Saturday, March 2, 2024
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Graveyard: Road Trip

by Staff

Key Takeaways

  • The early 2000s saw a mix of high-budget and lower-priced games, including the weird and now iconic Katamari Damacy.
  • Road Trip offers a unique blend of RPG-like improvement to vehicles and car-to-car conversations, with a variety of characters to interact with.
  • Despite some flaws, Road Trip’s open world gameplay, multiple paths, and risk/reward elements make it an enjoyable racing and exploration experience.

Watch your step, for you’ve just entered the Graveyard. Inside, we’ll be digging up games that have long been without a pulse. You’ll see both good and bad souls unearthed every month as we search through the more… forgotten…parts of history.

The early 2000s were an interesting time for gaming because you had a lot of AAA-level games, but also a ton of lower-priced AA-level games that in some cases would come out at rock-bottom prices brand new. Katamari Damacy was a weird game from Namco, and they released it at $20 new to test the waters with this bizarre series and now nearly 20 years later, it’s just a normal part of their re-release strategy every few years. The long-running Choro-Q series was popular abroad, but didn’t have a niche in the US and Conspiracy released the super-deformed racing game/car-based RPG as another budget release for PS2.

Road Trip blended not only a slew of different car types and tracks for a traditional racing game, but stood out more than anything on the market because it provided an RPG-esque level of improvement to vehicles and car-to-car conversations — very much like what we would see years later with the Cars film franchise, but in a playable format. Players can roam around the world and find new races or opt to stay in one area and do a blend of races to build up cash reserves for upgrades and also take care of side quests for NPCs. Every main area in the world also has a variety of photo ops alongside hidden sections to explore for either an additional challenge or bigger rewards.


There are a lot of characters to interact with in the grand scheme of things, but generally they’ll fall under the guise of either being an ally, rival or someone who wants to join your racing team and having that kind of world-building in a racing game is rare even today. It’s fun to drive around just seeing the sights and run into someone who wants to join, or who wants you to do a small fetch quest for them. One area the game does suffer with is its usage of an old map style — so you will eventually get where you need to go, but you’ll probably take a wrong turn or two getting there. Thankfully, due to how much you can do in it, there’s usually something good that will come from that and rare stretches of nothing to look at or do to move things along.

That’s one unfortunate part of any open world game — no matter how great it is, even something like Ocarina of Time is hurt by having a vast world and nothing to do in it. Here, you may have large stretches from one main area to another to move the plot along and find new races, but there are at least other vehicles to interact with and shops to buy things from. Races net a fair amount of money and allow you to either do a series of them in a row to build up money faster to do upgrades or you can piecemeal it and play it by ear on upgrades.


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I found that it was more fun to do a race, then explore a bit, and do small tweaks. Going with a constant race mentality works if you’re more limited in time, but can lead to the tracks getting old. One nice thing with Road Trip is that most locales do have multiple paths to explore — so one side may send you into an amusement park ride, while another can send you into an above-ground enclosure to take a riskier, but faster route with more sharp turns. There’s a risk/reward element in play there that makes each playthrough fun and I loved failing and then trying again with greater success the second time around.

Going through the RPG-esque adventure mode is something that everyone should enjoy if they’re in the mood for a blend of exploration and racing, although the pace may not be for everyone. It’s somewhat of a slog in terms of meeting everyone, racing all the races, upgrading everything and changing up vehicle looks over time. It is a joy, however, that when you’re in the mood to simply race, Road Trip has you covered with a race-only mode too.

That’s a great way to learn the courses without the increased time investment of the adventure mode, but given that only adventure mode progress really counts, then it’s usually better to try and race once in quick race to learn the track and then see if you can nail things down in adventure mode to make more efficient progress and limit re-racing the same courses. Some courses are trickier than others, with the temple stages in particular being ones that require a lot of trial and error because they have tight turns and can send you veering off-course if you aren’t careful.


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In a lot of modern games, you would either be reset automatically or hold a button to be reset. That isn’t the case here — a mistake can’t be rewound and you have to manually fix your track position and in a crowded field, you can go from a top five position into the back of the pack quickly. When that first happened to me, it made me appreciate just how many modern quality-of-life features racing games have now versus 20+ years ago, which doesn’t seem like it was all that long ago, but it wasn’t until the GRID games in the late-’00s where rewinding became a somewhat standardized feature.

Visually, Road Trip’s bright colors and exaggerated art style have allowed the tracks and cars to age wonderfully. Cars are full of detail and while the game uses unlicensed car bodies, you can get a feel for the vibe they’re going for with things like high-end sports cars and exotics. The environments themselves largely look fantastic on-track, but the adventure mode being so wide open does result in a lot of fog being visible and that can be a bit distracting. Framerates are nice and consistent across the board though and never get bogged down by a lot of on-screen traffic – a rarity for the time, especially on the PS2.


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Audio-wise, Road Trip has effective sound effects and a light soundtrack that’s easy to listen to, but doesn’t stick with you much after a play session. The soundtrack works for the bright nature of the game, but its lack of memorable tracks hurts things. The sound effects are also far from ideal, with collisions lacking any real impact either visually or in terms of a nice crash sound effect. Still, with everything else hitting it out of the park, Road Trip remains a easy game to recommend for modern-day players, and with the lack of licensing, it’s a shame it hasn’t been re-released on the PS4 or PS5 as a Plus game.

As it stands, the game would be a fantastic fit on those services since it didn’t get much love even in its own time and digital re-releases on modern hardware would allow it to get much-needed love. It’s a rock-solid endeavor in every major way other than having lackluster music and overall sound design, but there’s never been anything quite like it since even with the Cars movie concept being similar to this and having a ton of racing-centric games. It’s impressive how well this lower-budget title has held up over the decades and a revamp of this concept with some of the rough edges smoothed out would be welcome.

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