Fond Memories – Roadwar 2000

fond memories roadwar 2000

Ok guys, what if I have mystical powers? Last week I reminisced about Ogre, an ancient C64 game and two days later I was playing a modern beta remake of it. I figured I should take this week’s Fond Memories article a little more seriously. What ancient game would I most want remade?

fond memories - roadwar 2000 - sweet cover
80’s technology is inferior to our own in every way except feathered hair maintenance.

You’d think it’d be tough to think of one given how many fantastic games came out for the system. But it wasn’t at all. I want to play Roadwar 2000 (well, Roadwar 2030 to maintain the same level of futureness). Tell me you wouldn’t back a kickstarter with these features and kickass cover:

  • open world post apocalyptic map covering all of North America (even Canada!)
  • lead a gang of mad max style maniacs in search for a cure
  • loot, maintain and upgrade dozens of realistically modeled vehicles
  • deal with local factions and take control of cities: Renegade National Guardsmen, urban gangs, mutants, cannibals. Some will join, others will die.
  • detailed turn based vehicle combat – speed, acceleration, maneuvering, ramming, firing angles etc. Put your disposable needy (just more mouths to feed!) on the outside. Sure they’ll die quick but they might get off a volley first.
  • followers rise through 5 levels – from useless to powerful Armsmasters
  • food, medicine, fuel, tires – you must provide it all. Will you cram a massive gang into buses and 18-wheelers, consuming everything in your path? A tiny band of elite commandos, light and nimble in motorcycles and sports cars?
  • permadeath, procedural – no two games alike
fond memories - roadwar 2000 - toronto
Only visit Toronto when it’s nice and green out. Make sure you’re in California by winter, with the rest of the Canadians who can afford it.

The game would absolutely hold up today with a modern skin. Turn based vehicle combat is somehow still fresh. Darkwind is the last game I played that touched on the idea. If you add modern conveniences, some crafting, a bit of CYOA – the game practically makes itself.

The set-up wasn’t original even in 1987. Virus -> mutants -> fall of civilization -> Mad Max. But some settings are cliche because they’re awesome vehicles for storytelling. I don’t need an excuse to wear chain-mail and run around with a sword and I don’t need an excuse to loot crumbling cities and maintain a fleet of deteriorating station wagons (don’t laugh – they have the best fuel efficiency to cargo ratio).

There’s something extra chilling in playing such a game on an actual map of your continent. Making it across the states and into Toronto and then settling in to liberate the city makes it personal. Roadwar did a good job of imbuing each place with a bit of its real world flavor. Looting Detroit rewarded you with a fleet of powerful cars and ready access to body shops to upgrade them in.

So Hard

The whole thing was deliciously grim. Games tend to have barriers on their failure states. Darkest Dungeon is a very hard game but losing an individual mission can’t derail the entire campaign. At worst you’ll lose 4 replaceable heroes and face a grind leveling up new ones. Roadwar can cascade from relative comfort and success to total failure in depressingly short time. A powerful gang with 6 upgraded vehicles bristling with warriors and weapons can fail when a minor encounter damages the 18-wheeler that carries their supplies.

Stranded they can try to loot the sparse countryside for a replacement vehicle, every hour bringing them closer to nighttime and possible mutant attacks. They can abandon it and the all the carefully looted supplies it contains, their other more nimble fighting vehicles having small trunks already full with extra fuel.

By morning the scouts have failed or died without finding anything sexier than a tractor. Mutants threw themselves at you all night until ammo was depleted and your men were reduced to knives and bats. When daylight breaks you’ll consider yourself lucky to limp out with a single vehicle and a handful of survivors, no better off than you were hours of gameplay ago. The basic choice – giant, safe gang that consumes too many resources or small maneuverable gang that can fall prey to larger numbers never really gets easier. Your crew level up but only in ranks, not in specific skills. They never become as deadly as regular RPG characters do and so you can only concentrate so much death dealing into each unit. And they must eat and take up space which is you need for fuel, ammo, spare tires and so forth. You never settle down and build fortifications and farms, there is no comfortable safe state.

fond memories - Roadwar 2000 - city combat
High speed vehicular combat on dense city streets will void your complementary insurance.

