When you think about Double Fine Productions, the development studio led by legendary game designer Tim Schafer, you probably already picture something along the lines of RAD. The game immediately lets you know what it’s all about through the neon menus, gravelly-but-bodacious announcer, and screeching synth-rock; this is 80s pop culture incarnate, complete with (optional) CRT filter.
Published by Bandai Namco, RAD is first and foremost a roguelike set against a zany post-post-apocalyptic backdrop—a setting not dissimilar to that seen in Far Cry: New Dawn and RAGE 2 earlier this year. Following the planet’s second cataclysmic event, it falls to the teenage protagonist of your choosing to venture out into the mutant-infested wastelands and save what remains of humanity.
Yet Stranger Things
Out in the radioactive wilderness known as the “Fallow,” environments are procedurally generated and have the potential to feature additional variations like adverse weather and lighting effects. Along with randomized enemy placements, these features work in unison to keep things fresh on return visits, although you’ll likely start to recognize the same building blocks being reused in different layouts over time. Constantly changing things up is important due to the game’s perma-death mechanics, whereby each time you die you’ll lose all of your current progress and unbanked currency (which takes the form of cassette tapes), then need to start the adventure all over again.
The threat of irrevocably losing progress can definitely be off putting, but you just have to take RAD’s crushing defeats alongside its pulse-pounding close calls and gratifying victories. Besides, all is never truly lost, as you’ll have gained literal in-game experience which carries across runs, granting helpful unlocks, alongside real-world experience to be implemented on your next attempt. The more you play RAD the more you learn about Double Fine’s intentionally vague implementation of features, and also get to grips with its particularly diverse combat system.
Eye of the Tiger
Starting out simply, you’re given a baseball bat with one-button melee and a three-hit combo string, which can be married with an effective lunge attack and a couple of airborne maneuvers. As you kill enemies you’ll earn experience exclusive to your current character, with an eventual level up granting a unique active ability in the form of a mutation. These are devastating attacks limited only by a short cooldown period, perhaps most potently granting ranged forms of offense utilized with conventional twin-stick controls.
Your chosen teen might grow a cobra head with which to attack at mid-range and deal lingering damage; develop a growth on their back which can be deployed as an auto-turret (great for distracting enemies, though the accompanying sound effect is incredibly annoying); maybe even sprout wings or go quadrupedal to gain traversal benefits. Some mutations are better than others, at least to my playstyle, though after you randomly gain up to three in any one run—which will be upgraded when you level up thereafter—it’s possible to discover powerful combinations which can turn the tides in your favor.
Going the Distance
Taking every advantage you can get is heartily advised, as RAD doesn’t play around in the difficulty department. Players are required to become proficient pretty quickly due to enemies being absolutely everywhere, often hidden in plain sight, easily missable while camouflaged against the game’s colorful backdrops. Viewed from a slightly zoomed out isometric perspective, the black comic-book-style outlines on creatures do help to bring them to the fore, but it can still be easy to lose track with so much happening on-screen at any given time. Thankfully, RAD’s buttery controls and smooth technical performance at 60 fps on PS4 Pro—you can opt to drop to 30 fps, but there aren’t any clear visual benefits to make up for the noticeable loss of fluidity—ensure that you do more often than not have the means to quickly react and get out of dodge if need be.
Though there is always an element of luck involved, and the lady can undoubtedly tip the odds in or against your favor through the acquisition of randomly positive or negative passive secondary buffs, the game’s largely skill-based focus ensures that with practice any proverbial lemon of a loadout can be used to make lemonade. Getting to that stage isn’t necessarily for the faint of heart, though. It took me 15 failed attempts before securing my one and only win so far, the run clocking in at just shy of 100 nail-biting minutes. Judging from the 0.0% unlock rate tied to the associated trophy, other pre-release PS4 players seemingly haven’t been faring so well, which should help to illustrate the struggle. If you’re happy to set miniature goals for each run and interpret each loss as a small win, success will slowly start to build, but if you’re the type of player that likes to shoot straight for the moon RAD would have you pulling your hair out
You’ll Be Back
Even then, beating the game once doesn’t mean the experience is anywhere close to over. RAD features daily challenges with global leaderboards on which to compete for the top spot, nine different endings, a hub world to upgrade and use to your increasing advantage, plus gameplay modifiers called “Quirks” enabling you to put a slightly different spin on things. These elements join with the game’s procedural generation and nostalgia-packed audio and visual presentation, boating countless familiar motifs and knowing Easter eggs, to ensure you’ll want to keep coming back for more.
I definitely plan to keep playing and think most roguelike fans would be similarly swayed, happily positioning RAD as their latest timesink. Conceptually it’s quite familiar, but the game injects a lot of bizarre fun and skill-based gameplay into what can otherwise be a very serious, numbers-based genre. With less reliance on luck, however, it’s a game you’ll always need to devote your full attention to. Even a momentary lapse in concentration can spell disaster for an evening’s play—it’s all about carefully weighing the potential risks vs. rewards before making any hasty decisions, almost at odds with the fast-paced combat you’ll simultaneously be engaging in.
RAD review code provided by publisher. Reviewed on PS4. For more information on scoring, please read our Review Policy.