The year is 2030. Synthesiser music, roller skating and denim jumpsuits are back in fashion and a brutal bloodsport that combines all three is taking over the world. Welcome to Rollerdrome.
The concept of the game is pretty straightforward. You play as Kara Hassan, a rookie in the International Rollerdrome Federation, a competition that involves armed players on roller skates duking it out in last-person standing deathmatches while looking as cool as possible in the process. Not only do you have to kill everything in sight but you need to pull off skate tricks to rack up your score if you want to make it as the Rollerdrome champion.
The game is essentially a genre bend of an extreme sports game and a third-person shooter. A kind of “Max Payne’s Pro Skater” if you will. It’s a perfect blend and I’ll admit I can’t think of another game that has tried it before. Of course, the challenge for the developers was finding a way to combine the two genres effectively and this is where they struck gold. In Rollerdrome players are armed with a variety of weapons, but ammo is only replenished through pulling off jumps and grinds across the arenas. You can’t simply shoot everyone and ignore the extreme sports element and vice versa. Not only does this make the game more challenging but it also makes the game feel super stylish and cool to play.
Zipping around the course and pulling off skate tricks while hunting down bad guys is an intense experience and thankfully the game features “bullet time” which allows you to slow down the gameplay in short bursts. This allows you more time to think out your next move which is a very welcome addition to the game to give you a brief respite from the action. This is very much because the game requires your total attention from the get-go. You need to keep an eye on enemies, your surroundings and ammo levels, not to mention all the tasks that you need to complete around the level.
Apart from just killing everything in sight, each level has a checklist of things to do, such as collecting tokens around the map, pulling off specific tricks and kills, or just beating another competitor's high score. Although you can move on to the next map without completing all the challenges, you do need to collect enough across all the maps in that round to move on to the next one. Thankfully, they are varied and interesting enough to stop them from feeling like a tedious grind.
As you move through the rounds the difficulty ramps up considerably. You start training by fighting against guys with studded baseball bats but by the end of the game, you’re facing off against enemies with rocket launchers, lasers, sniper rifles and jetpacks, not to mention giant robots that look like Netgear routers. The dodge button will quickly become your best friend as there is always something trying to kill you.
Although most of the game takes place in various combat arenas across the world, there are small exploration sections where we learn more about the game world we’re playing in.
This revolves around a megacorporation called Matterhorn which organises and funds the sport. Through ephemera scattered around the game, we start to build up the story that as civil unrest across the world grows Matterhorn wants to crank up Rollerdrome coverage, presumably to distract the population from whatever nefarious deeds the company are up to. Far from being a dystopian vision of the year 2030, it feels like a warning of the way we’re heading, especially coming from a UK-based development team.
These sections are interesting and feel rather poignant. Wandering around the changing rooms, stuck on a delayed train waiting to arrive at the arena, the whole mundanity of them juxtaposes with the brutal intensity of the combat perfectly. I’d like to have seen more of it, but I understand why the developers have decided to subtly hint at something sinister going on beneath the surface of the game and let us join the dots ourselves. It also breaks up the action sections nicely without becoming a distraction.
Rollerdrome is not a long game, but it’s a very challenging one. Somewhat ironically considering the game’s plot, Rollerdrome requires you to switch off your brain to all external distractions and focus solely on the screen. But this is what makes it a perfect pick-up-and-play game. You can just as easily spend 15 minutes or 2 hours with it and still enjoy the experience. Much like the game’s setting, it’s a throwback, but this time to the golden age of arcade coin-ops, where the key to beating the game is simply practice and concentration. Thankfully, unlike the arcade, you only need to pay for the game once or you'd probably need to take a loan to complete it.
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