Ken Silverman’s Build engine really was a work of art. Compared to the mazes or “suggested” locations featured in previous games, Build’s high-resolution detail and extreme level of interaction meant that worlds could be realized in a way previous FPS games couldn’t have dreamed of. There was finally enough detail in the levels to effectively pull off gags and reasonable facsimiles of real locales, which led to the various Build parodies of the mid to late 90s. And, with Hong Kong films, horror creepshows, and action/sci-fi well taken care of, what fertile ground was left unplowed? According to Xatrix, redneck jokes.
Every stereotype of the deep American south is paraded out for your enjoyment. Playing as Leonard (a wiry, Jim Varney-a-like), you travel through poultry packing plants, pig farms, a trailer park besieged by tornadoes, the backwoods, a drive-in, and plenty of similar spots that might feature in a Jeff Foxworthy set. Aliens have invaded the area and turned the local Skeeters and Billy Rays into murdering clones. You’ll shoot through hordes of them while scarfing down Moon Pies (here, “Cow Pies”) and licensed Goo-Goo Clusters® to regain health. Your ultimate goal is to find your dipshit, slobbering cousin Bubba at the end of each level and whack him on the head with your crowbar. It’s hard to find a cliché that didn’t make the cut – and in many ways, good on Xatrix for doing their homework (if the credits are to be believed, they had some legitimate adventures getting reference materials in the real South).
The primary new mechanic here is the way you manage your health. There are no health kits; instead, you use alcohol and junk food to restore lost vitality. Your intoxication and hunger are shown by two meters. Every time you slug back a shot of “cheap ass whiskey” to recover 10 HP, your intoxication meter goes up. Drink into the red zone, and your movement starts strafing erratically as if you were stumbling drunk. Keep at it and your view will blur, you’ll vomit, and sporadically pass out – making you an easy target if there’s enemies about. Intoxication wears off slowly on its own, or can be lowered by eating food, which also restores health. As your gut meter fills from food, you’ll start farting uncontrollably. This allegedly alerts nearby enemies, but I was too busy shooting them to notice. If either meter is red, you can consume no more, leading to situations where you’ll have to sit and wait before you can heal yourself.
It’s a… strange system, frankly, that seems more tactical than it actually is. Most health items are now carried in your inventory (an immediately-gobbled bag of pork rinds being the exception), letting you choose when to take a nip of whiskey or munch on a Cow Pie to balance your health and biological meters. In practice, it just comes down to “don’t get drunk” – which just means a more frequent willingness to walk around with less than a constant 100% HP. You can also find toilets to pee in (by facing forward) or dump in (by crouching on them) to lower the appropriate meter, but the system just isn’t important enough to manage in practice. I read vague suggestions in promos that keeping your liquor and gut meters in the green (middle) zone has some beneficial effect, but I never saw it reflected in game, the manual never references it, and I suspect that feature got pulled.
If you’re familiar with any of the other Build games, then you’ll know how the engine makes these maps come alive. Redneck Rampage sports a wide variety of excellent texture work and faked lighting across the board. Windows and other breakable objects shatter, scripted explosions blow out walls, wandering chickens splatter into floating clouds of feathers if tagged by a stray bullet, and pickup trucks zip through backroads (and anyone in their way). Not all the locations are winners – generally the indoor areas like mansions or factories reuse textures too often and look bland – but there’s generally enough here to keep you interested in what’s around the next bend.
The gunplay, unfortunately, is a different story. For starters, there’s not enough enemy variation. Your two main foes are a skinny “old coot” with a six-shooter, and a fat guy in overalls with a shotgun. They make up the vast majority of your opposition in every level, and facing them gets awfully repetitive. And because these two contribute the most to any level’s population, it also means that their weapons – the pistol and the shotgun – end up being the ones you use the most. The shotgun is a terror up close (with the ability to tap “fire” for one barrel or hold for two), and the pistol has excellent range and power. However, both are slow, and frankly, boring. Ammo for the punchier weapons is usually too scarce to use on the regular folk, so much of Redneck Rampage consists of shooting the same two enemies with the same two weapons.
It’s a shame, because there are some fun weapons in there. If the fully automatic “hunting rifle” had more ammo across the board, I doubt I’d be complaining. However, it doesn’t, so I had to keep it on reserve to kill dangerous enemies quickly (usually, the dogs). The large alien guards must be blown apart after downing, or else they’ll get back up, so the dynamite crossbow gets saved for them. There’s a powder keg that’s utterly useless, and a sawblade launcher that’s not particularly deadly; both best forgotten. Finally, the alien arm cannon (pull the tendons to fire) and the Austin Powers-inspired machine gun jubblies are more creative than useful – both only marginally effective on the aliens, and too short on ammo to use on the clones.
