Skate, shoot, survive. These are the foundational pillars that Rollerdrome is built on. It's set in a dystopian version of the year 2030 where a violent bloodsport is watched across the globe. Under new ownership, the International Rollerdrome Federation plans for this year’s championship to be its most popular yet. Among the chosen champions, a newcomer is chosen to participate. You lace up your roller skates as Kara Hassan.
During the brief tutorial, you learn that your guns are reloaded by doing tricks, you can dodge roll out of the sight lines of enemy snipers, and you can slow down time for a limited period as you shoot midair, ala Max Payne. Completing tricks, flips, and eliminations in quick succession gives you a score multiplier that really motivates you to stay in the action if you can. You will need to move faster than a toupee in a windstorm if you want to stay alive.
On paper, the concept of skating and shooting is overwhelming. Fortunately, the training wheels are left on in some regards. Kara has the ability to hone in on her opposition with a handy auto target system if you’re within the appropriate distance. And with cat-like reflexes, Kara has the ability to roll out of any fall, so you don’t need to worry about rolling an ankle if you’re unable to get your feet under you when you touch down. With these factors taken off your plate, you’ll have plenty of time to focus on your objectives at hand.
Rollerdrome takes inspiration from Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater (THPS) having 10 challenges to complete per level. You’ll only unlock the next level if you’ve completed a predetermined number of challenges across all the previous ones.
The modern gamer in me got frustrated at times when I’d beat a level by the skin of my teeth only to realize I hadn’t finished enough of the challenges to unlock the next area. However, the kid in me who grew up playing THPS enjoyed that when I replayed a map it would go much smoother than my first attempt, and it taught me to play each section more efficiently. The types of challenges you’ll be asked to complete span the gamut of doing tricks in specific locations, chasing high scores, or using certain weapons to kill enemies in creative ways.
Levels in this game are comprised of open arenas in globe-trotting locations. Indoor mall? Check. Research facilities in the Grand Canyon? Check. Mech factories in the mountains? It’s all there.
You’ll have four weapons in your arsenal that are unlocked as you progress through the campaign: dual pistols, a shotgun, a grenade launcher, and a crossbow. Each weapon has a rock/paper/scissors effect against your opponents, like riot shield wielding goons are immune to direct pistol fire, but a well placed shotgun blast will send their defenses flying. And there are marauders who will teleport to a new location after any non-lethal shot you take at them.This was annoying as is, but on top of that they’re equipped with rail-guns that launch devastating streams of blue fire that lingers on the battlefield for several seconds. One fully charged crossbow bolt puts them in their place. Experimenting and exploiting their weaknesses is essential. A quirk to Rollerdrome is that your weapons share an ammo pool. Because of this, you want to take advantage of the skatepark-like layout of each map, always pulling off your most stylish tricks to keep your ammo stocked.
Each level continuously spawns waves of enemies who are looking to make you eat pavement. When isolated, the competitors standing in your way aren’t very threatening. Your skills are truly put to the test, though, when you’re swarmed by opponents at every angle. Melee fighters pose no threat and mainly serve as fodder for regaining your health. Snipers are well telegraphed and require a quick press of the dodge button when the red line of death appears on screen telling you you’re in their sights. You’ll be chased by rockets that can quickly bite you in the ass if you’re not blasting them out of the sky before they reach you.
This game wastes little time holding your hand: the difficulty ramped up (pun intended) around the third level. Sooner than later, you’ll be longing for the simplicity of the first stage when you felt like an eight-wheeled murder machine. Seventy-five percent of the game will be spent panic dodging and crying while you wallride your troubles away.
Rollerdrome crescendos with two set-piece boss fights that require you to fight and climb your way onto the boss whose weak points can only be exposed by the gnarliest of skaters. These encounters require you to demonstrate everything you’ve learned up to that point. Striking that final blow to dismantle the big baddies in your path is exhilarating.
There are brief pauses in the action between stages where you explore the backrooms of the Rollerdrome universe from a first-person perspective. It’s safe to assume that the objects you pick up and the environments you explore fill in the gaps in the story of this universe. I say "assume" because I had zero interest in exploring these segments and found myself breezing past them to jump back into the battlefield as quickly as possible. Hey, I didn’t play Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater for the lore, so sue me!
All in all, the team at Roll7 has laid the foundation for an innovative series with fast and frenetic combat and an addictive gameplay loop. I’d like to be a fly on the wall for the pitch meeting where they ultimately landed on a roller skating/third-person shooter hybrid. What did they reject in the process, a Razor Scooter real-time strategy game? Your guess is as good as mine.
Rollerdrome is an 8 out of 10 game for me. Seeing a company greenlight a project that is so drastically different than what we get force fed on the regular is incredibly refreshing.
What’s your dream genre mash-up? Let me know in the comments below!