Welcome, Rashers. You’re here because you like two things – racing games and violence. You’d like it even better if you got both of those things in the same game, am I right? Sadly, we haven’t had an official entry in the Road Rash series since 2000’s Road Rash: Jailbreak, so while we can enjoy spiritual successor Road Redemption and basically-the-same-thing Road Rage, where else can you look for Driving Quite Fast mixed with Punching And/Or Exploding Opponents?
Side note: we’re staying last-gen for these purely because the current console generation hasn’t matched these titles in my opinion. Most if not all should be available through their appropriate online stores.
Burnout Paradise (PS3, Xbox 360, Windows)
The team at Criterion Games excel at racing games, and the high point of the popular Burnout series was Burnout Paradise, an ingenious mix of open-world, MMO mechanics and good old-fashioned burning rubber.
Players started with a broken-down piece of crap, quickly upgraded to something more solid and then had total freedom to cruise around Paradise City (fair warning: you will get sick of hearing the opening bars of the song), finding races and events at their own pace. Switch to online mode, and you can join races with human players, or skip the competition entirely to blaze around the expansive map, finding challenges and solo trials to complete.
Bolstered by a generous suite of DLC and additional content, few games can have you recreate soaring aerial stunts from Knight Rider whilst also driving a copyright-skirting recreation of KITT himself. And, in classic Burnout style, you can ram opponents into walls, bellyflop onto their cars and smash your way through every chainlink fence, billboard and video screen you can find.
Split/Second (PS3, Xbox 360, Windows)
The second and last game from Black Rock Studio before parent company Disney Interactive shuttered them 2011, Split/Second is the Michael Bay of racing games.
By that, I mean it is in equal measure cinematic, exhilarating, frustrating and satisfying. A stripped-down HUD belies the complex mechanics underneath – on the surface, this is an arcade racer (i.e. handling balanced for fun over realism) around visually striking courses such as huge storm drains and airplane graveyards. Dig deeper, and you’ll find that successful drifts, passes and shunts build up a ‘powerplay’ meter under your car. Get close enough to an environmental hazard and you can use a burst of power to trigger it – and this is where Split/Second comes to life.
You can bring cargo planes crashing down. Detonate abandoned trains and send their flaming remains hurtling down the track. Demolish power station cooling towers.Drop merciless steel gates in front of speeding rivals. You can even collapse an entire airport control tower, sending its column bouncing along a runway, shedding debris in all directions. Mis-time one of these powerplays (or fall victim to one yourself) and you’ll end up a fiery wreck, but get it right and you could wipe out the entire field, elevating yourself to first and feeling like a gosh darn motorsport rock star.
Additional game modes add variety, there’s a host of high performance cars to upgrade to, and the reality TV framing makes the whole package an unmissable treat.
MotorStorm: Apocalypse (PS3)
Take a multi-vehicle racing game with arcade handling and nitrous boosts, add a crumbling, post-apocalyptic city and two rival factions interfering in the race tournaments, and you have one of the PS3’s better exclusives.
Apocalypse presents the player as one of three story-driven racers in the MotorStorm Festival, advancing through forty tracks across The City as real-time environmental hazards constantly change the circuit. In Split/Second all track changes were triggered by racers. Here, they’re scripted events, lending a similar air of unpredictability before we get to the Crazies and Dusklite.
The racers are sandwiched between a huge gang and a private military company vying for control of The City, so half the challenge comes from avoiding whatever they’re throwing at on another – attack helicopters, snipers, even falling buildings.
Chaotic, punky and plenty of fun, you may not always know what’s going on in Apocalypse but you’ll always enjoy doing it.
Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit (PS3, Xbox 360, Windows)
Criterion Games delivered three NFS games for Electronic Arts, and while Most Wanted is essentially a spiritual successor to Burnout Paradise, it’s Hot Pursuit that best shadows the Road Rash experience.
At its core, this is a cops-and-racers battleground, duelling in high-performance sports cars across several gruelling game modes – standard races, one-on-one ‘Interceptor’ challenges and the police vs. racers ‘Hot Pursuit’.
As a racer, you can build up a network of friends and share your wins through the innovative Autolog service, and beef up your chosen rides with ever more advanced gadgets to defeat other racers and avoid the cops. As the police, your upgrades come in the form of better tools to stop the racers – roadblocks, spikes, jammers – and players can freely switch sides as new challenges become available.
“Cars you’ve dreamed of driving, in the way you dreamed of racing them,” as the game puts it – but a fair word of warning. A difficulty spike several hours in elevates this game to a much more hardcore driving challenge, one not helped by the loose, Mario Kart-esque handling.
Dirt (PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One, Windows)
You can take your pick from the series here – starting with 2007’s Colin McRae: Dirt through to 2017’s Dirt 4 – because they all contain key elements familiar with the Road Rash ethos as well as being a damn fine set of games.
From humble PSOne beginnings as an arcade-handling rally sim, the Dirt series has both feet firmly in the extreme sports side of racing. You’ll drive a variety of vehicles on a plethora of circuits and surfaces, going from rallycross the hillclimb to gymkhana. You can plug into online modes and compete against the best from around the world, or forge a solo career across multiple disciplines as you unlock more events, cars and challenges.
Okay, so it’s missing the combat elements, but given the destruction you can wreak in the titles above, I wanted to recommend a varied, interesting racer that kept the punk rock, Cannonball Run spirit alive even amidst the overwhelming corporate packaging. Playing Dirt makes you feel like a white hat hacker – a pirate of the tarmac gone legit but still following the old traditions.
And if none of those scratch that itch, well, dear Rasher, maybe you should go code your own experience, because without that kind of thinking, we wouldn’t have any of the above titles to keep us going.