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No Straight Roads

Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Genre: Action/Adventure
Publisher: Sold Out
Developer: Metronomik
Release Date: Aug. 25, 2020


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PS4/PC Preview - 'No Straight Roads'

by Thomas on July 11, 2019 @ 12:00 a.m. PDT

No Straight Roads is a rhythm-based action-adventure title.

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There's a lot to talk about here.

No Straight Roads is the project of Wan Hazmer, former Square Enix designer, who left the company in 2017 to start his own company in Malaysia. He'd had a lot of the game sort of half-sketched-out for about five years, to hear him tell it, and he decided it was finally time to actually make the thing. The team working on it is a mixture of experienced designers and newcomers to the games industry, with an art director who primarily worked on murals inside restaurants before now, working as an internationally distributed team in a series of what Hazmer calls "agile methodology sprints."

The result is a weird Unreal-fueled beerslam of American animation, "Steven Universe," and Jet Grind Radio, in a weird concept album of a video game that feels like a multi-hour Gorillaz video. It's a game that's about music without requiring you to be good at music.

Mayday is the guitarist and Zuke is the drummer in No Straight Roads, a rock band in a city where being in a rock band is, by itself, a revolutionary act. The city's under the thumb of the "EDM Empire," which Mayday and Zuke intend to overthrow one target at a time.

The behind-closed-doors demo at E3 2019 was a little limited, comprised of just one tutorial level, followed by one elaborate three-stage boss fight. It was mostly there as a demonstration of how the game is meant to work, with Hazmer on hand to provide running commentary.

If you've played any recent 3D action games, No Straight Roads should feel reasonably familiar out of the gate. You can swap between Mayday and Zuke at any time with the touch of a button; they share a health bar, and the other character is invulnerable. You can club enemies with their respective instruments, you've got a double-jump, and both Mayday and Zuke have a short-range ability to transform objects in their environment by, well, rocking out. Mayday creates homing missiles, which fire by themselves and seek out distant enemies, while Zuke's drumming can make treadmills that you can run over to boost your movement speed. You can also collect musical notes from your environment and fire them like homing bullets at distant targets.

The music, however, is most of the point of the game. NSR was made very differently from most games, where the designers' original concept art was used to create the initial soundtrack, and the levels were then designed to match the music. At any given time, there are three audio channels running in-game, which wax and wane depending on what's happening and what you're doing. There are hours of music in the game, some of which you might never actually hear.

The boss fight in the E3 demo put Mayday and Zuke up against a nightclub DJ who might very well have been a gorilla in an old diving helmet, spinning dance tracks and threatening destruction in a smooth, even baritone. He attacks by throwing out big, sweeping lines of damaging sound, which you can anticipate and dodge by moving to a safe section of the floor. The more damage I racked up on him by firing notes back at his head and transforming bits of debris into Mayday's rockets, the more the soundtrack shifted from throbbing bass to EDM, and finally to rock music as I got him on the ropes. The further in I got, the more the fight escalated, from a simple dance-floor shoot-out to some kind of sonic wizard duel, until I was dodging musical lasers from space and desperately trying to outrun a black hole.

Another example I was told about at the show was a later boss, a classical pianist who's accompanied by her overprotective mother. Depending on who's winning the fight at any given time — Mayday and Zuke, the pianist, or her mother — the soundtrack may shift seamlessly between the three to represent their balance of power.

The final version of the game, according to Hazmer, will feature a hub room in the sewers below the EDM Empire's capital city, where your band members can hide out between missions. You'll be able to upgrade Mayday and Zuke's weapons with stickers and take points in a skill tree to specialize their abilities. The city overhead is basically a dance-hall dystopia, covered in ads that Metronomik deliberately had designed by professionals to be as obnoxious as possible.

No Straight Roads was my pick for the game of the show this year at E3. Primarily, it's because I still have a deep regard for Jet Grind Radio and all that sail under its flag, and No Straight Roads is about as close as you can get without the skating. It's set in that idealized '70s version of rock music, standing independent and largely uncommercialized against a sanitized pastel top-40 world, where techno is unequivocally the enemy and EDM is a pure weapon of the space devils. I would've gone nuts for this at 15, and I'm still pretty much on board with it now.

With that said, I didn't actually play that much of it at E3, and what I did was a more carefully curated sample than usual. I'm really looking forward to hopefully seeing a more complete build later this year, so I can see more boss fights and more of what surrounds them.

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