At the age of fourteen, Brain Jobling created games for the Atari 800, ZX Spectrum, and Commodore 64 personal computers. With the money he made from these projects, he founded Zeppelin Games in 1987 at the age of seventeen. From here, he and his company based in Newcastle upon Tyne, England developed games for various contemporary computer and console platforms, including Jocky Wilson’s Darts Challenge, Universal Warrior, and Sink or Swim. One of their most notable ventures came about from working with the famous U.K.-based publisher Codemasters to produce two titles based on the Micro Machines franchise and a tennis game bearing Pete Sampras’s name. In 1994, the company was acquired by Merit Studios, Inc., an American developer. They continued to develop their own games and were in charge of distributing Merit’s output in Europe.
The directors then managed to buy the company back from Merit Studios with help from the French publisher Infogrames in 1996. They were able to accomplish this when the gained developer and publisher status for the Sony PlayStation, renaming themselves Eutechnyx once the process was finished. This started a three-year agreement with Infogrames on the PlayStation and PC platforms, meaning that by 2000, Eutechnyx would become a fully independent developer once more. Since reacquiring the company in 1996, Eutechnyx focused primarily on racing titles, including a 2006 adaptation of The Fast and the Furious.
In 2008, Eutechnyx announced an entirely new project with the tentative title Ride to Hell. It was conceived as an ambitious open-world game similar to Rockstar’s bestselling Grand Theft Auto franchise. The game would be set in the deserts and small towns of California in the late sixties with characters representing the era’s biker counterculture. Collaborating with a company named Deep Silver Vienna, they intended use a film-style production model for development, employing motion capture and extensive voice acting. However, various outlets such as IGN reported that the project was canceled, and Deep Silver removed the game from its website. This turned out to be untrue, as Eutechnyx continued working the project, heavily revising its original concept. In early 2013, the Australia Classification Board assigned the game an R18+ rating, signifying its impending release. In April, the game resurfaced along with two other installments sharing the same branding. The three proposed games were: Ride to Hell: Retribution, Ride to Hell: Route 666, and Ride to Hell: Beatdown. The first game would be a biker themed brawler handled by Eutechnyx. The second was intended to be focus on road combat with development helmed by Black Forest Games. Finally, the creators sought to release the final title on mobile platforms.
Unfortunately for Eutechnyx, only the first of these games, Ride to Hell: Retribution, would see an official release in June of 2013. The dismal sales killed the series before either of the other two games had a chance to be made. Despite this setback, Ride to Hell: Retribution quickly became Eutechnyx’s most well-known product with many prominent gaming critics extoling its qualities. Does it live up to its immense reputation?
Playing the Game
Ride to Hell: Retribution begins with the game’s protagonist riding down a desert road on his motorcycle. Interwoven in this sequence are three flashbacks. In the first, he guns down members of a biker gang with a turret. This is followed up with him engaging in a fistfight with a larger gang member. The last one has him standing over a defeated opponent. Said man taunts the protagonist, asking him if he thinks “that [he’s] the last one”. The latter responds by shooting him in the head. In the present, he rides his bike off of a broken bridge, passing over a helicopter and landing safely on the other side.
These scenes were intended to serve as a preview for what is to come, and I feel they set the tone perfectly. As early as the very first playable sequence, we run into this game’s first problem. In your attempts to aim the turret, you will discover that the slippery controls make the task unnecessarily difficult. It’s to the point where one would be forgiven for dying in this sequence. If you’re wondering whether or not this is merely a passable game getting off to a bad start, I can assure you the worst has yet to come.
Before I get into why I can say that, I’ll establish the game’s backstory. The year is 1969, and war veteran Jake Conway has returned to his family after serving his country in the Vietnam War. He lives with his uncle and younger brother, Mack and Mikey. Over the years, Mikey has grown distant from his older brother and their uncle, though he is infatuated with his college friend and tutor, Ellie. An angered Mikey leaves the house when his uncle forbids him from going to a concert with Ellie. Mack sends Jake after him, and though Mikey is upset at his older brother, the two reconcile and go to a diner.
