Game Reviews

Rad Review

Saving the world one mutation at a time.

by William Schwartz

Leave it to Double Fine to bring us the Double Apocalypse.  Because that’s just what has occurred when you enter the world of Rad.  At a point in history where survivors are left with no other recourse than to head out into the world to replenish their power supply.  The elders of the settlement send the children into the world to find this replacement for a failing power source.  Why children?  Well, apparently their youthful bodies are able to utilize the mutations that you’ll find in the game and that’s what Rad is all about — finding mutations and heading deeper and deeper into the vibrant post-apocalyptic, 80’s inspired wasteland.

Rad is a roguelike with an isometric view point where the game’s focal point is melee combat.  It follows a pretty familiar structure within the rogue-like genre. Stop me if you’ve played one of these.  You get one life and start at the beginning of the game each time you play.  Your goal is to make it to the end by purchasing and unlocking power-ups, each one gives you the ability to help you get a little bit further.  While most modern roguelikes have this familiar structure, it’s the stuff on the periphery that set them apart from one another.  Rad’s periphery is that you’re banking currency to be used on successive runs, while unlocking new weapons and traits to be used on any given run through the game.  It’s not all that different from other games of this type when it comes to the rules of the game, and other than the mutations mechanic the game seems to be cut whole cloth from other games in this genre.

Rad is a rogue-like coated in everything 80’s

rad-portal

What is different is the aesthetic. Rad is soaked in 80’s aesthetic. From the neon lighting and color palette to synth music blaring in the background. From the sights and the sounds, to the omni-present announcer belting out era-specific quips and the currency of the world being tapes and floppy disks. If you’re a fan of the neon 80’s era, Rad is that. From a presentation standpoint, Rad is somewhat unique in its character models and in the look of the world. Instead of a dreary apocalypse that has been done so many times before, Rad is full of bright colors and great music and that does a lot to keep you pushing for one more run.

The isometric view point does make it stand-out from others as well. The gameplay of Rad is focused on melee combat as that is the weapon you’ll start out the game with.  Used in tandem with a roll mechanic, you’ll be trying to kill the enemies in each world map with a bat.  Doing so can earn you a variety of things.  Enemies can drop tapes, which can be used at various vendors for powerful items and artifacts.  They can drop floppy disks which can be used to open locked crates or secret doors.  They can drop random items as well.  Killing enemies also earns you radiation points, which are constantly building to give you new mutations that change up the moment to moment gameplay with changes to your character’s abilities, strengths and weaknesses.  For example, you may unlock a mutation that gives you a companion that fights alongside you, or an ability to control enemy units, or the ability to use your flaming head as a grenade.  While these are all examples of “Exo” mutations which are actively used, there are plenty of endo mutations as well which unlock passive abilities.

rad-mutation

Unlock active and passive abilities each time you play

This mutation system is the crux of Rad.  It’s the differentiator in this game and certainly does its job in making each run feel unique. The mutations that you find in each run of the game will be random, allowing you to experiment naturally with different combinations. Though you really can’t change what you get, you can push for new mutations as quickly as possible, and that’s done by the aforementioned method of killing enemies, but you can also unlock points on the map which give you a radiation boost, as well as purchase or find items that can give you a quick boost as well.

rad-in-world

Using a combination of the mutations you’ve unlocked and your melee weapon your objective in each level is to access statues which will open a door to a boss fight.  Beat the boss and you’ll get a power-up and then you can either head back into the hub world or head to the next level. The hub itself feels somewhat barren at first, but after you’ve unlocked new weapons and purchased items from the vendor things will start to come to life and give you a reason to return… somewhat. Heading back between levels does give you the opportunity to bank your tapes that you’ve found for future playthroughs, and you’ll find the NPCs in the area have different reactions to the mutations that you return with. What might have been a little nicer in the package is something that keeps the carrot dangling in front of you while playing the game and heading back to the hub world.  Aside from the NPC characters commenting on your appearance and your mutations, it takes some serious time before you piece together the different things you can do in the hub area.  While roguelikes are almost always light on story, there’s an interesting premise set at the beginning of the game that isn’t really touched as you head back and forth between the hub world and combat areas.

A combination of a great presentation and enjoyable combat make it a rogue-like worth checking out

While Rad doesn’t necessarily set the world on fire, largely sticking to a set of standards from the games of this type, a combination of presentation and tight combat do it put it in a good spot for roguelike fans. Mutations are a lot of fun to experiment with and there’s a nice difficulty curve that feels more natural than other games of this type. The more you play, the more you come to grips with the combat system and the abilities that you have on a given run. Mastering enemy attack patterns, snappy controls, and the randomness of each run do give it that all-important “just one more run” feeling that the good games in this genre will give you.

The Verdict

Rad is about what you expect from the modern rogue-like game in terms of features and structure.  If you dig the 80’s aesthetic, or rogue-likes in general, there’s a game that you can sink many hours into here.

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Rad

  • Available On: Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC
  • Published By: Bandai Namco
  • Developed By: Double Fine
  • Genre: Roguelike
  • US Release Date: August 20th, 2019
  • Reviewed On: PlayStation 4
  • Quote: "Rad is about what you expect from the modern rogue-like game in terms of features and structure.  If you dig the 80's aesthetic, or rogue-likes in general, there's a game that you can sink many hours into here."
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