Everything we ever dreamed of is in that teardrop gas tank.
One of the great little workaday joys of writing about different types of media is closely watching what happens when one country or culture takes a keen interest in the pop-culture moires, historical archetypes, or otherwise-defining national idiosyncracies of another. Some of us Americans, being a bit on the history-deprived side by nature of our country’s youth, are endlessly fascinated by Asian or European architecture that’s many times older than our whole nation. And I’ve seen Shinjuku salarymen and Harajuku delinquents who are nuts for American cowboys or ’50s-era greasers. There are even foreign video games in the works enthralled with American 18-wheel trucking, although it’s hard to say why; and then there’s the trope of the open-road, badass American biker, circa Nineteen-Sixty-Seventy-Something.
[image1]Billed as the multi-platform game that will put U.K. publisher Deep Silver “on the map in the U.S.”, Ride to Hell is sandbox-style, free-roaming game focused on what we’ve come to call the “biker culture” movement—or at least one romanticized version of it (as celebrated by Hollywood, most prominently in the movie Easy Rider)—set against the turbulent backdrop of sex, drugs, rock’n’roll, and hippie counterculture that was late 1960s America. It’s not precisely “Grand Theft Hog”, but that’s as good a starting point as any to consider the game’s character-focused artwork, evident appreciation of Grand Theft Auto-style mayhem and general rock’n’roll attitude.
Players take the role of a man recently returned from Vietnam to a country and a (counter-)culture that he’s having a hard time re-integrating with.. .or even recognizing on a fundamental level. (Immediately coming to mind is the poster-line from Easy Rider: “Two men went looking for America and couldn’t find it anywhere.”)
Starting with little more than a motorcycle and a nothing-to-lose attitude, he explores the sprawling open-world environments of a 1960s ‘Road-Trip America’, a sort of condensed, Hollywood-ized reproduction of the American Southwest and various other environmental set-pieces—the open highway, the lawless desert, the hippie commune, and of course the Unsuspecting Quaint Little Town (I’m trademarking that) ripe for the picking by roving packs of bikers.
[image2]Players can soon join up with their own new ‘family’ (by which I mean ‘gang’) of other bikers, hitting the virtual road in any one of jaw-dropping number of in-game customizable motorcycles. Outfitting and modifying bikes in this game is looking to be analogous to, if not in excess of, modding up weapons in the new SOCOM game. Local and interstate law enforcement are of course two considerable hazards in this open-road world, but just as much of a hazard to the player’s health are rival gangs, as well as all manner of sleazy individuals (drug dealers, uber-sketchy cult leaders and shoot-first-maybe-never-ask-questions bartenders to name a few). Naturally, it’s all slated to be set to the appropriate licensed rock music from the period—and at last count, the tunes numbered in the hundreds.
It probably won’t come as a surprise to anyone that a game like Ride to Hell is just about as M-rated as they come, and I can’t wait to see the sheer acreage of the ESRB warning-box on the back of this baby. We’re way past a little Hot Coffee here, and Ride to Hell combines the expected sex and violence with with blatant, unapologetic, in-your-face drug use (you know, just like how the real ‘biker culture’ does it). On the evening of a particularly appropriate sneak-peek event a ways back—it took place in an actual, middle-of-nowhere biker saloon near Joshua Tree, complete with a worrying, leather-clad phalanx of big, hairy Harley riders ‘escorting’ our press-bus through the desert and right up to the saloon’s door—we saw the main character ingest what turned out to be psychoactive mushrooms, very shortly after which the entire game-world started to sparkle and distort.
Too often, games feature violence, sex, or other objectionable content for no other reason than the attempt to be ‘edgy’ (along with the venture face-plants). But when a game covers this kind of subject matter and subculture, its inclusion not only makes sense, but would seem awkwardly conspicuous by its absence. Of course, we’ve seen developers and publishers make big-balls claims before… only to puss out in the bottom of the shelf-day ninth. Come launch day, here’s hoping that Deep Silver’s Ride to Hell at least attempts to be as unapologetic and born-to-be-wild as the outlaw culture it glorifies.