RAD

RAD

Written by Rob Larkin on 9/16/2019 for PS4  
More On: RAD

The roguelike genre kicked off in the early 80s with the ASCII based Rogue game that was run from a Unix terminal.  The core concepts are that death is permanent, but the end-goal remains the same on each run, and the procedurally generated levels and varying rewards along the journey make every try different. It becomes very much about the journey as, while there may be similarities between playthroughs, no two will be exactly alike. 

For me, what sets a Roguelike game apart from the pack, is just how easy it is to jump back in once your last run has ended failure (or success, but most likely failure). Was the world itself engaging and vibrant, a place you'd like to spend more time? Did the procedural layout make sense? How was the pacing on the journey until that point? How cheap was your demise? 

As far as world building is concerned, RAD does an excellent job. The basic plot is such that you pick your character skin to trek off into the wasteland, one of the last remnants of humanity after the second apocalypse. The world is a radioactive hell-scape lit up in 80's neon but as you progress and fill your radiation meter with experience will undergo a wild mutation to unlock a random new ability or power. You collect up to three on any given run, dramatically altering the play after that point and allowing you to tackle enemies in wild new ways that the melee of your trusty bat you originally set off with can't compete with. Snake heads, wings, acid feet, add new ways to traverse the world, support compact, or provide ranged options to take down foes. The entire world isn't just cell-shading backlit in 80's neon, but the 80's vibe is etched throughout. This is where the title, RAD, pulls double-duty not only acting as the means of your progression, radiation, but also the central fabric of this very narrative, rad - the seminal term that defined 80's vernacular. The soundtrack is a greatest hits of generic synth music. Your character styles, currency in floppy disks, menu graphics, and even narration take the retro-feel and it is all pulled off rather well. I really must admit I never got tired of the narrators' smokey booming dulcet of a voice shouting out "LOADING" as a new game spun up or "PAUSED" every time I actually hit the pause button. It was chuckle-worthy at first but immediately popped in my my mind that it might soon become annoying, but the whole look and feel is pulled off with such earnestness and honesty that it never actually did. So yes, RAD ticks the first box, this is a world I enjoyed trapping through.

And the procedural layout makes sense too, another box ticked. There is a basic loop where you wander the horizon searching for totems that will unlock a cavern. Sometimes there are other sub-dungeons that can be used to traverse across gaps and grab some sub-abilities or run into a shopkeeper here and there, but for the most part the loop is to unlock the door to progress to the next boss room and eventually on to the next level. There isn't a great deal of challenge in these open areas. Most enemies are fairly easily dispatched once you learn their abilities and attack patterns. They're mostly just folder to slowly etch up the rad meter and unlock those mutations. But the boss rooms are another story. I've heard it said about anesthesiologists - apparently the job is mostly boredom for 7 1/2 hours then sheer terror for those 30 minutes when you a re putting a patient under and their life is on a knife's edge. That's in many ways what RAD feels like to play. Ho-humming along until the boss room and the you are overwhelmed by three giant beasts at a time each with a healthy life bar of their own. 

But it's not the wild mood swing in difficulty that is the real problem, it's the fact that if you aren't blessed by the random mutation gods to get good perks, you're in for a real uphill slog to get through a given game. And for the most part, no progress from previous playthroughs carry over. Sure you can bank some coin to give you a leg up next go, but each time out the randomness seems to have too much sway in the outcome. I suppose if that's what you're looking for in a roguelike then consider it an attribute, by for myself, I've been playing (and thoroughly enjoying) Into the Breach too much lately on my Switch not to feel there is a better way. Let me choose that one ability to carry over into the next life, leaving plenty still to chance, and I'd be all the merrier. That way I get to chose how I want to set my own difficulties. I also guaranty I have a chance to hone in on those skills lost too soon that I may have only just discovered before I go down and might not see again for a very long time.

All and all it's not so terrible. It does keep each run fresh as well as keep you on your toes with each run, and you can unlock certain minor perks, endo-mutations, for purchase in future runs to help absorb fire damage or run over toxic pools. It's just that in many ways the game never lands in that "just one more game" sweet spot that I am haunted by with other titles that nail the carry-over, like Into the Breach. Knowing that little boost I get to bring into those early levels next go ensures that early game slog is that much less sloggy. To go back to swinging a bat from a leveled-up heat seeking skull missile or egg spawning companions is not the open invitation into the next run it could be. 

So the pacing is a little stop-start, and while the runs are fresh they lack the addictive qualities of some others because the task looms large with every start. Despite the boss difficulty ramp I wouldn't call the deaths cheap. They still follow attack patterns that can be deciphered and regardless of how fortunate you might have been with mutation upgrades the arenas are large enough that a patient player has a puncher's chance. So overall I'll give it a pass on the gameplay loop. It's not nailing that out of the park for me, but it's not done a bad job either. Overall that puts us in a great position with RAD: engaging world, check; intelligent design, check; pacing, ok; cheap deaths, nope. If it just had that little bit extra to lead me into my next run I would have been all-in. 

An engaging 80's world is the playground for a romp through a procedurally generated dungeon crawl. But it's not really the changing landscape that spices up the experience, its the wildly shifting abilities earned via in-game mutations that drastically alter one run to the next. The package oozes style and has enough substance to back it up. I just find it lacking that last little bit of polish to help me decide how I want to play, not how the random number generator is going to direct me.

Rating: 8 Good

* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company.

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 First picked up a game controller when my mother bought an Atari 2600 for my brother and I one fateful Christmas.  
Now I'm a Software Developer in my day job who is happy to be a part of the Gaming Nexus team so I can have at least a flimsy excuse for my wife as to why I need to get those 15 more minutes of game time in...

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