I believe the last time I traveled a digital world on skates was Jet Set Radio Future. That game, much like its predecessor, would open up with a black screen filled with a warning: “Graffiti is art. However, graffiti as an act of vandalism is a crime.” It was ironic, considering the game’s theme of youthful rebellion against the man. Vandalism is a crime, of course. But so is wanton murder unless, as seen in the similarly cel-shaded Rollerdrome, said murder is for entertainment purposes only.
Rollerdrome is set in a retro-style dystopian future, where the eponymous blood sport reigns supreme. You play as the up and coming Rollerdrome competitor Kara Hassan, who enters the arena in a bright red jumpsuit and white helmet. Survival in the ring means dodging bullets, missiles, and long-range sniper fire, all the while pulling off some pretty sick tricks.
Get in on the action
Rollerdrome comes to us from Roll7, the makers of the OlliOlli skating series, but don’t expect it to be nearly as cheerful. While the two include a colorful aesthetic, Rollerdrome is steeped in action and violence, and winning means leaving corpses in your wake. Granted, there’s no gore to speak of, and bodies vanish after death. Still, it might come as tonal whiplash to any who are fans of Roll7’s more lighthearted series.
Rollerdrome may not impress fans of more hardcore skating games, either. If you’re hoping for a Tony Hawk game, but with roller skates and guns, Rollerdrome gets close but not close enough. You can charge a jump and catch some air off mounds or half pipes. Holding a button and a direction in mid air lets you break into a fancy trick. However, there’s no real complexity at play. Tricks are easy to pull off and damn near impossible to screw up. Hell, even if you somehow beef a jump and end up falling face first toward the ground, Kara still manages to miraculously will herself into a safe position and continue skating on.
Pulling off tricks is instead more of a means to an end. And by that, I mean killing fools. Doing tricks, grinding rails, or dodging sniper fire in the nick of time awards you ammunition for your guns. It’s actually a fun system that works far better than I imagined. Sure, in most games with guns you often just run about and blast away. But Rollerdrome asks: why can’t you fire and look cool while doing it? Most matches will see you shooting an enemy or two before you make your way to a half pipe, grab your skate for a fancy flip, and listen to the satisfying click as ammo is slowly added to your weapon.
In practice, it makes for an excellent time. It does take a bit to warm up to the movement and combat flow. But once you do, killing and tricking flow naturally, leading to some truly exciting gameplay moments. Holding a button (left trigger on a controller) sends you into bullet time, where smaller guns like dual pistols and the shotgun auto-aim at the nearest target. Once you figure out each weapon’s quirk’s, like narrowing the shotgun’s aim for a slug shot, the system clicks. Soon enough, I was flying high from a half pipe, tricking for ammo, hitting the slow-mo to drop an irritating sniper (as I was sailing over them), and tricking again for a few extra bullets before my skates even returned to the ground. It’s great fun!
Blood on the asphalt
That’s not to say Rollerdrome is a walk in the skate park. Levels are separated by rounds starting with the Opening Stages leading into Quarters, etc. I was warmed up after the early stages, but things got hot in the Quarters. Bat-wielding thugs, snipers, and shielded brutes make up the early rounds. But in the Quarters I had to deal with teleporting snipers whose guns fired lasers that left trails of burning blue flame. I could only report on the first six levels for the preview, but by the end of those I had to face waves after waves with these snipers leading up to a fight against a small mech firing homing rockets and belching fire. Don’t feel bad about dying and restarting; I know I had to. Enemies do usually drop health on death, but it’s not always enough when things get this spicy.
Rollerdrome does wind down sometimes, going into first person during short story moments. During these sections you can walk through areas and read sticky notes, browse your email, or snoop around on retro computers that would look at home on a set of Aliens. I don’t know yet what kind of story Rollerdrome is going for, but I imagine it’ll open up as progress is made through the game.
So far, Rollerdrome has just about everything it needs to be great. The gameplay is fast and thrilling, with a gradual difficulty curve that feels natural. Its cel-shaded aesthetics are nice, creating a comic book appearance. I also enjoy its myriad arenas, especially the outdoor ones with biomes including snow and desert. If anything, I only find the game’s lack of colorful commentary to be a downside. For a game about a world-popular blood sport, only having a voiced announcer for the start and end of rounds feels like a missed opportunity. The ’80s synth soundtrack is great, but let’s get someone in the commentator’s booth.
Rollerdrome will skate and blast its way onto PC on August 16.