Rollerdrome seems like a pretty significant departure for Roll7, a studio known more for its side-scrolling skateboarding platformer series OlliOlli. The best description for the game would probably be Max Payne’s Bullet Time-esque shooting meets Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater, except on rollerblades and way more dystopia. A synth-laden ride through bloody (yet sparkly clean) arenas where there’s very little time to stop and think.
But while the fundamental gameplay can be crudely described as such, jumping into Rollerdrome reveals an engaging title where completing objectives and refining that perfect run is as essential as gunning down goons. Conversely, knowing enemy placements, weaknesses and which weapons to use in each situation, along with which targets to prioritize, is as important as collecting Combo Tokens and performing tricks.
"The narrative isn’t necessarily a key part of the game but it isn’t throwaway either."
Rollerdrome is set in a retrofuture which, to no one’s surprise, kind of sucks. Smartphones and the internet haven’t been invented and people’s main form of entertainment is Rollerdrome, a bloodsport where the odds are almost hopelessly stacked against its participants. As Kara Hassan, a new entrant to the arena, players must complete objectives and slay the House Players, slowly rising through the ranks to become the league champion.
Before jumping into some levels, there are first-person sequences where, as Kara, the player can walk around environments and learn more about the world. Rollerdrome’s sponsor, a megacorporation called Matterhorn, is committing some unsavory acts outside the arena and rebellion seems to be at an all-time high. You’ll also learn bits about Kara’s backstory, the other participants, and more from pieces of lore scattered about.
The narrative isn’t necessarily a key part of the game but it isn’t throwaway either. If anything, it’s understated enough to focus on the action while offering plenty for interested players to piece together. The action is always at the forefront, the glitz and glamor demanding one’s attention. It almost mirrors how Matterhorn wants the world to conveniently ignore its excesses, not thinking too hard about the truth for the sake of entertainment. Not that there is a whole lot to delve into, especially when it comes to the characters and how they evolve through the campaign, but what’s there is serviceable enough.
"Completing each level requires eliminating all threats and not dying in the process but in addition, there are a number of other objectives."
All that aside, it is the gameplay where Rollerdrome really shines. From the outset, Kara is armed with dual pistols. There are no ammo pickups – to refill any weapon’s magazine, one must earn points. This can be done by performing tricks like grabs, flips, grinds and wall-grinds in addition to dodging attacks. Momentum is maintained without pressing forward on the Left Stick, which affords more time to think about shooting and where to go.
Defeated enemies drop health, which is pretty essential since you can’t tank too much damage. The third resource is Reflex Time, activated by pressing L2 and serving as your de facto slow-mo. While the handguns have auto-targeting, other weapons like the shotgun and grenade launcher require Reflex Time for functions like the more powerful Slug Shot or carefully aiming explosive projectiles.
Each enemy has their own role to play, whether it’s the bat-wielding thugs taking a swing as you pass by, the shield-wielding enemies that slam down in a shockwave, or the heavies that fire homing rockets. You’ll quickly loathe the snipers tracking you from a distance but dodging their shots at the right moment helps activate Super Reflex, which deals more damage than normal Reflex Time. Taking advantage of this is key for quickly bringing down the bigger targets.
But just when you think that’s all Rollerdrome has to offer, it starts throwing other threats into the mix which require careful dodging, maneuvering and ammo management to beat. Completing each level requires eliminating all threats and not dying in the process but in addition, there are a number of other objectives. While any number of them can be achieved during a run, you’ll need to complete a certain amount to advance further through the league. Objectives can range from collecting five Combo Tokens in a level and performing certain tricks to damaging two enemies with one grenade shot or building up a 25x combo which requires regular slaying of foes.
"Nevertheless, there’s an excitement to be had as well, especially as you’re crashing through glass or dodging damage on low health, slaying foes while the in-game heart rate is through the roof."
It can get pretty overwhelming, especially when you’re trying to get your bearings in the middle of all the action, performing some tricks for ammo while desperately avoiding damage. Knowing the right angle to approach certain ramps, walls and jumps in each arena, all while dodging sniper shots and mines, can also take some doing. The tutorials do a good job of drilling each mechanic into you as time goes by, but actually performing them while everything tries to kill you, that too within the time limit, can be a challenge at first.
Nevertheless, there’s an excitement to be had as well, especially as you’re crashing through glass or dodging damage on low health, slaying foes while the in-game heart rate is through the roof. Focusing on navigation and how momentum is carried while also planning for certain jumps by holding the button down well in advance, as opposed to right before a ramp or half-pipe, also takes some getting used to. Otherwise, the controls are smooth and responsive with the DualSense’s feedback feeling great (especially when the telltale “click” rings when running out of ammo).
Rollerdrome’s cel-shaded visuals look great and mesh well with the retrofuture bloodsport aesthetic. The music is also noteworthy for its mix of 70’s style pulsing synthwave, though it may get repetitive at times. Some of the indoor environments may also feel a bit monotonous, but they look absolutely clean, and each level is well-crafted, facilitating both tricks and combat to a clever degree. Though there aren’t a boatload of different levels in the campaign, you will be revisiting each regularly to complete different objectives and improve your final score. It’s fun to learn and improve on your fundamentals, slowly but surely grinding your way to the top.
"The overarching gameplay and atmosphere, combined with the responsive controls and wealth of options, makes Rollerdrome worth checking out."
For those who want to relax every now and then, there are a number of accessibility options including unlimited ammo, not having to complete objectives to unlock later levels, and so on. So if you want to sit back and complete the campaign to see everything that Rollerdrome can throw at you, and maybe come back later to dust off any remaining objectives, then go for it. Of course, those craving an even tougher challenge can unlock Out for Blood, an even tougher campaign with more challenges to offer.
Those who appreciate a tough, skill-based experience, whether in shooters or sports titles, are encouraged to give Rollerdrome a shot. It’s challenging but fair while offering a unique blend of shooting and platforming. One could make a case that it’s too short, but the true value is in replaying its levels and improving your skills on top of appreciating the beauty of gunning down foes while performing a 360 Front Flip in slow motion.
It may not possess the most immediately impactful narrative with the most memorable characters, but the overarching gameplay and atmosphere, combined with the responsive controls and wealth of options, makes Rollerdrome worth checking out.
This game was reviewed on PS5.
Cel-shaded visuals look clean and sharp while the dystopian aesthetic feels unique. Synthwave music suits the chaotic action to a tee. Controls are comfortably responsive, making for some smooth combat and skating. Excellent arena design with optional objectives that provide a reason to revisit and retry each level.
Sometimes the action can get a bit too hectic. Not much by way of the narrative and characterization. Music can become a bit repetitive overtime. Some environments may also feel a bit too familiar. Even with reasons to replay, base campaign feels short.
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