Let's Replay: Rollcage

Release Date
24 March, 1999
Playstation 1, PC
Single Player
Attention To Detail

To us primitive creatures of the 21st century, the wheel is still the greatest invention in human history and it is central to our modern transportation needs. However, if video games are to be believed, in the future we’ll all be zipping around neon cityscapes in gravity-defying space machines. Wheels are about to become as outdated as mixtapes and white dog poo. Just ask F-Zero and Wipeout. It seems that the future is already decided, and if we don’t get our flying cars (and our hover boards from Back To The Future), I for one will be demanding my money back.

Rollcage dares to dream of a different future; a future where tyres still serve a purpose for propelling us forward in glorious locomotion. The vehicles in Rollcage bear a striking resemblance to those Tyco remote controlled cars that excited me so much as a child. They are dual-sided, meaning that they can drive right way up and upside down. With enough speed, these cars are more than capable of driving on walls and ceilings, and the track design often encourages you to do so with power ups and speed boosts scattered around tunnel walls.

When it was first released, Rollcage was an astounding visual example of what the original Playstation was still capable of. The detailed landscape flies past at retina-blistering speeds once you reach top speed, making it a delight to whizz around each track as fast as possible. You may not have the time to stop and admire the landscape, but the backdrop is a joy to behold, even if it is only on screen for a quarter of a second. This is the real technical achievement of Rollcage. It manages to convey a sense of speed with the limited resources available through the hardware of the PS1. The frame rate remains high regardless of all the explosions and crumbling buildings around you. While Rollcage relies on a certain amount of motion blur to display its visuals, it never seems to lose that much detail.

We’ve landed on Mars! And put a race track on it!

The nearest analogue to Rollcage is Wipeout, another futuristic racer published by Psygnosis that helped to define the Playstation shortly after the console launched. They both have a similar weapons system which includes homing missiles, boosts, shields, and time warps that slow down your competitors. The main difference is that Rollcage’s ground-based course design adds another dimension where cars are jostling for position in 360 degrees on the different surfaces of tunnels. Buildings can also be brought down with a well-placed missile, leaving debris across the track behind you. The courses are suitably futuristic too, from Tokyo-styled cities to ice caverns and Mars.

You can’t talk about Rollcage without mentioning the game’s soundtrack. Including several licensed tracks from Fatboy Slim amongst others, Rollcage is played out to a fitting big beat selection from the late 90’s. This compliments the action in a frenetic sense. If you enjoy this type of music, you’ll find yourself firing up Rollcage just to enjoy the audio on offer.

The multiplayer in this game is a blast, quite literally considering the extensive arsenal you’re presented with. While getting a few friends together with a PS1 and a multitap might be a difficult task nowadays, if you’re looking for a party game that is like Mario Kart without the gratuitous abuse of turtles, then Rollcage may fit your animal-loving bill. Rollcage supports split-screen racing that runs surprisingly smoothly, and the wide range of combat options make for some seriously frenzied races.

Unfortunately, Rollcage doesn’t offer a huge variety of gameplay modes and single player content. You have your standard Arcade Mode (single player races), League (single player tournaments), Time Attack and Multiplayer. Coupled with the fact that the game only features four locations with a few tracks each, this means the title starts to look a little bare once you’ve played for a while.

Also, while the course design is enjoyable, Rollcage should have taken advantage of its unique selling point more often by including more tunnels, inversions and sloped walls. Considering that was the main distinguishing feature between Rollcage and other racing games of the time, it is surprising that the developers didn’t try to push the boat out and make some truly tumultuous twists to make their game stand out. The game’s sequel (Rollcage Stage 2) does a lot to remedy this, but as a proof of concept, the original still holds up.

While the Rollcage series may have lived and died in the latter stages of the PS1’s lifecycle, it did push the boundaries as to what the system could cope with. The graphics may have aged pretty badly, but that doesn’t take anything away from the technical feats that were accomplished. It’s odd that, with our powerful next-gen hardware, very few games can give us that sense of speed like Rollcage still can.

Play It For: Losing all control while boosting from the roof of a tunnel, only to land squarely in front of the race leader.