As Jake gets a burger, Mikey is confronted by a biker gang known as the Devil’s Hand. Jake intervenes, but one of the members, Colt, notices the jacket he is wearing, leading to a high-speed bike chase on the highway. Unfortunately, the gang somehow catches up to them. Holding the two brothers at gunpoint, they demand to know where Jake got his jacket. Jake manages to wrestle a gun away, but a Devil’s Hand member who calls himself Meathook holds Mikey at knifepoint. Mikey tells them that the jacket belonged to their father, William Conway. Recognizing their father as “Toledo”, Meathook slices Mikey’s throat while Colt shoots Jake, leaving him for dead. Jake barely survives and is patched up by Mack. After his recovery, Jake promises to pay retribution on the Devil’s Hand, not resting until every single one of them is dead.
The opening sequences demonstrate that Ride to Hell: Retribution attempts to blend multiple genres together. Chasing after Mikey and attempting to flee from the Devil’s Hand introduces the biking portions. The controls are standard; the left stick is used to steer while two of the shoulder buttons are used for braking and accelerating.
If there is an obstacle on the road such as a fallen tree or a tanker, you can press the appropriate button to slide underneath it.
Because Eutechnyx had developed numerous racing titles prior to working on this game, it would appear to be a natural feature to include. As you navigate the motorcycle, you would do well to avoid any other vehicles on the road. Colliding into anything fast enough will send you back a bit while maintaining the present state. To put it another way, if you have a time limit imposed upon your current mission, the countdown will continue as the game places Jake back on the road. Similarly, if he finds himself racing someone and crashes, his opponent can progress as he’s incapacitated. You may find yourself on the road for purposes other than racing. If there are any hostiles nearby, they will swarm you. When they’re closing in, you must tap the button that appears onscreen. If you’re fast enough, Jake will knock his opponent off their bike.
Jake’s first target is a brutish man who goes by the name of Anvil. When fighting enemies on the ground, the game turns into a brawler. Two buttons perform distinct attacks when pressed. Another button is used to counter an attack when a would-be assailant appears with an appropriate cue to let you know when to act. If you land enough hits in a fight, a fourth button will appear above an enemy’s head. If you press it, Jake will become enraged, and what follows is a series of prompts that will dispatch the enemy if you react properly. It’s important to note that Jake is invulnerable when he’s doing this, so if you’re overwhelmed, it can be an effective means of buying yourself enough time to get out of a dire situation. As you wander a stage, you may see a broken bottle graphic floating in midair. If you lure an enemy to one and press the appropriate button, Jake will use a set piece to kill them. They can only be used once each, however.
After chasing a Devil’s Hand member to his hideout, Jake realizes he will need firearms to properly carry out his act of vengeance. He meets Army Officer Tyrell, who agrees to provide him with the firepower he needs.
Once you have your first gun, you can play the game like a typical, contemporary third-person shooter. You can aim with one shoulder button and fire with the other. Attempting to shoot without holding the aim button will cause Jake to fire directly in the direction he faces instead. If Jake gets hit, splotches of blood will appear on the screen. If he continues taking damage, the colors will desaturate until you are left with entirely monochrome visuals. Any more hits in this state will be enough to put him out of commission, forcing you to restart at the last checkpoint.
When it comes to assessing Ride to Hell: Retribution, one could give Eutechnyx credit for attempting to incorporate multiple styles of gameplay into their work. The early-to-mid-2010s was oversaturated in first and third-person-shooters using realism as an artistic motif to the extent that one would really need to put a lot of effort to make their own take stand out from the crowd. However, anyone willing to play this game for a sufficient length of time will realize that the developers shouldn’t receive any points for ambition. The reason I can make such a statement without even the tiniest bit of uncertainty is because one would be hard-pressed to find anything in this game that wasn’t appallingly implemented.
