fashion that looks just right.
The activities the game has to occupy you are many. There are Tournaments, the usual Arcade mode (where everyone usually dives in head first), and even a Scramble mode where you have to scurry around a track as fast as you can, without the speed barriers that so many tracks offer for protection.
It earns copious amounts of brownie points for having double-sided cars, too. The little buggies that you drive around in can flip over and continue to race, just like those ludicrously expensive radio control cars that you see advertised on the TV.
If you fall off the ceiling (it happens quite often), then you can land on either side and still right yourself without losing precious seconds. Your car is indestructible too - this sort of action is not built for those hindered by mortality!
Rollcage Stage II is definitely one of my favourite little games this year. If you want a simulation, leave right now - this is not for you. But if you just want to have some good old-fashioned unadulterated fun, take a look.
I rather thought that I had weaned myself off of silly little console racing games, but Rollcage Stage II brings it all flooding back...