Road Rash 3 is technically the fourth Road Rash game if you count the 1994 reboot for Panasonic 3DO. In 1995, it topped the software chart on its way to becoming the best-selling entry in the franchise.
Back then the video game market was gearing up for the 32-bit era proper, and with this being the third 16-bit entry in a series that arguably wasn’t begging for another sequel, I’m surprised to learn Road Rash 3 enjoyed such sparkling success.
Although Road Rash 3 is not directly connected to Road Rash (1994), it does share some of the reboot’s DNA, mostly in the form of digitised sprites that were a common sight in video games from this time period.
With its extensive use of dithered assets, the graphics become Road Rash 3’s most contentious attribute by far. Quite frankly, the game looks terrible and is a clear step back from the colourful presentation of the previous games, even if certain areas benefit from some additional detail.
Take the rasher portraits as a perfect example. These pictures of the game’s various characters — including Natasha! — look more realistic than ever, but their lacklustre colour palette often creates a ghastly visual effect. It’s the same with the track selection screen that has a motorcycle resting in different parts of the world; the same image that’s haphazardly colourised each time.
Former composer Ron Hubbard is sorely missed. Whilst the soundtrack retains its rocking style with some deep melodies, the audio clarity has taken a nosedive. SFX are bad across the board, with the worst jingle being heard whenever a player tries to purchase a bike they can’t afford; a startling, ear-piercing whine. What went wrong here?
In some ways then, Road Rash 3 is too ambitious for the Mega Drive console, with the resulting experience sounding poor and looking ugly at numerous points. It would have made sense were this produced for the more powerful Sega 32X instead, assuming that console add-on didn’t turn out to be a complete joke …
The big selling point of Road Rash 3 is getting to race around the world instead of just the United States and California. Players are treated to an expanded selection of race tracks in places like Australia, Germany, the United Kingdom and more. The Japan track is a welcome oddity because of its unique nighttime setting, even if the garish colours make it a complete eyesore.
What’s truly notable about these new tracks, aside from their washed-out backgrounds and occasional lack of character, is their improved obstacle variety. Cop cars give chase and flying police helicopters terrorise the skies; animals and pedestrians visibly react when run over; and the game even borrows ramps from Skitchin’ to send rashers soaring over barricades and other devious chokepoints.
I like how cars now come in different shapes and sizes too. There are some nice little touches like that; things like the UK traffic moving in the left lane, and the fact that your AI rivals can now collide with more obstacles in the road. The downside is the frame rate being even slower than before; probably because of how packed the tracks are with additional content.
The improved bike handling is something much more positive. It feels easier to avoid obstacles and skidding is a less common problem. Turns don’t feel as sharp as they used to and the bikes don’t react as violently to being shunted either. It also seems like the collision mechanics have been toned down in some instances, so crashing is not always the drastic pace killer that it was in Road Rash II. Road Rash 3 is a slightly easier game, thankfully.
The distribution and price curve of the bikes is more intuitive, and there’s more to spend your money on now thanks to the new upgrade system. This menu allows players to customise their bike for better performance. Upgrades like the protective chassis are welcome for preserving a bike’s health during longer races, and upgrading the tires is essential for navigating difficult turns without skidding.
Ever the marquee feature of Road Rash, combat has been expanded again in Road Rash 3 with the addition of numerous weapons. You’ll still collect a weapon by snatching one out of the hands of a rival, but this time you’ll get to keep it between races until someone eventually snatches it back.
That’s a more realistic worry now because the CPU rashers are even more aggressive. They’ll come at you with all sorts of nasty things like crowbars, nunchaku, cattle prods and pepper spray. Those last two examples have limited uses when in the hands of a human player, which while still amusing, makes them far less useful. It’s a similar case with the new oil can which the CPU rashers are immune to. By comparison, the CPU’s routine for using the oil can is utterly obnoxious, so overall it doesn’t feel like the adjustments make combat strictly better than it was before.
Another new feature here is players being able to hoard several weapons at once. Sadly, toggling weapons is awkward because players usually have a finger on the accelerator. It’s a shame that Road Rash 3 doesn’t support the Mega Drive’s 6-button controller to solve problems like this.
With the renewed focus on combat, it makes me wish the developers stole another design element from Skitchin’; this being the bonus money players earned in that game for knocking down opponents and foiling the police. This could have made the amped-up combat feel more purposeful and would certainly reduce the grind of earning cash.
The “last chance” mechanic is also not very well considered. Instead of getting a game over for a penalty they can’t afford, players get one last chance to survive by working for the police (if they got busted) or the repo man (if they got wrecked). In either case, what follows is a bonus race where the player needs to knock down a marked rasher. If successful, the player will dodge the penalty and return to their campaign.
This idea sounds good on paper, but since there’s a password system to reload progress anyway, the whole thing is a total waste of effort. As a bonus mission that supports the weapons-based combat, the idea certainly makes sense for a Road Rash game, it’s just the developers somehow found the worst place for it!
Fortunately, the simultaneous 2-player mode is still intact, though it is harder now because both players need to qualify to advance. There’s still a decent variety of new faces to meet, female voices are in at last (your rasher is still locked as male though), and the Wild Thing 2000 “cheat” bike returns to deliver thrills when all else fails.
All in all, Road Rash 3 is still an entertaining game, but it’s not the sequel its predecessor deserved. There aren’t enough good new ideas here to recommend this over what came before, even if the improved handling is a decent argument by itself. I remember playing this cartridge only briefly when it was originally released as even back then the concept was starting to feel a bit tired.