In what is perhaps the most damning piece of evidence of this game’s shoddy quality, especially in light of the experience the team had going into the project, the motorcycle is an absolute pain to navigate. It is incredibly difficult to stay on the road when it’s completely straight. If it curves at all, even with ample use of the brake pedal, you will be crashing into walls and fences all the time. To make matters worse, you will have to dodge civilians’ vehicles while navigating the bike, and the often uncooperative camera makes this an arduous ordeal; oftentimes, it’s angled in a way where Jake completely blocks your view. Furthermore, powersliding is difficult to time properly. You need to be dead-center or else you will black out from grazing the edges of the barrier, and the animation takes time to fully execute, so when the prompt appears, you only have one second at most to react.
Even with all of that having been said, there’s yet another crippling problem to be found. You can utilize a turbo function to give your motorcycle a temporary boost. In the console ports, this is not accomplished by a sensible application of a certain button, but rather by pressing forward on the left control stick. This means that it’s easy to accidently speed forward just trying to steer the bike. If you activate it on purpose, there’s a great chance you’ll regret it immediately afterward when the blisteringly fast speed coupled with the retreating camera likely implemented for dramatic effect makes incoming obstacles even more difficult to see than they already were. What Eutechnyx accomplished with these horrid driving controls is not unlike a professional runner forgetting to tie their shoelaces before they began a race.
Given the abysmal driving controls, one would hope that the portions spent on foot provide a reprieve from the madness. Continuing to play the game reveals that any level of faith you may have had in it would be woefully misplaced. As a 3D brawler, Ride to Hell: Retribution defines the word mindless. Theoretically the two separate buttons could be used in response to your own analyses of the combatants’ fighting stances, allowing each melee to pan out in a dynamic fashion.
Practicably, all you have to do is spam the kick button. The animation is fast enough that your opponents won’t be able to block it. From there, all you need to do is keep it up until the option to go berserk is made available to you. Their teammates will stare in awe, powerless to stop you, though if they do try to interrupt the merciless onslaught, you can simply counter the move as soon as the prompt appears and begin kicking them instead. The only downside is that it takes longer than using a weapon, so if time is a pressing issue, this isn’t a viable tactic. Otherwise, there’s nothing preventing you from using this tactic throughout the entire game, which is helped by the fact that Jake usually recovers from any manner of melee attacks faster than the enemies can hit him.
Ride to Hell: Retribution is arguably at its best when it’s being a third-person shooter, but considering how low it set the bar by this point, it shouldn’t be considered a worthwhile accomplishment. Getting behind cover requires a button press as is standard for the genre. Where this goes wrong is that you can’t always pop out of cover in the exact places where it would come in handy. This is a bit difficult to explain unless you’ve played the game, but you can’t always attack from every section of cover available to you, making it nearly impossible to aim at certain enemies.
It’s also worth mentioning that the AI is incredibly inconsistent. On one stage, you may see enemies marching in a conga line toward you, waving their firearms in the air as you gun them all down. Later on, you may see them hitting you with perfect accuracy from multiple angles, as they seemingly sense your every move. This leads to a fair number of situations in which you could pop out of cover only for the colors to ostensibly wash away without Jake getting hit by anything. In reality, he is being damaged, but in a bout of poor programming, the sound effects and graphical cues don’t always properly convey to you what’s going on. If that wasn’t enough, trying to blindly fire from behind cover will usually result in Jake’s bullets hitting the wall he’s hiding behind.
After disposing of a Devil’s Hand member who uses dynamite when Jake confronts him, you gain the ability to purchase the explosives for yourself. You use them in a similar fashion as grenades from a typical third-person shooter. In a competently made game, they would provide a good solution for a situation when you need to dispatch multiple enemies at once, yet are unable to safely leave cover. In Ride to Hell: Retribution, even this simple mechanic doesn’t escape unscathed. When you aim the dynamite, a line appears, showing you the arc in which Jake will throw it. This is standard for the genre, but as Jake lights the dynamite, the accompanying animation jolts the line slightly off your intended target. This led to one particularly memorable instance in my playthrough wherein Jake threw the dynamite into a barrier and exploded himself.
