Rollerdrome - Shotguns At The Roller Disco
Roll7, the crew behind the devilishly addictive OlliOlli franchise are back with what is arguably their most ambitious title yet. Rollerdrome is, for all intents and purposes, a mix of Max Payne and Tony Hawk, slow-mo shooting with sick and slick tricks. It takes the addictive, score chasing nature of Roll7’s previous works and inserts them into something that feels unique and fresh and as a result, creates a must-play experience.
The setup for Rollerdrome is one we have seen before. A futuristic gladiatorial sport has swept across the world and you play as its latest rookie recruit. Countless sci/fi titles have followed this route, think Rollerball or The Running Man, and like these titles, Rollerdrome hints at a corrupt and degenerating world outside of the sport. Sadly though, it doesn’t do much with this world-building, with very little in the way of story being explored. There are tantalizing hints that the players may be a part of some form of rebel organisation, looking to stick it to the corporate overlords, but alas that never plays out.
That’s ok though because the gameplay is sublime. Rollerdrome feels like a string of amazing design choices coming together to form a unique and addictive experience. The game is structured over 13 rounds of increasing difficulty, with enemy types and variations being added as the game progresses. Each round sees the player skate onto the course with the aim to take out all of the enemies on the map. The catch is, to refill your ammo tricks like grabs, grinds and spins must be performed. Further to this, the only way to recover health is to kill enemies. This creates a need to be both constantly performing tricks as well as taking down the opposition. Aggressive and stylish play is rewarded and a constant flow between shooting and tricking is the key to success.
The game offers four unique weapons and mixing them up can make a world of difference. The auto-locking shotgun and dual pistols as well as the free aim rail gun and grenade launcher all have unique traits, strengths and weaknesses. For example, the grenade launcher is perfect to take mechs out but has only two shots so firing rapidly then immediately refilling the ammo with a grind or grab is a must. The game includes a handy bullet-time mechanic that has limited use so managing when to use it, especially in the more hectic firefights can be the key to victory.
In fact, learning all the tricks of the game is a must because there is no escaping that Rollerdrome is a healthy challenge. That being said it is a well-balanced one. I never felt cheated or cheesed when I died, only a desire to do better the next time around. I died through my own actions, not because the game was unfair or cheating. Each map consists of 10 challenges, much like how maps in Tony Hawk are set up. There are score challenges, combo challenges, collection challenges, kill challenges and specific trick challenges and to get all of these, even on the first map, is a mighty effort. Once again, much like Tony Hawk, the real key to the game is mastering these maps and completing everything they have to offer.
The graphical style is both very much in the vein of Roll7’s previous games, yet in a new direction. It keeps their previous titles cell-shaded, cartoon stylings but takes it in a more realistic direction. This once again adds to the unique nature of Rollerdrome, there really isn’t anything else out there that looks like this game. If there is a fault with the graphics it is that there could be more colour variety in the maps. There is a lot of brown, white and grey, with very few splashes of colour. It does make things feel on the drab side at times. The sound design is simple, yet appropriate, with nothing standing out in either an amazing or terrible way. It does the job without being overly impressive.
If I had one fault with an otherwise amazing game it is the controls. Not that they are bad, they just get messy in the heat of battle quite quickly. Switching weapons while aiming and doing a 360 nosegrab is quite the complicated set of inputs so it is easy to muck things up. Roll7 wisely made it so that players can’t stack it (they will simply roll and keep going,) which keeps things moving without added frustrations, but sometimes I did wish for extra fingers to do everything the game was asking of me, especially in the later levels. Like I said previously, this is a game that asks quite a bit from you and nailing those asks can take quite a bit of practice and more than just a slice of luck.
As good as Roll7’s games have been in the past (and that is pretty darn good) Rollerdrome, for mine, is easily their most enjoyable title. It effortlessly combines the best parts of two very different genres creating something unique and thrilling. The joy of score and challenge chasing is addictive and satisfying, while the gameplay is tight and engaging. There are some slight issues with controls getting a little crazy in the heat of battle and some underdeveloped story beats, but these are minor quibbles in what is one of the best games of the year. Rollerdrome deserves your time, it deserves your effort and most of all it deserves your love. Rollerdrome could well be my indie game of the year and it could well be yours too.
Rollerdome was reviewed on the PS5 with code kindly supplied by the publisher.