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Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X
Genre: Action
Publisher: Private Division
Developer: Roll7
Release Date: Aug. 16, 2022


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PS5 Review - 'Rollerdrome'

by Cody Medellin on Aug. 16, 2022 @ 6:00 a.m. PDT

Rollerdrome is a single-player, third-person action shooter that seamlessly blends high-octane combat with fluid motion to create an action experience like no other.

It isn't unheard of to mix extreme sports with action game elements. We've seen it in past console generations with the likes of Super Skateboardin' on the Atari 7800 and Skate or Die 2: The Search for Double Trouble on the NES. At the height of the extreme sports game boom, the genre mix came back with multi-platform titles like Dark Summit and Toxic Grind. After developing a trio of 2D skateboarding games with the OlliOlli series, Roll7 takes a turn at creating an extreme sports action game with Rollerdrome.

Rollerdrome is set in the year 2030, as imagined from a 1960s perspective. The world is slowly being taken over by corporations while the masses are enthralled by a new blood sport called Rollerdrome. You play the role of Kara Hassan, a rookie to the Rollerdrome 2030 season who's coming off a standout career in the sport's junior league. Amidst the global chaos and possible corruption surrounding the sport, you only have one objective in mind: making it to the end of the season, hopefully as the champion.

As far as the story goes, it's basic and falls in line with what you'd expect from dystopian future stories. Corporations run the sport before taking over a police force, organizers try to sway things so their chosen champion gets a guaranteed win, violence is entertainment, and a few people trying to fight the good fight. It starts well enough, but the conclusion can feel a bit defeating. The story is more of an afterthought, as you get no forced mention of it beyond the initial cut scene. You can wander around a small area and pick up contextual clues via radio, e-mail logs or newspaper headlines — or you can head straight to the gameplay area and ignore everything else. Those looking for the narrative will be disappointed, while those who just want gameplay can ignore the narrative.

The gameplay consists of two major parts. The first is the extreme sports part, which moves away from the 2D style that Roll7 has employed for all of its OlliOlli games. It goes for a more traditional 3D style for the genre, much like Tony Hawk's Pro Skater or Aggressive Inline; it's a more apt comparison since you're on roller skates. You still have an arsenal of tricks — including grabs, rail slides and wall rides. Adding in flips and rotations make them more exciting, and repeating tricks gives you fewer points compared to when you pulled them off the first time. Each of the game's 11 stages has a list of 10 objectives for you to complete, and some include extreme sports standbys, like collecting five tokens and pulling off tricks in certain spots. It isn't as deep as expected from an extreme sports game at the genre's peak, but it is good enough that it doesn't feel shallow, either.

The second aspect is gunplay. You take on a group of enemies dubbed the House Payers. You initially have access to a dual-pistol setup, but it doesn't take long before you acquire a shotgun that can fire more powerful slugs (if you take the time to aim), a grenade launcher, and a rail gun. You have a health meter, but the only way to get health pickups is to kill people. While you're always mobile on your skates, you can perform dodges in any direction to get away from sniper fire or explosives. You can also slow down time to better aim at your foes, which range from folks who wield baseball bats, snipers, heavily armored people with rockets, mechs, and more.

If you know shooters inside and out, there are a few things in Rollerdrome that may trip you up. There are no aim down signs or zoom, so everything is from the hip. There's no recoil or bullet drop, so there's no need to compensate. Also, all guns share the same ammo pool, so even though dual pistols have 12 shots and the shotgun has six, expending all of your shotgun shells means no bullets when you switch to your pistols.

During gameplay, those parts work in concert with one another in unusual ways. The list of challenges you complete aren't just trick-based; you need to kill certain enemies with certain guns in specific ways or try to not use a specific gun for that run. Tricks score points, but they're also the only way to earn ammo for guns. Kills are also the only means to create a combo and maintain it.

You end up with a gameplay loop that forces you to show off to both survive and progress. You need to learn to either combine shooting and tricking by attacking enemies while airborne or grinding, or you need to learn to quickly swap between gameplay mindsets to keep the flow going. New enemy types and appearances keep things lively, and while the boss fights can feel like they slow down the action, the presence of only two bosses isn't so bad, but the use of only one boss type is a little disappointing. The mixture of gameplay types is fun, and it's satisfying to finish a level because of how hard the game makes you work for each victory. There's simply no time for players to rest between enemy waves.

The gameplay loop can sometimes make things very difficult in Rollerdrome. Your constant movement and inability to stop means that it takes a little more effort to line up shots. The slow-motion ability helps, but the number of enemies on the field at any one time makes things frantic, even if most of your foes stand still. The need to perform tricks disrupts the flow of a normal shooter; part of the challenge is seeking out enemies that you may have lost when you decided to pull off a heel grab for more bullets. (This trick is a little more difficult due to the lack of lock-on.) The arenas aren't overly large, but the lack of an indicator to show where enemies are can make the matches feel like hide-and-seek, and it is common to dodge sniper fire only to land on a mine.

The difficulty is mitigated somewhat by concessions that game makes for you. For one, you cannot bail on tricks. Whereas most games punish you for still performing a trick as you land on the ground or land awkwardly, Rollerdrome automatically corrects things for you, so you'll keep points and maintain your momentum. Grinding has no balance meter, so even though you'll stop scoring points after a while, you can grind around the whole arena and only worry about aiming and shooting. Repeating tricks may penalize you with a lower score, but your ammo still refills at the same usual rate. Challenges count the moment you accomplish them, so even if you die in that same moment, you'll still receive the checkmark, whether you quit or retry the level.

The biggest help you'll get in Rollerdrome comes from the assists. Aside from things like having bigger text for the subtitles, the assists menu is essentially a big cheat menu. It lets you toggle things, including the amount of damage taken per shot, infinite ammo, and preventing roadblocks toward level progression. You would think of these as practice tools to help you become more skilled at beating the levels. The only penalty from activating the assists is the inability to post your score on the leaderboards. You can defeat the whole game with these assists enabled, so you can get help if you're finding the title to be too difficult.

Whether you finish the game legitimately or through the heavy use of assists, you still have one more campaign, dubbed Out for Blood. In it, Kara returns to the Rollerdrome one year later as the champ looking to defend her title. It acts like more of a New Game+, as you have all of your guns from the get-go, but it also proves to be a more difficult run through the same levels. Every enemy type now occupies every stage. Like the main campaign, it affords you some kindness, as there are only three challenges per stage, and completing stages isn't necessary to move on to the other tiers. It's a nice surprise as post-game content; it's perfect for those who want more to do, aside from leaderboard chasing.

The presentation on the PS5 is quite nice overall. The graphics go for a graphic novel style with some muted colors, so it's vibrant but not overwhelmingly slow. It makes the enemies look stylish, but it benefits the environments and explosions more so than anything else. The frame rate is locked at 60fps with no drops anywhere, whether you're moving at the normal fast pace or slowing down the action. The music is the standout part of the audio, as the synthwave mix fits the aesthetic perfectly. The minimal voice work also sounds rather good. DualSense use is limited to resistive triggers, which can thankfully be turned off for those who don't care for the extra strength needed to shoot at enemies.

Rollerdrome is a solid action game that merges shooting and sports quite well. The blend creates loads of exciting moments that only seem to falter during boss fights. The number of levels and challenges feels just right. The concessions made for all skill levels is appreciated, and the presence of leaderboards and a bonus campaign ensures that there's plenty of incentive to keep people playing. Overall, Rollerdrome is a great title for those looking for something different.

Score: 8.5/10

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