187: Ride or Die
You can imagine the conversation that took place in a hundred game studios across the world:
“We've got to have something like San Andreas!”
“But it would take a hundred people three years to produce the amazing, immersive world of the Grand Theft Auto games.”
“Well, let's just stick some swearing ethnics and guns and use a few Gangsta-sounding phrases in an otherwise entirely generic game then. You've got three months. Just do your best, sweetie.”
Cars and girls
187: Ride or Die is clearly a game whose entire premise was surely conceived in a discussion just like that. Look at the features; Cars, Guns, Drive-bys, Gangsters, the occasional cleavage-glimpse; everything you'd be expecting to find in the current canon of games which wants to shamelessly ape Rockstar's magnum opus.
What it doesn't have, naturally, is the other 98 per cent of a game such as GTA: San Andreas. At its core, Ride or Die is a rather limited driving game. Drive around a few very small, suspiciously rectangular courses, power-slide around the occasional corner, squeeze a finger when you're near one of the other cars, and you'll occasionally blow up your competition with weapons.
It's very standard arcade fare; Yet we all know that well-executed arcade fare can provide many an hour of mindless time-wasting, providing that what it manages to offer is fun. Unfortunately for this game, not only does it not offer a great deal of fun at all, the occasional thing it does get right has been done much better so many times before. You'd have to seriously consider whether this game is worth even a weekend's rental, as boredom starts to set in within the second race.
The handling of the cars in this game is a particular irritation when trying to make the most of the Ride or Die experience. Since the tracks are composed pretty much exclusively of 90 degree turns, you need to powerslide around each and every corner, to within an order of magnitude. You'd hope then for a reasonable degree of handling from the cars.
What you get (and in an odd way, this is quite an achievement for a physics engine) are cars that seem to suffer from both chronic understeer and oversteer at the same time. You want to make it around a corner, so you ease off the acceleration, and begin turning. Little happens, and you fly face-first into the opposite wall. Fine. So you start to brake and turn a bit sooner, give a little impetus to the slide round the next corner. Your car now rotates 90 degrees on the spot and you crash head first into the wall to your left. After a while, you begin to suspect the game doesn't want you to turn corners successfully at all.
The cars move at a fair whack for the most part, except for the wretched SUVs, which are painfully slow and induce a feeling of loathing each time you have to start the same tedious race again. There is a speed power-up meter, recharged by sliding (which you have to do constantly), which means you can hit a button and have your vehicle get a screaming speed boost. This gives a brief burst of adrenaline, and almost makes it worthwhile. Yet, because of both the slow response time of the controls, and the vehicle's terrible handling, this invariably causes you to smack lengthwise into a wall and wipe out whatever advantage you'd hoped to achieve. It also makes your screen look like it has been smeared in Vaseline while the boost is happening. Useful.
In an immersive game world such as San Andreas, the other vehicles have a clearly defined purpose. They form a persistent part of the fabric of the city. They have drivers with a purpose who know where they're going and move like real cars in real cities. They complete the sense of reality and, of course, give you an endless supply of cars to steal. Ride or Die has cars in its city too. The purpose of these cars however seems to be to arbitrarily and randomly appear in the middle of the road, perpetually in your way. Why the designers thought that the one thing you need to really enhance a racing game is a stationary car continually blocking your lane and generally getting in the way is a total mystery. It's frustrating lunacy, and detracts from the slender fun value of this game even further.
The guns in this game are, well, the usual. There's a bangy one, and a boomy one, (which causes the word “BUCKSHOT!” to interpose on your screen regularly, provoking gangsterly paroxysms from your sun-roof dangling avatar) and a whirry-machine-gun one. If any of them have particular characteristics that make them interesting isn't clear, but in general you'll just hold the necessary button when near an enemy car and if you're lucky it will explode, and if not, there's another gun to pick up around the next bend. There is the occasional explody-thing too, which might or might not be a Molotov cocktail; it's difficult to care.
Can anyone speak anymore?
The voice acting in Ride or Die is perfectly competent, although this might not be obvious immediately as you are assaulted from the outset by an endless series of badly-scripted drivel, which becomes more soul-destroyingly ludicrous as the missions progress. It feels like a parody of Gangsta-speak, or perhaps more accurately, a script written by some preppy WASP kid using an English-to-Gangsta translator page they found on the web one morning. There's only so much “Yo shizzle, Gangsta!” a person can take.
The game looks reasonably attractive. A decent set of shiny cars and neon lighting offers enough distraction briefly from other aspects of the game. In addition to the “drive round a small track quickly” missions, there are a few GTA-esque missions, such as defend ‘X’ from endless baddies ‘Y’. There's also Speed-III-stay-above-this-speed-or-the-bomb-she-will-a-blow round. These rounds are mildly more fun and do seek to break the mediocrity somewhat.
187: Ride or Die is a game that could have been much better, had it not focused on trying to cram as much Gangsterite gibberish up its Los Santos as possible, and instead focused on creating a game which was enjoyable, distracting nonsense. The small, regimented courses and samey weapons selection, coupled with bad handling on every vehicle lead to a game which outstays its welcome in only a few hours. It is unfortunate that the title of this game should offer a choice between “riding” and “death”, because in a game so lacking in enjoyment, it's really no choice at all.