HIGH Charm and color abound.
LOW That death didn’t feel like my fault.
WTF I don’t trust a man that looks like Kylo Ren and weaponizes children.
I have a difficult time with Double Fine games. Although I can point to a great many moments in their work that I’ve enjoyed immensely, their mechanics always come with a caveat. From Costume Quest to Massive Chalice, the unique looks and charm don’t extend to the handling and movement — there’s always something loose and indefinable about them, and RAD is no exception.
Set in a post-post-apocalypse (they expected the first nuclear strike, but the second not so much) the remaining humans are reliant on robot ‘Menders’ to generate oxygen and resources. However, things have gone wrong and the humans need a hero to enter the wasteland armed with a baseball bat and the ability to mutate and absorb the ambient radiation.
Played in a 3D environment with the camera pulled way back in an isometric-style view, the player will initially rely on their melee abilities to defeat mutated enemies they come across. However, once enough creatures are defeated and the toxicity meter is raised, the character will gain a random ability like wings, leaving a toxic trail behind them, or a cyst-like companion that shoots at enemies.
As a roguelike, RAD is separated into sections and zones. Beating a section will require taking on a small boss, and will allow for banking any money collected thus far. Beating a zone means a bigger boss and going into a much harder area afterwards. Dying at any point means returning to the main hub, keeping only banked cash and random upgrades/cosmetics unlocked through a meta-EXP system.
RAD is in love with the ’80s brand of dystopia featuring a synth-heavy soundtrack. The influences are clearly period John Carpenter and Troma-style trash. The enemies having a cute/ugly style that is suitably grotesque and adorable at the same time. Also, a great deal of effort went into making the zones feel aesthetically distinct.
The formula here seems solid, but RAD‘s problems lie with the combat and difficulty.
RAD‘s main character has several different melee attacks from the outset like thrusting attacks and charged spinning attacks, but combat devolves into striking once, rolling away, and then rinse-repeating because complicated attacks don’t always land and can’t be relied on. Things get more inventive once mutations are in play, and these evolutions are necessary since boss battles involve huge health bars and area-of-effect attacks that can be infuriating.
At the same time, leaving the complexities of combat solely up to the luck of getting a random mutations means that getting the wrong abilities can effectively cut a run short — often before it really begins. Worse, there are upgrade paths for some mutations that actually make them worse, and the player has no control over it. For example, there’s a tail mutation that spawns two helpers that fight. One of the random upgrades turns it into a single flyer that shoots (and misses) instead, and it feels inferior.
RAD‘s steepest difficulty comes in the third zone where the means of traversal changes and the arenas in which the player fights are drastically reduced in size. The result is that a lot of fights devolve into Benny Hill chases (google it) with the character taking potshots when possible.
Good roguelikes don’t feel like chores — the randomness inherent to the genre is best when it feels like a way of encouraging different playstyles. In contrast, RAD’s randomness comes across as a hurdle that’s not always able to be surmounted, and starting a fresh run only to realize that there’s little chance of success is a bad look. This could be forgiven if the core melee combat was tighter, but it’s not.
There are kernels of good ideas throughout RAD, and none of my problems with it feel like they can’t be fixed or tweaked to make the experience less frustrating. Unfortunately, its current iteration falls squarely into the Double Fine catalog of work that’s great to look at, but only fleetingly entertaining to play.
Disclosures: This game is developed by Double Fine and published by BANDAI NAMCO. It is currently available on Switch, PS4 and XBO. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the XBO-X. Approximately 8 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was not completed. There are no multiplayer modes.
Parents: According to the ESRB, this game is rated T and contains Fantasy Violence, Language, Mild Blood. The game is cartoony gross, with the character developing pustules, crab legs and a lot of the enemies are adorably gruesome, in the vein of Garbage Pail Kids. There’s nothing here that would put off a pre-teen.
Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available in the options.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: The game is fully accessible without sound. No audio cues are necessary for play. The text cannot be resized.
Remappable Controls: No, this game’s controls are not remappable.