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“Rollerdrome” Review


As one of the only working video game critics old enough to have gone rollerskating in the ’80s, I feel it is my duty to inform you that the violent third-person rollerskating shooter Rollerdrome (PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4, PC) is in no way reflective of what real rollerskating was like back in the day. But what would’ve been horrific in the Livingston Roller Rink is great fun in virtual form…well, once you’ve adjusted your skates, that is.


Set in 2030,

Rollerdrome casts you as Kara Hassan, the newest participant in the titular televised deathsport, in which competitors rollerskate around skate park-like arenas, shooting the numerous (and armed) enemies who’ve popped in to see who’s scuffing up their nice floor.

Or, to put it another way, it’s like if Jet Grind Radio co-opted the “Horde” survival mode from Gears 5.

Well, if Radio and Gears were influenced by The Running Man, that is. Rollerdrome is very ’80s in its visuals, vibe, and character designs. Not only does the art style ape the sci-fi comics of the era, and some rather Road Warrior-looking characters, it also has an appropriately ’80s-esque soundtrack…assuming, of course, you spent the ’80s listening to Tangerine Dream albums from the ’70s (which, btw, is how I sometimes spend the ’20s).


As for the gameplay,

what makes Rollerdrome both interesting and challenging is that your guns have a limited amount of ammo, which they share between them. And if you want more, well, you have to do a trick, with the difficulty of said trick directly influencing how much ammo you get. Ride a rail for a second: 1 bullet. Ride for a few seconds: a few bullets. Ride the rail for a few seconds and then jump off while doing a flip grab: a full clip.

Good thing the rather varied arenas — which include an abandoned mall and a former ski lodge — all have numerous jumps, rails, and other surfaces you can grind on.

Further adding challenge to Rollerdrome is that your health is only restored when you kill someone…and remember to grab the green orbs their bodies release in their final moment. Which is why you’ll be extra glad that, for a limited time, you can slow time like you’re Neo from The Matrix — or, if you’d prefer a video game refence, Max from the Max Payne games — which can make it easier to make that kill shot mid-leap.


Well, sort of.

See, your enemies in Rollerdrome not only outnumber you, but they also out gun you. Some have sniper rifles, some have rocket launchers, and some have powerful lasers. Still others are better on defense, as they have Halo-like force fields that automatically activate when they’re hit, or Rainbow Six Siege-style ballistic shields that send shockwaves when slammed into the ground.

Of course, as you progress, you get some new weapons as well, including a rather handy shotgun and a slightly less handy grenade launcher (which, unlike your shotgun and the dual pistols you start with, doesn’t have an auto-targeting option). Though, as I mentioned, all of your guns share ammo; doing a flip to reload your pistols does the same for the shotgun, but shooting your pistols empties your shotgun’s clip as well.

Adding yet another layer of difficulty, every match in Rollerdrome not only has an increasing number of people you have to eliminate, but 10 skill-based challenges as well. These include beating a certain final score, taking out enemies in creative ways, and grabbing the score multiplying icons that are always in hard to reach places. And while you don’t need to do any of them to advance to the next match within a round, you do have to complete many of them to advance to the next round.

All of these elements combine seamlessly…

to make Rollerdrome the kind of game where you have to play the same level multiple times to beat it (even if it is just to get the lay of the land so you can formulate a plan of attack). And no, the game does not have any options when it comes to its difficulty. Now, it does have some cheat code-like options to, say, make you invincible or have infinite ammo, but rather than make the game easier, many of them instead drain it of any challenge, and thus any fun.

(Well, unless you’d rather tear through the bad guys like John Wick if he’d gone to my high school and came skating every Saturday and was now laying waste to everyone and everything in a ballet of gunfire and violence that…y’know what, I take it back; playing this with invincibility and unlimited ammo and no challenge is fun, too.)

The thing is, while Rollerdrome is tough, challenging, stressful, and even a bit exhausting, one thing it’s not is frustrating. You never feel like you were taken out by a cheap shot (though the snipers and [REDACTED] do come close), or that you’ll never be able to beat a match…eventually. Instead, it feels like a game that works best when played intermittently; when you play for 20 to 30 minutes, take a break to give your hands and head a rest, and then come back to with a fresh perspective.

That said, there is some frustration to be found in Rollerdrome. For starters, you’re never told how many enemy combatants you need to eliminate to finish a match. It was only after I beat the first match that I learned I was supposed to take out 22 enemies. And no, all 22 were not in the arena when the round started; only four or five at a time.

Rollerdrome also has a “problem” that’s inexplicable and inexcusable…but also fixable (hence the quotes): the default settings for the motion and camera controls are so awkward and so overly sensitive that it render this unplayable. Well, until you turn the “Camera Sensitivity” all the way down, and turn off the “Camera Auto-Centering” option. Then this works fine.

When all is said and done,

Rollerdrome‘s difficulty makes it not for everyone. But for those looking for a challenge that isn’t frustrating or insurmountable, a game they can play in short bursts, and one that brings back memories from their childhood — well, if they’re old enough — Rollerdrome fits that bill like a pair of rented skates on a Saturday afternoon.

Score: 8.0/10



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