Speaking of which, you will learn to loathe any enemy wielding RPGs, for being close enough to a blast radius dazes Jake. When he’s in this state, he moves sluggishly and doesn’t respond to your commands to get behind cover. This means if there are still enemies present and there isn’t a corner nearby for him to take refuge, he is as good as dead. The only saving grace is that you don’t have to deal with heavy weapon users until the final third of the game, but it’s still grating to an unbelievable degree.
There have been many instances throughout gaming history in which the final product ended up far different from the original vision. Metal Gear was conceived as an action game similar to Capcom’s classic arcade title Commando before it eventually codified the stealth genre. Bungee wanted to create a real-time strategy game named Halo, but the themes present would have meant having the venerable Starcraft to compete against, prompting them to create a first-person shooter instead. The common bond between these disparate experiences is that unless someone actively sought to research these development stories, they would have no idea of these radical mid-cycle shifts. Like someone who fails to check their essay before handing it to the instructor, it’s painfully obvious when playing Ride to Hell: Retribution that the creators changed gears halfway through production. Loading screens will allude to features that were never implemented, and whatever bonus objectives exist are limited to the point where they could’ve been excised from the game entirely.
Moreover, upon defeat, enemies usually drop money and bags containing drugs. You can use the money to buy weapons, and the drugs provide can be sold to a dealer for an extra source of income. When negotiating with the dealer, you can opt to sell the eight varieties of drugs available, but because they have no use other than to sell for money, I question why the developers thought to differentiate them. Meanwhile, your only use for money is to buy weapons from Tyrell’s associate. These are both features that wouldn’t be out of place in a sandbox title, but in a linear game such as this, it’s superfluous. It doesn’t help that the selection only barely runs the gamut of basic guns found in shooters.
As a game, Ride to Hell: Retribution fails in no less than three different ways. It’s a racing game with less polish than Pole Position, a rhythmic 3D brawler nowhere near the level of complexity Batman: Arkham Asylum boasts, and a third-person shooter that makes Spec Ops: The Line look like Resident Evil 4 by comparison. On these merits alone, one would have enough of a reason to condemn this game, but the true source of its infamy has yet to be fully disclosed.
Analyzing the Story
One of the first things people will notice when starting this game is that the presentation is absolutely dreadful. Character models are ugly with odd expressions glued to their faces at all times, and highly unnatural mouth movements that land them a permanent residence in the Uncanny Valley.
Moreover, the voice acting is horrendous with its characters either barely emoting or hammily belting out their lines, which themselves stand as some of the most horribly written pieces of video game dialogue in existence. The tragic part about this is that of all of the grievances Ride to Hell: Retribution commits with its narrative, its superficial aspects are just the tip of the iceberg.
One of the biggest problems with the game concerns its lead character. Big-budget video game protagonists in the early-to-mid-2010s were notorious for their utter lack of redeeming qualities – a trait only matched by their generic designs. Some critics praised the idea of having morally ambiguous leads, likening them to the kinds one would expect out of a New Hollywood-era film, an epoch which began in the late sixties and lasted roughly ten years. There was one slight error with this assessment – the anti-heroes that plagued games at the time were more akin to those of nineties comic books. Because video games used a character archetype other mediums had long since abandoned for a very good reason, it gave the impression that they were woefully backwards-looking. It was argued that these characters are better suited for video games involving a lot of killing, as it integrates the gameplay into the story more effectively than if they were unquestionably good. However, because you’re in control of these characters, you’re helping them succeed, which means that if anything, they’re even worse in this medium than they would be a non-interactive one. I mention this because even by the dubious standards of the era, Jake Conway stands out as horrendously unlikable.
