Developer: Xatric Entertainment Publisher: Interplay
First released in 1997 for the PC
Video game violence is nothing new.
So you might not have heard much about the 1997 cult “hit”, Redneck Rampage. Which is to be expected, considering. The first thing to remember is even at the time, Redneck Rampage was anything but a good game. It just wasn’t a good game, it had lots of technical problems and at the time, its engine was just powerful enough to limit its market, whilst just crude enough to ensure those who DID have the kit required to power it wouldn’t have touched it with a fifty foot barge pole, and even then, that may be a conservative estimate. No, Redneck Rampage wasn’t and isn’t a good game.
That doesn’t mean it isn’t a fun game though.
That seems like a massive cop-out, when I’ve already pointed out the game isn’t a good game, but quality is in the eye of the beholder at the best of times and whilst it clearly even for the time didn’t quite match up to its rivals in terms of build quality, it more than made up for it in just outright comedy. In 1997, we had Turok: Dinosaur Hunter, Blood, Goldeneye 64 and a little thing called Quake 2, which is where I spent many of my hours in that era. All great first person shooters, all technically fantastic and tight and interesting, but truth be told a little light on humour. This is where Redneck Rampage certainly found favour; it compensated for that lack of polish and shine with the most ludicrous concept… well… possibly ever.
Okay, the plot. You play as Leonard. You’re a backwater Hick of the stereotypical kind, and you’ve been sleeping in your pick-up. Suddenly, aliens appear and make off with your prize-winning pig, Bessie, and that’s just not on. You can take anything from a man it seems, but you lay off his… uhh… pig. Or something. Co-incidentally, running parallel to this plot, is a sub-plot that aliens are invading and cloning the local populous – clearly intelligent life doesn’t quite exist off this planet in this case. It’s also creating a new race of hybrid-human-alien things to replace people by infecting or tainting the meat supply (so vegetarians would probably be able to form a resistance movement. I’ve been waiting a long time for that gag. A very, VERY long time!). It seems like utter chaos but effectively the principle is the same as in any first-person shooter; grab guns, shoot stuff that tries to hurt you. And there’s a lot of things trying to hurt you, unfortunately the aliens got a bit too carried away with the cloning and there are only a few actual enemy types – which is a pity, but this is to be expected of a game of the era. We’re kind of spoiled today with so much variety, it’s hard to remember an era when enemies were just copy-pasted all over the map.
When you look at the overall design of the game, regardless of how good it looked at the time, building on the BUILD Engine – used in Duke Nukem 3D, no less – meant that it was even at the time a bit creaky, and a bit resource-heavy. The maps have no consistent flow, and there is no real sense of an ultimate goal, leaving you to wander about aimlessly trying to find the keys and secrets necessary in order to find Bubba, Leonard’s rather dim friend, and smack him upside the head with a crowbar (you couldn’t get away with that these days…). The maps aren’t terrible to look at, are large and expansive and open and interesting, but ultimately because of their size and scale and with so little enemy cluster at times, and so little to do, they can feel rather sparse and empty. Of course, that’s part of the charm; the fictional town of Hicksville is still very interesting and quite nicely designed considering, but Turok had nice open levels and didn’t quite get to the point where you felt hopelessly lost and confused. Which is why this isn’t a terribly good ‘game’, as such, because other games were delivering action in more considered, intelligent ways.
Mind you, a game based around a backwater swamp town full of Hill-Billy clones can never be accused of being intelligent. But scratch away at that poor design work and you start to find that it covers up a multitude of quite nice ideas, all implemented with more wit and intelligence than you’d initially give it credit for.
