This review is for the recently released PS4 version of the game from Hopoo Studios.
The “roguelike” genre is becoming increasingly popular as of late, particularly with regards to console players. Once regarded as the nichest of niche genres, indie developers have recently begun making serious efforts at bringing this type of game into the light by emphasizing the reward and moving the focus away from the daunting and sometimes unfair gameplay. Popularized by games like Rogue Legacy and Enter the Gungeon, roguelikes have seen a revival that seems to have some real staying power.
Risk of Rain is one of the latest iterations of this genre, and it’s also one of the very best. While it does suffer from a few rough spots, I feel that no game is entirely perfect and all suffer from some manner or another of nuances. But at the end of the day, are the challenges and frustration worth your time?
When the Levees Break
Risk of Rain offers a selection of several different characters that all have unique abilities. In the case of the PS4 version that I’ve played, there are four abilities and are themed around your character. The Commando, for instance, is focused on combat capabilities and killing. The Enforcer instead focuses on defensive utility and a powerful short range shotgun. This variety splits things up nicely and gives players a lot of choice in how they play.
The other key element of gameplay comes from the variety of items that you’ll find scattered about the level. According to the story, our heroes were aboard a cargo ship when it crash landed on a hostile alien world. Your job is to recover the lost cargo, survive the ordeal, and stop whatever is responsible for the crash in the first place. You can gain items in a few different ways, but primarily they are gained by paying for them with money that you collect by defeating enemies. Some items are plainly visible in a set of three, so that you can decide what you want; others are locked away in chests and will require a risk. There are even statues that guarantee nothing and are akin to gambling, with the price for an attempted item going up each time. Either way, you have many avenues to success, and there’s no limit to the number of power-ups you can carry. And if you happen to find a duplicate item, the effects will stack.
The goal of each level is to collect as many items as possible, find the exit portal, summon the boss, and survive. Once you signal for teleport, you need to survive for 90 seconds. Once you do, and you’ve defeated all the enemies you’re allowed to move on to the next level. You keep all of your items, but any spare money is converted into experience points to level up your character. Levels are not persistent, and when you die you start from the beginning at level 1.
Finally, the longer you stay alive, the more difficult the game becomes. A timer is placed on the right-hand side of the screen along with a meter, and it steadily climbs from Very Easy to Very Hard. This is intended to prevent you from dawdling but also to make sure the challenge meets you in a level fashion. Presumably you spent all that time gathering really powerful items and leveling up, right?
Retro is New Again
Visually there isn’t a lot to remark on, except to say that the game is clearly focused on it’s gameplay elements, while still making the rest of the game look very nice in an understated fashion. Environments and enemies are rendered with the same 8-16bit love that your character is designed in, but they managed to make weapon and ability effects look pretty distinguishable from everything else. On the whole, everything looks nice and clean, and it was easy for me to see what I was doing and whom I was fighting.
Most games in the roguelike revival have been in the style and vein of retro or old school, but fortunately they’ve remained pretty unique so far. I don’t know if the trend can hold, but for now it works.
While Risk of Rain does present a definite challenge in the form of simply being a roguelike, I definitely feel this game is worth the time and energy that you’ll pour into it. It may take a few attempts to really get into the swing of things, but I have little doubt that most people will find themselves absorbed into the rich gameplay elements and unique setting of the game itself.
The game also features local and online multiplayer, so you can invite friends along for your planetary journey, which adds a ton of replay value. Do yourself a favor and pick this game up at your earliest convenience.