The auto-aim system is also far more erratic than it should be. Usually, it works as intended; automatically targeting enemies on higher ledges so you don’t have to mess with the distorted freelook fakery. However, it frequently refuses to hit enemies behind objects (like trees, benches, chest-level hay bales) while they can easily shoot you. It tends to favor the local wildlife, like wandering pigs, cows, or chickens, despite you aiming directly at the geezer firing shells in your face. Chickens especially seem to draw your fire away from whatever you actually need to be shooting, while never actually killing the chicken itself. I don’t know if it’s abnormal hitboxes on the enemies or what, but it was a constant hassle that deserves special note.
Redneck Rampage is also a surprisingly difficult game. Part of this comes from the advanced enemies – namely the vixen, sheriff clone, and alien warrior – who take and dish out incredible amounts of damage. The vixen especially seemed able to hit me even through some walls, and on the harder difficulties, there were plenty of times when I was dead before I could even spot them. It’s not a great deal of fun to make significant progress through these fairly massive levels, only to get trapped and steamrolled by a giant alien guard blowing through to block your exit. Don’t forget to quicksave.
Equally annoying are some very tricky puzzles. Most shooters give you some idea of what your next goal is (“I need a key for this door”), but here, a number of non-standard setups leave you wandering around confused. Hidden switches will require mouselook to spot them, and every key looks the same, so you’ll backtrack extensively to find the right door. Other barriers require you to do something unique that you’ve never done before, and so don’t even know you can. There’s a box you can suddenly push to get to a ledge, which looks like every other box that you can’t push. There’s a spot where you’ll need to shoot a pig to get it to chase you, then lure that pig over to a ledge to give yourself a boost. It’s neat stuff, and sometimes clever, but some of them will almost require a walkthrough.
It’s also fairly buggy. The jumping dog and alien monkey enemies often get caught inside the level geometry and sometimes warp around to get unstuck. The dog in particular has a bite attack that seems to rip chunks from your health if he’s simply nearby, and regardless of his attack animation. Thrown dynamite bounces like a rubber ball, making it unnecessarily dangerous to use. Some sounds (like the toilet noises) always play twice, and even after you’ve walked away. The biggest bug/annoyance by far is that all enemy taunts are played at the same volume regardless of where you are, so enemies in the next room sound like they’re right beside you. I can’t count the number of times I spun around wildly looking for the enemy that was there, but not right there.
Universally receiving (and deserving) of praise is an excellent soundtrack featuring songs from Mojo Nixon, The Reverend Horton Heat, and The Beat Farmers. It’s thematically dead on – a musical tribute to the same country stereotypes lampooned throughout the entire game. Shooting through a backwoods dirt road while Mojo Nixon howls about how “UFOs are big rigs far from home” is about as perfect a match as you can get, and it doesn’t hurt that all the songs are pretty excellent, energetic, and funny on their own. The only downside, of course, is that there’s 8 songs in total. That will barely last you a few levels, and gets very tiring after multiple sessions. Eventually I suspect everyone will need to take the disc out and give the music a rest.
Enemy taunts are various cackles and country-twanged lines (“Git off mah land!”). You can spice these up with the optional “Cuss Pack,” which really isn’t as spicy as it sounds. Lines like “I’m gonna git ya!” and “Ow!” become “I’m gonna fuck ya!” and “Ow, fucker!” respectively. The pack also mixes up some lines, so Leonard talks about how hungry he is every time he collects ammo. The problem is that such heavily reused sounds as enemy taunts shouldn’t call attention to themselves like the Cuss Pack lines definitely do. Xatrix themselves acknowledge how repetitive this gets in the pack’s readme, and include a handy uninstaller. The files also live in the main directory, so you can specifically delete any you get tired of and trigger the game to use the default – very handy. You’re also able to drop your own audio files in the folder and have them used in the game, so it’s great to see that CyberVOX 2000 is alive and well.
Redneck Rampage has moments of greatness. But for every expertly-textured, inventive level, there’s another bland, brown factory, mansion, or underground mine level with an obscure puzzle stopping the action. Meanwhile, endlessly shooting the same two basic enemies, while the same music tracks blare over the proceedings, gets tiring quickly. I noticed there’s only two episodes (14 levels) instead of the usual three, and judging by maps like Nut House (which honestly feels unfinished), it seems like nothing created went unused. So to put it another way, I wish they’d spent more time on the game. The repetitive action can’t sustain the interspersed generic levels, and this is among the rare FPSs where about halfway through I’d honestly felt I’d had enough. Good enough if you wanna take a poke at it, but be prepared to lose interest before finishing.
Some excellent texture work. Levels reference all that is iconic about the American south. Funny – mostly juvenile – but funny. Ass-whompin’ psychobilly soundtrack.
Repetitive minions, tough alien enforcers, weak weapons. An even mix of good levels and pretty boring ones. Liquor/food system feels half-implemented.
“I farted, it’s wet, and I don’t wanna move.” – Leonard