Before we begin, I’d like to take this space to issue a very public apology to Terminal Reality and Activision. Back in March, I said that The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct wouldn’t have any serious competition for the worst game of 2013, but it was a premature coronation. I was young. I was naïve. I hadn’t yet played Ride to Hell: Retribution. For that, ladies and gentlemen, I am truly, truly sorry. And now, we move on to even bigger moments in incompetence.
Ride to Hell: Retribution is a spectacular monument to failure. If failure were Paris, Ride to Hell would be the Arc de Triomphe. If failure were Washington, D.C., Ride to Hell would be the Washington Monument or the Lincoln Memorial or that Vietnam wall thing or whatever. You get the picture.
See, when it was first announced back in 2008, Ride to Hell was supposed to be an ambitious open-world title that set the rich sandbox gameplay of Grand Theft Auto before the backdrop of 1960s counterculture. You would’ve been able to explore a vast swath of the Western United States, interact with the locals, take pictures on your Polaroid, and customize your bike down to the bolt, all the while working your way up through the ranks of a brutal motorcycle gang. What we get, five years later, is a linear, insultingly underdeveloped mess with almost none of those features in any recognizable form.
At first, it might seem mystifying that a project with so many interesting ideas eventually transformed into the disaster that is Ride to Hell: Retribution. Once you actually play it, though, it’s quite obvious what happened. At some point, the people working on the game realized they didn’t have the skill to pull off any of their grand designs, so they shamefully cobbled together all the assets and mechanics they had into a disjointed, confusing, barely finished game. It’s like if you backed over your cat in the driveway, then duct-taped it back together and tried to convince all your friends it was still alive.
In other words, it’d probably be tragic if it weren’t so funny.
Seriously, for the first two hours, I couldn’t stop laughing. You play as Jake, a Vietnam vet whose kid brother is brutally murdered by members of the Devil’s Hand motorcycle gang, forcing him to exact his vengeance by killing them and dry-humping their girlfriends. That is in no way an exaggeration. For the first half of the game, pretty much all you do is ask women for information about the bikers you’re looking for, solve a minor conflict for them, and promptly get rewarded with sex. Problem is, no one bothered to make naked models for anyone involved, so you’re basically just thrusting, doggy-style, into their cutoff jean shorts while everyone involved pretends to enjoy themselves a bit too much. It’s bizarre and uncomfortable and ridiculously sexist and it just won’t stop happening. At one point—no joke—you have a never-nude fivesome.
But a profound, almost childlike misunderstanding of human reproduction is just the beginning. Some of the tips on the loading screens seem to refer to features that don’t actually exist in the final version of the game. One informed me that “killing civilians can draw unwanted attention,” but when I tried to kill the only civilians I could find, dirt exploded out of their heads, and they walked along their merry way, unharmed. I don’t know—maybe it’s just supposed to be general life advice. “You might think you’re smarter than the cops, you might think you can get away with it if you’re careful, but before you know it, you’re in a prison work-release program writing loading-screen tips for terrible videogames.”
Also, it’s clear they didn’t have enough dialogue recorded for every scene, so they instead attempted to convey things solely through animation. Well, one animation, to be precise. Every other time something happens to Jake, he looks confused, squints, and then shifts his eyes rapidly back and forth. A woman almost runs him off the road? Squint, shifty eyes. Enemies show up to kill him? Squint, shifty eyes. Guy gets clobbered by a flying log? Squint, shifty eyes. Doctor diagnoses him with prostate cancer? Squint, shifty eyes. OK, so that last one didn’t happen, but maybe in the sequel.
The pièce de résistance, though, is the cover system. Sometimes you’ll roll into a box, and Jake will attempt to take cover by standing on top of it—where there is, as you might guess, no cover at all. If you do manage to actually get in cover, trying to move left or right is total crapshoot, since the game regularly decides to stop you at some arbitrary point before your cover ends, because why not? When you try to blind-fire—and this is a real, intended feature, complete with its own dedicated animations and everything—you just shoot directly into whatever object you’re ducking behind. The only way for your bullets to actually make it past your cover is to shoot straight into the sky. It’s completely useless, and I’m truly astounded that it wasn’t just cut from the game before release. I’m also grateful, because every time I made Jake earnestly reach his arm up and unload an entire clip into the wall two inches above his head, I giggled uncontrollably.
But—and I feel the need to make this abundantly clear—just because Ride to Hell fails to the point of being hysterical, that doesn’t mean it’s an enjoyable experience. By no stretch of the imagination is it “so bad, it’s good.” The first hour or two might be a laugh riot, but that quickly subsides into horrible repetition and endlessly clunky gameplay. The persistent glitches—weapons that hover in midair, firing by themselves, enemies that stretch out at the waist like grotesque snake-people when you shoot them—are enough to give you a few chuckles here and there, but it’s mostly a grind. Plus, the checkpoints are horrendous—dying can sometimes set you back a solid 20 to 40 minutes. It was physically painful to force myself to finish. I contemplated quitting my job twice. I screamed during the entire credit roll.
Other games may have offered less content for more money or come up shorter in specific, individual areas, but I don’t think there’s ever been a game that does so many things so universally poorly. There’s point-to-point driving, races, vehicular combat, melee combat, and third-person shooting—and it’s all abysmal. The graphics and art direction are amateurishly hideous, the dialogue is awful, and the voice actors do about as good of a job selling their lines as Edward James Olmos would hawking skin-care products. The soundtrack consists of about seven grating songs repeated over and over again—that is, when it doesn’t decide to cut out completely and leave you in awkward silence for minutes at a time. Retribution is misfiring on all cylinders.
Over the last few months, some prominent critics have dubbed two high-profile titles—BioShock Infinite and The Last of Us—as the medium’s answer to Citizen Kane. I’d like to add to that discussion by making a bold prediction of my own: In Ride to Hell: Retribution, videogames have, at long last, found their Manos: The Hands of Fate.
Don't play Ride to Hell: Retribution. Don't think about playing it. Don't think about thinking about playing it. Forget it exists, and continue your life as though it never did.
M – Mature
|Ride to Hell: Retribution is available on Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and PC. Primary version played was for Xbox 360. Product was provided by Deep Silver for the benefit of this coverage. EGM reviews on a scale of one to five stars.