Rollerdrome: Making Extreme Sports More Extreme – PC Review
Following up this year’s excellent 2.5D skater OlliOlli World, Roll7 and publisher Private division are back at it again with the chaotic third-person shooter Rollerdrome. Heavily inspired by late 70s and early 80s sci-fi trashy dystopias, Rollerdrome is a fight to the death on rollerskates. It doesn’t reach the flow state heights of OlliOlli World but comes very close with an excellent feel, plenty of tricks, and great slow-motion gunfights.
“Evocative open scenes to explore crop up every couple rounds to break up the high-octane action.”
Taking place in the near future of 2030, Rollerdrome plays its plot straight with little to no irony and some restrained ultra-violence. You play as Kara Hassan, a newbie in the Rollerdrome championship, with the backdrop of a corporate police state takeover, who conveniently now owns the gladiatorial sport under the corporate umbrella Matterhorn. It’s basically a roller derby one-versus-all with some guns and explosions thrown in.
The scenario and characters do take a backseat to the gameplay, but what Roll7 manages to slip into the game is excellent. Evocative open scenes to explore crop up every couple of rounds to break up the high-octane action. There are conversations to overhear, notes to read, and objects to examine. These provide context and meaning and draw out larger-than-life characters like prior champions who’ve become corrupted and egotistical and others who turned in with revolutionary forces. It’s great, and it adds a lot of personality to the game in a short time. Though given the quality, I wish there was even more.
“Trying a challenge repeatedly messes with the flow of play and removes focus from perfecting great lines.”
There are four rounds in Rollerdrome with four levels in the first, three in the second and third, and one in the finale, along with a bonus remixed hard mode available after completing the main campaign. Each level also has 10 challenges like beat this score, do this trick or kill this enemy with this weapon. But unlike OlliOlli World, completing a certain number of these is necessary to progress to the next round. Well, kind of. If you are okay with not having your scores submitted, you can turn off this requirement in the assist menu, alongside a full suite of other accessibility features.
Not to spoil the review, but this is the only real issue I have with the game, which is hardly an issue since you can just turn it off, almost as if Roll7 realized it was a bad idea to begin with. Grinding out challenges in Rollerdrome isn’t that fun given the late-game challenge and the fact it just doesn’t feel that great to do. Trying a challenge repeatedly messes with the flow of play and removes focus from perfecting great lines. An arcade score requirement to continue would have been a far better option than forcing a clumsy challenge system.
“It becomes a game of managing and controlling the arena, nudging it in the direction you want while teetering on the edge of a quick death.”
However, this does not ruin the actual meat of Rollerdrome, which is a fantastic innovation and execution in the extreme sports genre. Unlike similar movement-based action games, Rollerdrome doesn’t trim much off either end of this genre mashup, seamlessly weaving each element together. On rollerskates, you can perform grinds, grabs, spins, and flips, and of course, combining them in lines or single tricks nets you greater points and multipliers. Now while you skate, you also have to take out a variety of challenging enemies. Snipers, mechs, rail gunners, and more present unique challenges and strengths and weaknesses, constantly pushing to switch between weapons.
At first, this appears like a lot to be doing at once, but Roll7 has some brilliant and obvious solutions. To encourage tricks and combos, they are required along with dodges to get universal ammo for your weapons. Different weapons require more or less points to get a bullet. Given how chaotic a match can be, you are also given a generous slow-motion mode for graceful kills, and most enemies cannot move far from their initial spawn. Still, in exchange, you have to deal with heat-seeking missiles and other devasting area of effect attacks. With some spatial awareness and careful dodges, they can even turn into another tool for ammo regen.
Despite a brash first impression, there’s even room for strategy in a match. Launching off half pipes and grinding along the edge of arenas gives you time to take into account what enemies are on the field, keeping the pacing from being too relentless. Likewise, some enemies pose more threats than others. In contrast, basic melee house players are best to keep alive unless you need health or are ready to proceed to the next wave of enemies. It becomes a game of managing and controlling the arena, nudging it in the direction you want while teetering on edge of a quick death.
“Hyper-detailed with flat colors, it has a recognizable look drawn from pulp comics and with the palate of the American southwest.”
What ties it together with an extra layer of finish is the thin-lined cell-shaded look. Hyper-detailed with flat colors, it has a recognizable look drawn from pulp comics and with the palate of the American southwest. As many will point out, it’s reminiscent of comic greats like Geoff Darrow and Mobius, similar to the recently released Sable. Adding to the artistry is a synth-wave soundtrack, this time more early 80s with a little less bass and kick, almost inspired by the waves of proto-electronic and synth-based music. Essentially think late 70s austere sci-fi soundtracks, but a little more danceable.
Aside from its questionable challenge-based gating, Rollerdrome is a fantastic follow-up to OlliOlli World, even if it does not exceed it. Roll7 is on a game development roll in 2022. With striking visual and sound design and aggressive combat with just enough pacing to keep tension perfectly poised, Rollerdrome is another knockout extreme sports game from Roll7.
You can buy Rollerdrome on PS4, PS5, and PC for $29.99. It also is currently 30 per cent off, for $19.79, on Steam until Aug. 30. For around 6 to 10 hours of content, it’s an absolute bargain.
*Disclaimer: Reviewed on PC; the publisher provided the code.
Despite a misguided challenge system, Rollerdrome innovates with its third-person shooter and extreme sports mashup, with plenty of guns, grinds, grabs, and even strategy.