There are many reasons for this, but for starters, we’re not given an incentive to sympathize with him. His brother’s death instigates his desire for revenge, but it happens so early in the game that we barely know who any of these characters are when the tragedy occurs. This means that the significance of Mikey’s death lies entirely on what he was in relation to Jake rather than being an actual character in his own right. The worst part is even if Mikey’s untimely death succeeded in making the audience sympathize with Jake, what he does throughout the game to exact his revenge will utterly dash any of that goodwill.
The one sequence everyone who has played this game will remember involves Jake needing to circumvent an electric fence surrounding a Devil’s Hand member’s compound. There are many solutions he could use to solve this problem. He could climb a nearby tree that clearly has a branch which extends above the fence and drop into the compound, simply knock out the power by cutting a wire or felling a nearby telephone pole, or if he was particularly desperate, get a shovel and dig his way through. Instead, the game deems it necessary for you to steal a nearby tanker, drive it to a nearby power plant dam, park it, and blow it up from a distance. This results in the destruction of the dam, which allows Jake to enter the compound.
Discounting the above programming mistake, there are so many problems with this sequence that one could write an entire essay detailing the individual ways in which it fails, but I feel they boil down to two basic issues. The first is that it’s complicated to a ridiculous degree. It never occurs to Jake to simply drive the tanker through the fence; indeed, the game never even gives you the opportunity to do this. Instead, Jake draws out a problem that could be solved in seconds if he were to exercise any kind of common sense with several objectives which ultimately contribute nothing to the plot. The more pressing issue is that Jake’s actions cast his character in a very unflattering light. In order to steal the truck, he needed to kill its owner, and after he got ahold of it, he proceeds to gun down police officers and workers at the dam, none of whom have anything to do with his vendetta against the Devil’s Hand. Worse still, by destroying the dam, he could’ve caused a massive blackout, which would lead to the people revolting against the government, or a flash flood if the wall was sufficiently damaged. Either of these things could easily result in the deaths of millions, and Jake would be labeled an international terrorist. That the narrative doesn’t go into the ramifications of these actions speaks to how poorly thought out the writing is. Taking it at face value, Jake is either a psychopath or a fool lacking in any kind of pragmatic decision making. To add insult to injury, the person Jake was targeting manages to escape to an aircraft boneyard, rendering the effort to get past the fence pointless.
Ride to Hell: Retribution showcases other problems with the AAA industry’s approach of emulating Hollywood as well. As a direct result of telling their story through cutscenes, it actively clashes with the gameplay, cheapening both. The narrative presents Jake as an unfettered anti-hero, yet he almost always takes the most indirect route possible to accomplish his goals. I have to admit this divide is present even in good games, but like everything else, Eutechnyx managed to find a way to sink it to a new low. This is largely because Ride to Hell: Retribution contains the worst editing I’ve ever seen in a cinematic AAA effort. The chase sequence at the beginning of the game ends abruptly, and in the next scene, Jake and Mikey have been magically captured by the Devil’s Hand. Going into that scene, I assumed they managed to escape because there was no transition from the gameplay sequence to them being held at knifepoint. This isn’t the only instance either; you will often gun down major antagonists on the road, and once you’ve dealt enough damage, the screen blacks out and rearranges the actors to where they need to be. We’re not shown the antagonists falling off of their bikes, and Jake will always elect to dispatch them in the most over-the-top, impractical method possible, removing any kind of player agency.
The horrible editing even extends to how the cutscenes are placed. If you die and are sent back to a checkpoint, not only do you have to press a button to leave the loading screen, you must also watch any cutscenes again to return to where you were. A competent studio would place the checkpoint immediately after any cutscenes so the player can return to the action right away. As it stands, you require at least four button presses to return to the game after dying if the sequence begins with a cutscene: the first to select the option to restart, the second to close the loading screen, the third to pause the cutscene, and the last to skip it. This problem is made worse by the fact that the checkpoints themselves are very erratically placed. There could be a ten-minute gauntlet with no checkpoints in between followed by a sequence wherein the game autosaves every thirty seconds.