For example, there is a wide variety of animals around the place. Cows, chickens, pigs and dogs give even the most docile, barren area a touch of movement and life where none should really exist, and all can be shot. Mutant mosquitoes hover around to be whacked to death, and they add a slight hazard in certain spots. Many of the things we take for granted now – such as proper strafing and visual cues – all happen in this game, putting it oddly at odds with other games of the era. The selection of weapons is smart, wry and clever; you do eventually get an alien gun, but really, alien invasions will do that. Can’t really invade without weapons now, can you? *looks at George W. Bush* Oh… umm… never mind. You do also get the obligatory era-standard sexist moment, as the Alien Vixens drop a pair of twin-mounted machine guns. What are they mounted to? Well… a bra. And to use them… oh yes, you guessed it. Do you feel pretty yet?
There is further evidence of this in the little details, like alcohol. Drink a little, and you become a little more resilient. Drink more and you can’t walk straight, your vision becomes blurred, and too much – hello vomit! Pork rinds act as your de-facto method of healing. The sound effects have a proper sense of style and weight, even this far on, and the soundtrack – well, the soundtrack is sublime. A classic and crazy selection of rock-country tunes, both wildly inappropriate and utterly hilarious to boot. Dubbed “Psychobilly”, it’s a rip-roaring selection of toe-tapping, ear-smashin’ goodness and whilst it does tend to drown out some of the snappy one-liners in the game, it always has you humming along and enjoying the music. It’s odd to think that the music still holds up, as long as you don’t take it too seriously.
Which is the thing with Redneck Rampage; no, it’s not a well-crafted experience. But it’s heart is sort of in the right place, and that changes everything. When a game is marketed with the slogan, “All the Killin’, Twice the Humor and Half the Intelligence”, you can’t exactly complain when it isn’t the smartest, most polished or forward-thinking sort of game. And yet, in so many ways, it really was ahead of its time. A game rooted in the sublimely ridiculous, with those little details; signposts and checkpoints to give you a sense of bearing, being able to explore more widely across the landscape, with a sense of humour throughout that dominates everything and with a soundtrack that is so addictive and enjoyable, you quickly forget that the areas feel a little bland and that the overall objectives are crass and stupid and obtuse. You forget that it wasn’t even especially well-coded, with plenty of technical issues that could stall and crash computers of the era. Even its newer version via places like Good Old Games don’t appear to have addressed some of those issues. It’s a shame.
Still, the game was successful enough to enjoy two whole expansions; yup, the game got expansions. In the late ’90s. Neither were terribly good, but that’s again missing the point. Many will claim this game is deeply offensive, and again, I’d agree but it is also missing the point. People enjoy things like Jack and Jill, and Sex and the City 2, both of which are terribly offensive but they found an audience; people could look past the truly horrid bits, the crass and grotesque misuse of concepts clearly way out of their league, but people did like them. People bought them. Redneck Rampage is the classic game that demonstrates this perfectly; it’s not politically correct, it has a lot of swearing in it (moreso if you grabbed the extra “swear pack”), it’s crass and misogynistic and just utterly wrong in every regard. But it’s also clearly, unashamedly taking the piss at every opportunity and that perhaps is what makes the game ‘work’, so to speak. The game is almost an answer to the overtly-serious tone that many first-person shooters were taking, even Duke Nukem 3D. Maybe that is giving it credit that it doesn’t deserve though. Perhaps I am giving its creators, Xatrix Entertainment, a plaudit that it never should have been given. But looking at it today, it’s clearly a parody or a satirical glance of the era; it’s so utterly asinine and stupid that you take it apart, logically and mentally, undoing it piece by piece and finding those layers. Even if it was unintended, there’s something about Redneck Rampage that actually appears to hint at an intelligence it is so clearly desperate for you to not see; with silly little pictures and notes laying about which you can only assume are in-jokes or something similar.
