Not counting games that require physical movement like Nintendo Switch Sports, it’s been a while since we reviewed a game that truly made us sweat like Rollerdrome.
True to its name, developer Roll7 is on something of a roll, having already launched a blinder earlier this year with OlliOlli World. But if that game felt like a wonderfully welcoming and wholesome escape that nonetheless retains its hardcore 2D skate sim roots, then this slams the gear in the opposite direction taking us to a fully 3D dystopian future filled with relentless ultra-violent action with barely a moment to catch your breath.
With a cel-shaded look that reminds us of last year’s Sable but with none of the chill vibes, as underscored by the dark synth-wave soundtrack, think Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater with guns and where everyone is trying to kill you and that would sum up this bloodsport of the near future (2030, to be precise). Straight out the gate of the tutorial, this game has you on the edge of your seat as you try to make your way to the top as a Rollerdrome champion. But can you keep up?
Set in a variety of deadly arenas around the world where you traverse on roller skates in third-person, a Rollerdrome match tasks your plucky upstart Kara Hassan with killing other human enemies who gradually spawn into try and eliminate you. They come in different varieties, from melee grunts to heavies who generate shields right after they’re hit, not to mention the pesky ones trying to snipe you from afar.
Considering you don’t have to aim to fire (bar one certain weapon unlocked later) and also don’t need to worry about getting a perfect landing like in OlliOlli, the combination of skating and shooting might sound pretty straightforward, especially as you can also slow down time by holding the left trigger to fine-tune your target when there are multiple enemies, projectiles or traps on your sights. However, ammo is limited and you’ll often run out after unloading on one tough enemy.
But then that’s where the skating element comes in because the only way to refill your ammo is by performing tricks around the arena. These can be air spins and flips or perhaps most easily just grinding on the rails available, and naturally the more tricks you can pull off, the more you’ll refill. Even more useful is being able to pull off a perfect dodge to evade an attack, and then squeezing the left trigger to activate Reflex mode. In this slowed-down state, not only do you receive a refill but your attacks are also given a boost so that even your dual pistols can knock away a brute’s riot shield leaving them exposed.
Too much, too fast
When your brain can keep up with the demanding momentum, blowing away grunts, catching some air that refills just enough for you to take down a sniper on higher ground before evading a brute’s shield stomp and emptying your clip then frantically looking for the next trick reload, Rollerdrome a breathless kinetic rush. That sense of living on the edge also comes from netting a kill with vanquished enemies dropping health refills a bit like the new Doom games, giving you just enough to keep going when your own health bar is in the danger zone.
The problem is that it does all come overwhelmingly quickly as the obstacles mount from having to evade sniper’s laser sights to homing missiles on your tail, or the proximity mines that just suddenly dropped in front of you. Sure, you’ll be able to dodge-roll these, but we’d also prefer the ability for much tighter turning than Hassan’s skates allow, which results in one too many moments of falling out of bounds or not being able to turn around to take on an opponent. In just trying to survive wave after wave of the relentless onslaught, we also find ourselves routinely forgetting to perform tricks or also switching to a better-suited weapon, if we even have the ammo to make use of it at that moment.
Just surviving isn’t enough either, as you also need to complete a set number of challenges in each stage before you can progress further in the championship, which encourages replaying levels to do better (we certainly were lucky if we could even scrape a C grade on our first attempt) and tick off challenges like hitting a set combo kill, grabbing all the collectables, or being able to pull off a trick or kill in a specific way. Fortunately, you needn’t re-run the whole gauntlet, as once you’ve earned a tick on one challenge, you’ll keep it even if you decide to quit the level immediately afterwards.
Every little helps
The world of Rollerdrome, occasionally seen through Hassan’s eyes in all-too-brief snatches in between stages, may be harsh and care little for who’s eliminated in this dangerous bloodsport, but the game itself is luckily more accommodating. Indeed, players who have played OlliOlli World will be glad to know that there are just as many accessibility options including dedicated difficulty modifiers so that the action is more manageable.
Want to adjust so that you take less damage from enemy attacks, or just be invincible? Want to have infinite ammo instead of needing to pull stunts every time, or not have a timer for entering slow-motion? You can do that and more, and even set it so that you needn’t complete the set goal of challenges in order to see the championship through to the end. It’s certainly welcoming to have these options, though customisation is lacking elsewhere since you’re playing a fixed character and you’re very much prescribed with the mantra of kill or be killed.
Still, devil-may-care thrill seekers will relish the challenges the game puts up, especially once you reach the post-game, which offers another championship season in the form of a Nightmare Mode. Frankly, it’s hard to imagine mere mortals surviving this mode without even a little aid, but whether a level finishes with the camera cutting to the screen turning yellow as the last enemy falls or turns blood red as it pans to the foe who landed the killing shot, it’ll be only after you see either that you’ll be able to catch your breath once more.
As the second title to come from Roll7 this year, Rollerdrome has an almost quick and dirty feel of something very focused on what it wants to be, in this case a hardcore adrenalin-pumping ultra-stylish, ultra-violent new sport of the future.
Although the suite of accessibility and difficulty settings will mean you’ll not necessarily find yourself seeing the Eliminated screen and stand a chance to adapt to this brave new world, we still have to consider the game at its default setting. With that in mind, it does ply on a little bit too much from every direction at every second, often quicker than you have time to react or make sense of all the mechanics at your disposal.
There are some terrific ideas here taken from some of the most stylish and coolest action games around, and when you do enter the zone, it’s one of the most exciting games you’ll play this year that keeps you on the edge of your seat. For those still enamoured by OlliOlli World however, you might prefer to stay in Radlandia for a little while longer than face this dystopia.
An ecstatic rush of sci-fi sports and dystopian carnage that may be a little too much for some to handle.
Looks and sounds terrific
Great suite of accessibility and difficulty options
Movement and turning not as as tight and responsive as can be
Can get overwhelming very fast
Not much to the story