Tying it all together and making sure that most of the failures truly felt like your fault and not the game’s harsh and pernicious RNG was the agonizingly slow, detailed tactical vehicular combat. All the careful maneuvering that serves you well in other hex games goes out the window when dealing with units with momentum. What seemed like a brilliant 70Mph strafing run with your prized corvette a few rounds ago can end up as heartbreaking hood ornament for a barely noticing 18-wheeler.

While you’re trying to track vectors across a dozen intertwined vehicles the game tracks facings and cover levels for the occupants. Finding yourself next to a yellow school bus laden with psychos makes for a crew shredding broadside.

Like many commodore games of the era, I never finished it despite sinking hundreds of hours. To even activate the story required tremendous success. Once the player controlled a number of cities they would be contacted by the last remnants of the government forces trying to cure the virus. From there they must find and ferry 7-8 scientists across the world. I’m not sure I ever managed to return even the first one to where they were supposed to go.

fond memories - roadwar 2000 - bmw
BMW stands for Break My Window

So there you have it vague universal entity that might be listening. Road 2000 (2030) with light crafting, more RPG and license real world vehicles so I can ram BMW’s with my Jeep.

If you don’t fully trust my direct link to the divine you can play the original, it’s easy to find on any of the abandonware sites.

<update: I don’t fully trust my magical powers either. I want to play Roadwar now. I was going to emulate the C64 but I’m going to try the Amiga version instead – should be quite a bit nicer and have mouse support. If you feel like doing the same you’ll have to download an emulator (I used FS-UAE), a kickstarter Rom and the actual game file. I’ve never tried emulating an Amiga game but the instructions are pretty clear, it took about 5 minutes for the entire process. And since it’s 1987 there is not tutorial or tooltip in sight – read the manual.>

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I want good games to be discovered. Running this website seemed like the most direct way to do that.
2 Comments
  1. Road 2000…this game SOOO brutal, you can start your game and get immediately killed while searching on your first action in the game.
    The amiga version is the best one indeed since it got mouse control and menu which simplify the need to remember all the hotkeys and it got colors which means you can tell better which cars are yours among the wreckage and enemies on the map.

    Sadly, the game didn’t age well in terms of the UI, for example, the tactical car combat, there is a big problem of knowing relative location of each unit and that’s because you can’t cycle through your cars and the enemy cars to see their locations on the map thus forces you to scroll tile by tile on the entire map with the directional keys which take time.

    Then we have the taking over the city which the manual doesn’t explained how it works, how do you get sick, what is RNG based or what use the sending scouts option in term of game mechanics.
    the game got good setting and interesting deep management machnincs….once you actually get a good start and having the power of save/load also help a LOT.
    BTW this game had a sequel called Roadwar Europa (http://www.mobygames.com/game/roadwar-europa) if you want to try it.

    • Galp 11 months ago
      Reply

      Yes, the UI is absolutely brutal. But like all the games of that era it’s also kind of efficient (not in combat) once you memorize all the shortcuts. Every game did things it’s own way though with no standardization. I don’t know how many games I accidently quit because years of ultima conditioned me to hit “q” to “Quaff potion”.

      I played for a few hours and then tried Europa. With the help of a guide I finally took over a city for the first time (a mechanic, that as you say is completely unexplained and unintuitive). Also found the special cities for the first time (that give double fuel efficiency or thicker armor). In retrospect this has to be one of the most obtuse games I ever played. I spent hundreds of hours on it and didn’t complete even a tiny portion of the actual game. But I guess that’s also a testament to it’s quality. You could just play it as an open world Mad Max simulator indefinitely and have fun.

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