In an era where most first-person shooters are Über-serious, almost to the point of redundancy, Redneck Rampage is a reminder of a time when just being silly was enough. It is daft, and insulting, and crass and frankly yeah, probably an indication of some deep-rooted grudge or dislike of the Deep South. That will never change. But it’s also a reminder of an era when these risks were taken, and grafted into video-game form. In an age where we’re so concerned about Call of Duty and Battlefield, Redneck Rampage is lounging on the porch, gun in hand and a bottle or ten of Jack on standby. We’re so concerned about the tone now of video games; but that’s where Redneck Rampage works in a modern context. It’s an industrial point; one of quite perplexing depth. In comparison, many first-person shooters of today seem positively timid and bland in comparison, safe and serious, not wanting to take a gamble, not wanting to push the boundaries or take a risk. The guns and gore of today are nothing compared to what games could get away with in the 90’s (Turok 2’s Cerebral Bore a very serious case in point!). We want to think games have become more offensive and violent, but a look back at anything other than the usual suspects of Doom and Quake will give you a real sense of what we were doing in the era. We were blowing alien women up with sticks of dynamite strapped to crossbow bolts, we were sawing people in half and watching the pixelated core up close and personal. Today, most people prefer their sniper rifles and fixed turrets in order to keep some distance from the action. We didn’t always have that. So we got messy, horribly vulgar and overly-large guns and weapons that were designed not to kill outright, but maim in a horrendous fashion.
For all the discussion about violence in video games, most long-term gamers like myself wonder what all the fuss is about. We’ve been there before, and often with much more distasteful material. Redneck Rampage needs to be remembered – it happened, let’s stop pretending it didn’t. It was crass, sexist, vulgar, encouraged reckless alcohol consumption, violent, gory, stupid, dumb, misogynistic and totally inappropriate on levels that perhaps are yet to be discovered by scientists; and yet, the sensation is so overwhelming and done with such a heady mix of love and contempt, with a great soundtrack and a total lack of regard for the rules, somehow it defies every sense and sensibility you have and comes out the other side smelling somewhat of roses. It’s so wrong, so utterly wrong, that somehow it’s right. It’s true that most people don’t know of the game. It’s true that most who go off and find it now would wonder what the hell I’m on about and how I can see good in what is, effectively, a terribly crude example of late-90’s video game excess. You might be right. I remember this from its first time around; old enough to know better, and yet young enough and immature enough to find it instantly hilarious. Running it once again does fill me with a terrible sadness; good memories, of my and my friend loading it up, hoping we wouldn’t be caught playing something so nasty. But it’s that nostalgic sadness, knowing those days are gone.
The funny thing is, I’m a very full-grown adult now and loading it up still feels naughty. It still feels slightly forbidden, a game that you really shouldn’t play or enjoy but is a sort of strange guilty pleasure you can’t quite explain away. No, it’s not a good game. But it’s precisely because it’s not a good game, that it feels so good to play. It’s that extra slice of chocolate cake, that sneaky extra beer from the fridge, that item in the bottom of your shopping cart/trolley that you forgot to put through the checkout. It’s the lingering and still quite obvious idea that it is quite naughty that continues to keep it somewhat fresh and interesting and fun, be you fifteen or fifty. You can’t quite get away from it. This is a bad game. You know you shouldn’t be enjoying it. And therein lies the conceit; it’s the idea that you shouldn’t be enjoying it that surprises you, because somehow you… you do enjoy it.
And you can’t really explain why rationally. It’s just a huge massive joke. A comedy of errors, almost literally.
The only thing I know is that playing it once again, I squealed like a piggy with joy. I know I shouldn’t like it. But I just do. It seems so long ago now, and yet it seemed you could get away with far more then than you ever could now. The world can continue to moan about the typical first-person shooters of this era; they don’t know better. It’s a media storm now. Back then, we didn’t really always make the connection; which seemed to mean games like this actually got to market without making a huge fuss. PC Gaming was… well… grown up. For the adults. Mortal Kombat? That was on consoles. Consoles were still breaking free from the whole “for kids” thing.
Redneck Rampage will never get an HD re-release… damn, can you imagine the media reaction to it?
… on second thoughts, I’d rather like to see that happen…