In the interest of fairness, I will say that Jake isn’t the only one who could be described as painfully incompetent. The aforementioned Anvil hides in an abandoned shop and rather than attempting to escape, he waits in the fortification until Jake returns with a firearm. Only when a majority of his underlings have been slaughtered does he think to leave. In fact, the whole plot is started because the Devil’s Hand didn’t bother to make sure Jake was actually dead after shooting him. Then again, the death of Mikey could’ve been avoided in the first place had Mack mentioned the bad blood between the Devil’s Hand and their father and discouraged him and Jake from bringing the offending jacket.
Astoundingly, as much evidence as there is to condemn this narrative, I still haven’t even touched upon what made it so abhorrent. To set up the proper context, video games around this time were drawing criticism for promoting sexist attitudes. Defenders insisted that these claims could not be substantiated, going to decidedly unethical lengths to prove them wrong. Even as the backlash reached cacophonous levels, there was one thing that both sides could agree on: Ride to Hell: Retribution is a sexist piece of trash.
During Jake’s journey, he may find a man harassing a woman in the streets. If you beat the man up, the woman will immediately reward Jake by copulating with him. If you think a team that has failed at pretty much everything else has no business programming sex scenes, I can say your skepticism is well-founded. They are equal parts tasteless and ludicrous, as these acts are often preformed fully clothed in the same room as the corpse of whichever man Jake killed to get to them. The absurdity reaches critical mass when Jake engages in a fivesome at one point. As stupid as any of this sounds, it actually does affect the gameplay. The act somehow restores Jake’s health and ammunition. In other words, women in this game only exist as metaphorical trophies. In addition to being openly contemptuous of women, it cements Jake’s status as a blatant Mary Sue, for he’s able to charm his way into sex despite being such a bland character.
With so little to relate to and so many unappealing things about both the cast and the setting, you won’t care if Jake succeeds in getting his revenge against the Devil’s Hand. The twists aren’t anything to write home about either; it turns out that both Jake and Mikey were targeted by the Devil’s Hand because the leader hated their father. It’s pretty obnoxious how the writers treat this as a revelation that turns the world upside-down when anyone could’ve figured it out within the first hour of gameplay. It suggests they didn’t think much of their audience. Then again, their audience did pay actual money to acquire this game, so maybe they had something there.
Drawing a Conclusion
I maintain that 2013 was not a good year for gaming, and I feel the debut of Ride to Hell: Retribution alone justifies my stance, for it absolutely encapsulates all of the era’s worst trends. Its lead is lacking in both charisma and likability, the gameplay irregularly switches between being cheaply unfair and mind-numbingly simple, and its approach to gender politics was laughably chauvinistic even for its time. No advance copies of Ride to Hell: Retribution were given to mainstream gaming outlets before its launch, but it didn’t save it from being universally panned in the long run. It is now considered one of the worst games ever made. Having played it for myself, I can say it deserved all of the negative reviews it received. Indeed, I don’t think I’ve played another game that had this many problems. This isn’t to say I believe it to be the absolute bottom of the barrel, as it’s still more playable than Metal Morph or the NES edition of Dragon’s Lair. Nonetheless, Ride to Hell: Retribution is one of the worst offerings of the 2010s, and there’s no reason why anyone should play it.
A few independent critics claimed it was bad in an enjoyable way, comparing it to infamous film disasters such as Plan 9 from Outer Space or The Room. I don’t believe that to be the case; even as an ironic excursion, playing Ride to Hell: Retribution is an absolute waste of time and money that will ignite immense frustration in those who see it through. To the developers’ credit, they did pull this game from Steam and removed any mentioning of it from their website mere months after its release day. The 1% stamp on the game’s logo was intended to be a reference to the statistic that only a small percentage of biker groups are outlaws. Once the game saw its release, that piece of the title gained a whole new meaning.
Final Score: 1.5/10