Atomic Highway Review

February 2, 2011

Ok readers, first off, allow me to apologize for Mondays lapse. As some of you may have heard, we had a wee small fire here at the house recently. Not to worry, no one was hurt and the damage was relatively minimal. Thing is, the only thing worse than the disruption caused by a minor blaze in the living room is the disruption caused by a major blaze in the living room. The last couple days have been a laugh-a-minute merry-go-round of packing up my entire living room, moving it to other parts of the house, replacing the carpeting and then moving it all back. And lemme tell you; you buy a couch as comfy as mine you’re paying for weight too. Five hundred pushups a week I do folks and that sumbitch nearly wrecked me.

In keeping with recent events I thought I’d review a game about another little phenomenon that has been known to shake things up ever so slightly; total global nuclear annihilation!

This week’s review is Atomic Highway by Radioactive Ape Designs. Ahhh, Armageddon. The very word summons up images of gritty, hard bitten warriors waging war for a tank of juice in a desolate no-mans land that looks suspiciously like the less tourist-friendly parts of Australia. That, or Ben Afleck getting chased around an oil rig in his underwear by a shotgun-wielding Bruce Willis. Good God do I watch too many movies or what?

But, as usual, I digress. Remember this guy?

Well, back before he went completely off the rails he made two amazing post-apocalyptic movies and one that proves even box office giants will do damn near anything to make the mortgage.  These and a great many other films of varying quality were the inspiration for Atomic Highway.

Atomic Highway is set in a future where civilization has gone down harder than a drunken debutante at a frat party. Where gleaming cities once marched across the landscape and humanity numbered in the billions there are now scattered little settlements of ragged-arsed survivors barely hanging on from one day to the next. Roving gangs raid travelers and tribes of nomadic neo-primitves roam the wastes looking for food, shelter and whatever bits of old-tech they can scavenge. Life is hard, dying is easy and genetically twisted mutations abound.

Into this merry setting stride our intrepid heroes. That’d be you all, the PC’s . While Atomic Highway doesn’t offer classes and races as such it does provide players with a list of potential Rearings and Pursuits to form the foundation of their character. Rearings are where you’re from, how you were raised. Pursuits are what you do for a living. Each one gives you a starting set of Skills as well as some basic gear that you can build up further using the four initial skill points you get to start with.

Once you figure out who you want to be you get to build it. As with the Serenity RPG, Atomic Highway is based off a point-build system. In this case, you get eighteen D6 to spread around between seven Attributes. These are Muscle, Understanding, Tenacity, Appeal, Nimbleness, Toughness and Senses. Just for fun take the first letter of each word and tell me what they spell. Nice touch that, on the part of the writer.

After selecting your Attributes you get to pick you skills. The list provided in the book is not ultra-comprehensive and you can make up new ones if you feel the need. Everyone starts with four skill points to start. In both cases, Attribute and Skills the number of points you have represents the number of D6 you get to roll when performing an action relevant to that Attribute or Skill. Any sixes you get are successes. Ones are….not your friend. Remember what I said about dying being easy? Yeah, like that.

Of course, nuclear fallout doesn’t just clear out the sinuses. It’s been known to relocate them over the left side of your noggin. Or possibly your elbow. To that end Atomic Highway offers players the option of playing mutants. During your character creation you can either opt to be a  mutant of essentially human stock with a few hiccups in your DNA or a humanoid animal. The rules for both are pretty easy to understand and there’s even a very small section on optional psychic powers. So if you’re a Furry who has dreamed of taking your telekinetic otter persona on a motorcycle tour of the end of the world you now have the means to do so.

Of course, being a mutant isn’t all spandex and   green-skinned women who can double as a flotation device. In fact, in Atomic Highway it’s hardly any of that at all. Mutants, while possessed of some advantages, such as natural armor, claws or echolocation are also damaged. Dull senses, speech impediments and an inability to digest any food outside of a very limited range of items are among the potential genetic speedbumps waiting for you down Mutie Lane if you decide your character really would look better with prehensile feet and toxic saliva. And that’s not even considering angry mobs of bigoted norms or bounty hunters who see you as a potential payday. So think before you freak.

Of course, no game about life after the collapse of civilization would be complete without a selection of armed and armored vehicles tearing across the wastelands in a hail of crossbow bolts and automatic gunfire. True to its name, Atomic Highway delivers in this regard as well. Certain Pursuits, such as the Outrider, Raider and Road Warrior get a beginning pool of points to build their own custom vehicle with.

The chapter on vehicles provides a list of basic templates to start off with. From there you can customize your ride, adding weapons, armor the like. The addition of vehicular combat adds an extra level of fun to the games and encourages the use of mini’s. Plus it stays true to the genre’, enhancing the experience of being in your own post apocalyptic movie or novel.

There’s a good selection of gear, of both the general day to day stuff everybody needs and weaponry. As a bit of a gun geek I tend to be pretty unforgiving of less-than-lethal firearm statistics in a game. Let me just say that I didn’t have that problem here. The sample character offered up in the character creation section is a pretty buff dude with sixteen Health. A single attack from an assault rifle has the potential to do thirty health damage. So don’t get overly itchy to start spraying the lead around unless character creation is your favorite part of the whole RPG experience.

The book offers up a short opening adventure scenario and a few sample beasties and bad guys but with such a wealth of supporting films and fiction it isn’t really necessary. Ditto with the gear and skills. If you don’t see it and think it’s needed, stat it out and put it in.

Now, lest you think this is one big love-fest there are a few flaws with the book. Mostly it comes down to relative placement of information. For instance, how you get Fortune points –a device to help you stack the odds in your favor- is located two pages after how you use them. Ummmm barkeep? One large Whiskey Tango Foxtrot please. Neat. Same thing happens with the weaponry stats. Call me crazy but it seems you should at least put a paragraph on the mechanics of burst and auto-fire in next to the descriptions of the guns themselves. Instead of waiting thirty additional pages to give you that information!

All in all though, this is a solid game. It started out as a labor of love by the creator Colin Chapman and turned into something far more playable than the average “Hey I think I know how to design a game.” project. The company website has additional tips and errata. Plus there are some supplements available either for download or hard copy purchase though you need to go to either Amazon or your FLGS for the hard copy. Irradiated Freaks offers an expanded look at mutations with additional flaws, species and benefits.

All in all this is a solid game. The $30.95 price tag makes it a decent buy for gamers on a budget. The fan support in the forums offers additional resources in the form of art work, PC’s and NPC’s, paper mini’s to print and adventure scenarios. Plus the nature of the game lends itself equally well to extended campaigns or a beer n pretzels smash-‘em-up.

So if you’re looking for something fast, fun and gritty to play, pay a visit to your local FLGS. Lay down your thirty bucks, strap on some leathers and spike and head out into the wasteland!





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