Returning to a neglected theme of this blog (the after-college day-to-day drag), for this post I am reviewing a video-game that my roommates and I have been playing too much.
Rush 2 your doom
For those of you who don't know, RUSH 2 is a racing game made in 1998 for the N64. On first blush, it appears to be just like any other arcade-style 90's racing platform (the popular "Cruisin'" series comes to mind). But if you can get your copy of the game to work and play it for any length of time, you will soon realize that whoever created RUSH 2 must have been a single, isolated dude who only allowed himself to work on the game in his unfinished, unheated basement, perched on a chair covered in thumbtacks and flypaper, with an eagle gorging itself on his exposed liver, on Monday nights after getting back from a book club dedicated to repeated readings of The Stranger and the play "No Exit."
FASTEN YOUR SEATBELTS KIDS, DADDY'S MADE A BIG MISTAKE
Let's start with the title animation. It opens with three cars racing through a labyrinthine map, taking 90 degree turns on a dime and demonstrating a general lack of regard for our world's physics. One car manages to pull ahead, but promptly tips, rolls, and explodes into a fireball that forces the other two cars to find alternate routes. The two survivors reemerge on the straightaway, and in the last moments are seen battling to be the first into a tunnel. Green car or black/pink car - which will emerge victorious (read: survive)? Answer: everybody dies! The two cars remain neck-and-neck right up to the last moment and together exceed the width of the opening; therefore they both explode into fireballs. This is telling, as is the next event. The camera pans out to reveal that the blocky structure housing the tunnel was actually the game's title, writ large: RUSH 2 fills the screen, and a voice whispers, "russssssshhhhhh." The message is clear: this game wins itself, players be damned. Welcome to hell.
A player has several options for gameplay, and there are numerous unlockable features. Without the purchase of the controller pack accessory, however, "saving" will remain impossible. This is why the game displays a 327-character code after each accomplishment, intended to enable the player to resume progress at a later date without saving. Great. A moment's reflection helped me to realize that this is why I have taken to saving my gas receipts and stealing pens from work.
The gameplay itself is frustrating. Unless you are accustomed to driving bumper boats, you will be dissatisfied with the handling; furthermore the AI opponents in Circuit and Single Race are remarkably tough to beat. But, if your mediocrity (or any other aspect of the game) is getting you down, fear not. Contained within each level is a variable number of golden keys held in floating orbs and levitating cans of Mountain Dew as large as virtual dumpsters. You can collect these, and they will do something, maybe.
I'M ON A BOAT I THINK
In order to give the game more than a half-hour of replay value, the developers added a feature called "Stunt Mode." It is the closest thing RUSH 2 has to a saving grace. In this mode, one or two players are able to roam around a huge arena that contains brightly-colored structures of various sizes and shapes. The purpose? Ramping off objects at high speeds in order to put together combinations of flips and spins, which are assigned point values. It's like BMXing with cars.
this will most likely end in death, and a fireball
Stunt mode is what keeps me and my roommates coming back. It may also be what keeps us depressed. "Fog" is a variable element in the game that can be increased to a point sufficient to render the experience akin to playing with Hotwheels under the blankets without a flashlight. Doing this in stunt mode adds a spiritual dimension to the gameplay, which is to say, it begins to feel like purgatory. Or hell.
RUSH 2's stunt mode undeniably holds a certain allure; the game teases its players by consistently maintaining the possibility of stunt combos worth hundreds of points. The problems are
- this never happens
- some structures have such steep angles that a car will explode into a fireball on impact, even at low speeds
- the cars are top-heavy and tend to land on their roofs (resulting in an explosion, and a fireball, and death)
- not infrequently, the computer will fail to register rolls and flips, and huge "trick" combinations will generate no points
- large portions of the stunt level are dedicated to ramp-less, useless, and alienating moon-surface terrain (alienating, hah)
- sometimes cars will just, well, explode into fireballs
this state is only temporary, which is surprisingly unfortunate
At this point, it is worth asking the question, what makes RUSH 2 worth playing at all?
Honestly, it is difficult to say, outside of a weak appeal to the idea that "some games are so bad, they're good." But additionally, it is interesting to note that RUSH 2's lack of sophistication in graphics and gameplay actually works to the advantage of the player. Since it is simply incapable of offering the level of depth and immersion that gamers have been taught for years to expect, it is easy to achieve analytic and existential distance from RUSH 2. Players of this game are self-aware in a way that players of (for example) Oblivion may not be, because, if for no other reason, it remains painfully present to consciousness that RUSH 2 is a poorly-designed game from an era when games generally were designed to be diversions from real life rather than stand-ins for it. A newer and better game would strive to allow a player to become so involved that it would become possible to temporarily forget a life outside of its virtual confines.
It may be depressing to realize that two hours have gone by without a single combo-multiplier in stunt mode (this is depressing for several reasons, not least of which being the fact that you have just spent two hours playing RUSH 2), but it would be far more depressing to realize that two years have gone by at a dead-end job, and that three level 80 characters in World of Warcraft are at the center of your life. RUSH 2's unexpected strength, grounded in its many technical weaknesses, is that, at the end of the day, its simplicity and its goofily one-dimensional racing/crashing universe only allow it to be considered as a game and a diversion, and not as a potential lifestyle choice. Its existentially-distressing evocations are real, but slight, and furthermore offer the benefit of points of reference for the real life that the player of RUSH 2 is unable to forget even for a moment while playing the game. For this reason, I have to give RUSH 2 a higher score than it has probably ever received.